Will People Understand Me When I Visit Korea? – Seoulistic

Will People Understand Me When I Visit Korea?

(Image credit: Dustin Cole, a Seoul based photographer)

If you’re traveling to Korea, you might be curious if you’ll be understood by local Koreans. So if your Korean isn’t perfect yet, and you’re more comfortable with another language, read this to see if you’ll be understood!

Note: Of course these are generalities. Not everyone is the same, but here are some general truths about Korean people and the languages they speak.


Do Korean People Understand English?

Quick answer: Generally, yes!

Explanation: Korean people are crazy about education, and English is compulsory education for all students in public schools. In addition to that, the majority of Korean students attend after-school English academies to improve their English conversation, reading and writing skills (providing the majority of jobs for English speaking foreigners in Korea). That means from a very young age to even after graduating college, many Korean people study English. Of course there are people that aren’t as good as say this dude, but almost everyone knows the basics. Actually, it might even be difficult to find people that don’t understand the basic travel phrases you’ll be using in Korea, such as: “Where is the bathroom?,” “How much?,” and “What is the meaning of life?” (jk! ;)).

What are some other languages that many Koreans know?

Quick Answer: Chinese and Japanese

Explanation: Just look at a map. Korea is right in the middle of these two countries. So naturally, Koreans have been exposed to the languages of these two countries for centuries. Because Korea used to use Chinese characters for its writing system for centuries, many Korean words come from Chinese characters. And since Japan still uses Chinese characters in its writing, many of the Chinese-based words in Japanese also sound the same in Korean as well (who else just got confused?). On top of that, the majority of immigrants to Korea are Chinese (or Chinese-born Koreans), many of whom work at restaurants serving you. For Japanese, many people consider Japanese and Korean to be grammatical cousins. They’re so similar that many Koreans think Japanese is the easiest language to learn for them.

Koreans who understand Chinese and Japanese are not as numerous as Koreans who can understand English, but there are definitely a good number of people that speak Chinese or Japanese. Just ask!

Tip: If you’re dying for a full conversation in Chinese or Japanese, head to Myeongdong, Seoul. There you’ll find as much Japanese and Chinese tourists as there are Korean people. And the Korean people there speak these languages too! Holla!


What about my language?!

Unfortunately, finding Korean people that speak languages other than English, Chinese and Japanese is a crapshoot. French, German and Spanish are popular languages to study, mostly for college educated Koreans. But you’ll have to do a little bit more digging. If you’re in Seoul, we suggest you check out a cool language meetup, languagecast! But really… if you’ve read this far, you’ll be understood in Korea! Your English is bomb! 😀

Keith Kim is a Korean-American who has been living in Korea for almost a decade. Being in a unique position as both a Korean and a non-Korean, he's put all his experience and knowledge for surviving in Korea in Survival Korean . Read it to learn how you can survive in Korea. Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.


  1. Dominik says:

    Nice post as always ^^.

  2. aurora says:

    Thank you so much for the info~! ^__^

  3. Hana says:

    “if you’ve read this far…”
    Ha-ha, yeah. I hope so, because my native language (Hungarian) is surely useless in Korea.

  4. nergis says:

    :)) I love the ending:)) thanks a lot for the info:)

  5. Choonyip says:

    will be visiting Seoul in another 2weeks time and came across this awesome site ^^ keep up the good work!

  6. Kai says:

    Why is German so popular? I just know Koreans studing music in Germany…btw I am German 😉

  7. Julie says:

    I was in that same office with my new nephew! That is the Holt children’s headquarters with dJ! She is sooooo nice!

  8. Jacqui says:

    I can’t believe that many koreans thinks that japanese is the most easiest language to learn.. for them
    But Now I know that my english is pretty good I understand everything..!! and when I read this: if you’ve read this far, you’ll be understood in Korea! .. I was happy.. because my native language is spanish.

  9. Cindy says:

    PWAHAHA I was wondering how I am going to survive being a tourist in Korea… and was seriously considering getting an awesome korean boyfriend to be a free guide… BUT IM SET. So I’m chinese(therefore fluent in chinese), studying japanese, and currently living in California for eight years. Haha, I just need to know how to get myself to myeongdong, and booyah, I can communicate. 😀

  10. Dina Ceri says:

    Your posts are so funny and useful! You touch all the subjects that are actually important to know in a way that everyone understands. I can’t get over how useful, real, and funny this site is!

  11. Amazing! Its actually remarkable paragraph, I have got much clear idea about from this article.

  12. JaneJLocane says:

    It’s interesting, thanks!

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