Formal or informal? Posted by Kyung-Hwa on Oct 20, 2016 in Korean Culture, Korean Language
Korean has different levels of respect: depending on the speakers’ ages, societal status, or closeness to each other, Koreans will decide which level of politeness to use and how to behave themselves.
Did you know that Korean language has seven different levels of speech?
Korean has six formal speech forms and one informal speech form, showing different levels of respect in the language. However, “걱정하지 마세요! (Don’t worry!)” As long as you are aware of the following three levels of politeness, and you use standard polite form, “–요” ending, you will be fine for now.
- 격식체 (Honorific speech) is used when you speak to your superiors, customers, or strangers.
- 존대말 (Polite speech) is the common polite form that you can use at work or with someone you don’t know very well. This is the form (“–요” ending ) that I would use the most for this blog.
- 반말 (Informal speech) is used among close friends, to somebody younger than you, or to children.
Ex) “Sit down” 격식체 (Honorific) – “앉으십시오”
존대말 (Polite) – “앉으세요”
반말 (Informal) – “앉아”
“몇 살이에요? (How old are you?)”
You may be shocked to hear when Korean people frequently ask someone, “몇 살이에요? (How old are you?)” right after meeting someone.
As I mentioned earlier, Korean language has different levels of respect, so the speakers will determine how they will speak to each other depending on their ages: they will decide which level of politeness to use and how to behave themselves.
So beware, someone you just met may ask, “몇 살이에요? (How old are you?),” “결혼 했어요? (Are you married?)”, “남자 친구/여자 친구 있어요? (Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?)”, or “어디에 살아요? (Where do you live?),” etc. To foreigners’ ears, some questions may sound private or intimate, but Koreans consider these questions will bring closeness to each other, and they consider these are part of becoming better friends.
When someone asks, “몇 살이에요? (How old are you?),”
you can answer “저는 25살이에요. (I am 25 years old.)
or “저는 80년생이에요. (I was born in 80.)”
감사합니다! (Thank you!)
 Most Koreans will omit the first two digits of their birth years and often just give the last two digits. Ex) I was born in 80 (instead of 1980).