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Korean Expressions Which Benefit From Cultural Knowledge Posted by on Oct 30, 2019 in Culture, Korean Culture, Korean Language, Vocabulary

When it comes to learning language, I can share many personal experiences with you as an English as a second language learner. It is a never-ending homework, which can only be done by your determination. I bet the road to learn Korean might be similar for you as well.

In fact, I want to discuss an important element in master foreign language, which is the culture of the language.

The more I learn English in daily life, the more deeply I realize how crucial it is to try to understand its culture. Although I would assume understanding the depth of its culture in the beginning stage of learning languages may not greatly impact your progress, having a more fully developed understanding of the culture will shine through at the later stage.

Every language has its own expressions that you wouldn’t understand unless you digest its culture. Korean language is no exception. I have selected several Korean expressions which could benefit from a little context. I have been collecting these expressions over the past few months. (It is funny how these expressions usually popped up one at a time while I was driving!) I hope this post helps you progress further with your Korean.


  1. 정이 있다 / 없다. (jeong-ee-it-dah / up-dah.)

정 is a complicated concept in Korean culture to explain in a couple of sentence. If you want to study more about 정, here is a link. https://blogs.transparent.com/korean/what-is-jeong/.

In short, 정 means affection, attachment or goodwill, depending on situations. Koreans describe warm-hearted person as 정 있는 사람 (jeong-it-nun-sah-raam). On the other hand, a person who is more emotionally detached can  be described as 정 없는 사람 (jeong-up-nun-sah-raam).


image by Pixabay


  1. 잘 부탁합니다. (jal- boo-tak-hab-nee-dah.)

You may have heard of this expression, which is a very common expression in Korea. Although, it can confuse you because it literally is translated as “My service to you”, which doesn’t smoothly fit in conversations.

Koreans usually say this expression when they first start working with their new partners. The expression delivers the message that you respect your partner, with whom you are going to work for a long time. The expression contains nuances which suggest that I may need your help in future, therefore I am asking you for a favor in advance. Whenever I work with new people, I always wish I could say this other than “Nice to meet you.”.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found any expression quite like it in English.


  1. 기가 차다 (gi-gah-chah-dah.)

기(gi) is Qi. It is translated as energy or sprit in English, but it has deeper meanings than energy. 기 is considered as energy flow, driving force, or life force. In Korean, there are many expressions to describe circumstances using 기. This expression means someone has been turned speechless because the situation is utterly nonsense. In general, these situations are usually unpleasant. My interpretation of the expression is that the energy flow stops because 기 is too full to flow, when you face unbelievable situations.


image by Pixabay


  1. 울화가 치밀다 (wool-hwa-gah-chi-mil-dah.)

울화 is translated as anger, rage, resentment, but 울화 contains a meaning of unresolved, repressed anger that eventually will kill you. 울화 can develop at any age, I associate this phrase with older generations rather than younger Koreans.

The younger Korean generations clearly appear to be much better at expressing their thoughts and opinions in general, but the older generations were culturally not freed from speaking their minds out loud. Therefore, 화병 (hwa-byeong: depression anger illness *) is a medically existing condition, which some might say can only can be found  in Korea.



* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwabyeong





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About the Author: FlyHighOyster

Hi everyone, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. HJ