Thursday, 29 December 2011


Korean language is hard to master, not because of the grammar or pronunciation, but because of the way you have to change the verb endings depending on who you're talking to and in what situation. I wouldn't say English is easier, but at least you can usually apply a one-sentence-fits-all rule without sounding too strange. In Korean, however, there are varying levels of politeness or formality that you have to be careful about.

A lot of foreigners first learn the verb ending -습니다/-ㅂ니다, but this is rarely used in everyday conversation so if you use it a lot you will sound very foreign.

The ending -요 is very useful. It's added to the end of most verb conjugations to show politeness. For example, 가요 (go), 갔어요 (went), 갈 거예요 (will go).

If you're talking to a child you would sound strange adding that -요 because you don't need to be polite to children. Also if you're talking to your best mate you wouldn't need the -요. Korea also has rules about how polite you should be depending on if someone is older or younger than you, but I find a lot of people don't apply the same rules for foreigners.

There are even more polite verb endings which would be used for example by store attendants to customers, or by employees to their boss, or in any other situation where you would want to show the most respect. But those very polite endings are only used when you are talking about that person, asking them a question or instructing them to do something - I mean, you don't use those very polite endings if you are talking to that person but telling them something about yourself. If you are referring to yourself you would probably use the basic ending with -요 as I described before.

It's also possible to say something in a rude or angry tone but still add that polite -요.

Confused yet? It's hard enough picking the verb ending you need and then correctly using it with a particular verb, let alone worrying about if you're being too formal, too stand-offish, too informal, over-friendly or perhaps downright rude. If you're starting to learn Korean don't worry too much about it. Just keep practising and you'll get used to it as you go along. Just like any other language, you have to make mistakes along the way.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Lotte World

Lotte World theme park is a magical land of excitement, adventure, and ... long queues.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Winter, and Blankets

1. Winter in Korea is COLD.

2. It's perfectly acceptable to walk around in public wearing a blanket. I'm serious. I even went to work the other day and our secretary was sitting behind the desk with her legs wrapped up in one. Last week I saw some high school girls on the subway with Hello Kitty blankets worn like sarongs. The most common sight is guys carrying blankets to drape over the shoulders of their girlfriends when out for a walk.

3. In conclusion, my advice this winter is: Invest in a good-looking blanket to wrap yourself up in this winter. Perhaps a nice plaid or something in Christmasy colours. Stay warm, stay stylish, wear a blanket!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Coffee Shop

Coffee is BIG in Korea. During the 13-minute walk from my apartment to the subway station, I will pass a Starbucks, a Caffe Ti-amo, a Caffe Bene, a Holly's Coffee, a Tom n Toms, five independent coffee shops and four coffee-selling bakeries. That's FOURTEEN opportunities to buy a Cappuccino, without even taking a detour. And if it's too early or late for those places to be open, I can just pop into any corner store and find a large selection of coffee in cans, bottles or cartons for a quick hit of caffeine/sugar/goodness-knows-whatever-else-they-mix-in-with-that-stuff.

As people spend so much time in coffee shops, I thought a coffee shop language lesson might be useful! You don't really need to speak any Korean to order coffee, but it's good to know. Here are some key words and phrases:

일회용 컵 disposable cup
종이 컵 paper cup
머그잔 / 머그컵 mug
홍차 black tea
녹차 green tea
따뜻한 것 hot one
시원한 것 cold one

고구마라떼 두 잔 주세요 two sweet potato lattes, please (try it, it's yummy!)
아이스 카페 라떼 하나 주세요 one ice cafe latte, please
우유 빼 주세요 leave out the milk
휘핑 크림 추가해 주세요 add whipped cream please
가지고 가실 거예요? Is it for take-out?
여기서 드실 거예요? Is it for eat-in?
가져갈 거예요. Take-out please.
포장해 주세요. Wrap it for take-out, please. (for food)
여기서 마실 거예요. I'll drink it here.

고소한 맛

"고소하다" describes a flavour that can be roughly translated as nutty, savoury, earthy or aromatic, but which has no direct translation in English. Chestnuts, sesame seeds and almonds can be described as having a 고소한 flavour. It generally means the taste of nuts.