When traveling to a foreign country, it's often helpful to learn common greetings and phrases to help you get around a new country. In Korea, saying hello is a great way to show respect for and an interest in the local culture.
Greeting people in their own language is a sure way to get a smile and break the ice. Don't worry as Koreans will typically switch to English for some practice and to continue the conversation, but it's an essential and respectful skill to learn before your next trip to South Korea.
Spellings for the English transliteration from Hangul, the Korean alphabet, differ. Instead, focus on learning the correct pronunciation for each greeting. From the casual anyong haseyo to the formal anyong hashimnikka, these greetings will introduce you to South Korea in the politest way possible.
Greetings in Korean
As with saying hello in many other Asian languages, you show respect and acknowledge a person's age or status by using different greetings. This system of showing respect by using titles is known as honorifics, and Koreans have a very complex hierarchy of honorifics. Greetings take into account how well you know someone; showing proper respect for age and status are important aspects of "face" in Korean culture.
Unlike in the Malay and Indonesian languages, basic greetings in Korea are not based on the time of day (e.g., "good afternoon"), so you can use the same greeting no matter the time. Additionally, asking how someone is doing, a typical follow-up question in the West is a part of the initial greeting in Korean.
Fortunately, there are some simple, default ways to say hello that won't be misconstrued as rude.
The Three Greetings of Traditional Korean Culture
The basic greeting in Korean is anyong haseyo, which is pronounced "ahn-yo ha-say-yoh." While not the most formal of greetings, anyong haseyo is widespread and still polite enough for most circumstances when interacting with people whom you know, regardless of age. The rough translation of anyong, the initiator for saying hello in Korean, is "I hope you are well" or "please be well."
To show even more respect to someone older or of higher status, use anyong hashimnikka as a formal greeting. Pronounced "ahn-yo hash-im-nee-kah," this greeting is reserved for guests of honor and is used occasionally with older family members one has not seen in a very long time.
Finally, a nice, casual anyong is usually offered among friends and people of the same age who know each other. As the most informal greeting in Korean, anyong could be compared to saying "hey" or "what's up" in English. You should avoid using anyong by itself when greeting strangers or people of higher status such as teachers and officials.
Saying Good Morning and Answering the Phone
Although some variation of anyong is the principal way to greet Korean strangers, there are a few other ways that Koreans exchange greetings including saying "good morning" and when answering the telephone.
While the basic greetings work regardless of time of day, alternatively joun achim (pronounced "joh-oon ah-chim") can be used with close friends in the mornings. In Korea, saying "good morning" is not common so most people simply default to saying anyong or anyong haseyo.
Since knowing how to say hello in Korea greatly depends on showing proper respect, a special greeting is used when answering the phone if the age or standing of someone is unknown: yoboseyo. Pronounced "yeow-boh-say-oh," yoboseyo is polite enough to be used as a greeting when answering the phone; however, it is never used when saying hello to someone in person.