Koreans have been educated to live by wise words by their ancestors and teachers. But these wise words are applicable to anyone in the world. If you need a bit of inspiration in life, check out these 26 wise Korean proverbs. After you read all of them, tell us which proverb is most applicable to your life in the comments!
1. Korean Proverb: 김치국부터 마시지 말라
Pronunciation: Kimchi-guk-buteo ma-si-ji mal-ra
Literal meaning: Don’t drink the Kimchi soup first
Situation: You can say this when someone gets ahead of him or herself when planning for a project of future. It’s like when you eat a Kimchi based dish, you won’t drink the kimchi sauce first right?
2. Korean Proverb: 공자 앞에서 문자 쓴다
Pronunciation: Gong-ja app-eh-seo mun-ja sseun-da
Literal meaning: Writing chinese characters in front of Confucius
Situation: When a foreigner visits Seoul for the first time and tells a tour guide where the best places are. Use this to point out someone who tries to teach a expert and area of their expertise…a.k.a the annoying one in class who tries to prove the teacher wrong all the time.
3. Korean Proverb: 그림의 떡.
Pronunciation: Crim-ue ddeok
Literal meaning: A picture of a rice cake.
Situation: You might have noticed the intense love the Koreans have for rice cakes by now. They love it so much that when they see a picture or a painting of it their eyes will light up and feel the growl in their tummies, but sadly they cannot get hold of it because it is only a picture after all. The meaning is similar to this~ it is to describe a desire that you cannot have, so you should better forget about it ^^
4. Korean Proverb: 고생 끝에 낙이 온다.
Pronunciation: Go-saeng Ggeut-eh naki eun-da
Literal meaning: At the end of hardship comes happiness.
When to use: Studying for your exams? Stressed about a business project? Use these wise words to encourage and to not give up. With hard work there is always success. Fighting!
5. Korean Proverb: 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다
Pronunciation: Weon-sungi-do namu-eh-seo ddeoleo-jinda
Literal meaning: Even monkeys fall from trees.
Situation: Humans aren’t perfect. Neither are experts on their designated areas of expertise. So if you are a mathematician and you solved a problem incorrectly, it doesn’t matter. Even experts make mistakes some times. Though if you are a wrist watch repairman and you break a watch…just worry more about how you will deal with that customer.
6. Korean Proverb: 서당개 삼 년에 풍월 읊는다
Pronunciation: Seo–dang–gae sam nyeon–e poong–weol eulp–neun–da
Literal meaning: After three years at a village schoolhouse, even a dog can recite a poem
Situation: How to hone your skills? By practicing of course! Encourage someone with these words as practice makes perfect!
7. Korean Proverb: 가려운 곳을 긁어 주다
Pronunciation: Ga-ryeo-oon Go-seul geul-geo ju-da
Literal meaning: You scratch where it itches!
Situation: Do you have a friend who has the same taste and mind? If you have a friend who wants to do something that you want to do too, or if someone buys you coffee as you are falling asleep on your desk then it is like someone scratching your back when it itches! You will feel happy and comforted at t eh same time!
8. Korean Proverb: 콩 심은데 콩나고, 팥 심은데 팥난다
Pronunciation: Kong sim-eun-dae kong-na-go, pat sim-eun-dae pat nanda
Literal meaning: Beans come out from where beans are planted, and red beans (팥) come out from where red beans are planted.”
Situation: A house can be really telling as to what type of person the owner is. Therefore it can be said that we can judge a man from his surroundings. For example, a messy house might indicate a messy owner, or a kind group of friends might indicate you are a kind person also.
9. Korean Proverb: 낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다
Pronunciation: Nat–mal–eun sae–ga deud–go bam–mal–eun jui–ga deud–neun–da
Literal meaning: Birds listen to day-words and rats listen to night-words
Situation: Wherever and whenever you are you should be careful who you talk about because you might be overheard by someone. This is used as a warning (that’s right, trolls).
10. Korean Proverb: 시작이 반이다
Pronunciation: Shi-jaki bani-da
Literal meaning: Starting is half the task
Situation: This is to tell someone that a good start is very important to project/activity/competition e.t.c.
11. Korean Proverb: 가재는 게 편이라
Pronunciation: Ga-jae-neun ge pyeoni-ra
Literal meaning: The crayfish sides with the crab.
Situation: Used to describe how people with similar traits and backgrounds tend to stick together and side with each other (international students…*ahem*)
12. Korean Proverb: 찬물도 위아래가 있다
Pronunciation: Chan-mool-do ooi-arae-ga it-da
Literal meaning: Cold water is from the bottom up
Situation: There’s a certain order in life. And in Korea, this is used for impolite and impatient kids eating at the dinner table before elders. In Korea there is a proper order for everything even as simple as drinking water. The older person always gets served first before the younger ones. This may seem very strict, but once you are accustomed to it, it will look soooo good!
13. Korean Proverb: 가는 말이 고와야오는 말이 곱다.
Pronunciation: Ga-neun mali gowa-ya oneun gop-da
Literal meaning: If the outgoing words are beautiful, then the incoming words will be beautiful too.
Situation: Target~ bullies, backstabbers, and gossip queens. These wise words are used to encourage someone to be nice to others if they want others to be nice to them.
See the next page for more Korean Proverbs you can live by!