Super Simple but Must Know Chinese Characters for Coming to Korea – Seoulistic

Super Simple but Must Know Chinese Characters for Coming to Korea

Korea used to use Chinese characters all the time, but Korea now uses its own writing system (hangul). But if you’re coming to Korea, there are still some situations where you will see Chinese characters in many places in Korea. Find out what the must-know Chinese characters are if you’re coming to Korea!


小 – Small (소/so) | 中 – Medium (중/jung) | 大 – Large (대/dae)

These three super simple Chinese characters are used commonly in Korean restaurants. For dishes that come in different sizes, many Korean restaurants will use these three Chinese characters on menus to show the different prices for different sized portions. These are some of the simplest and most commonly seen Chinese characters seen in Korea. Make sure you know these when you’re in Korea!

Tip 1: An easy way to remember to medium (中/중/jung) is remember the line going down the middle (aka medium).
Tip 2: Think of  large (大/대/dae) as a person spreading his arms and legs to try to look bigger.


男 – Male (남자/namja) | 女 – Female (여자/yeoja)

These two Chinese characters are also found commonly in Korea, usually at bars and restaurants for bathrooms. These characters can usually be seen at Japanese style izakayas (bars), but Korean bars and restaurants often use these simple Chinese characters as well.These two characters are absolute must-know Chinese characters if you’re going to be in Korea… unless you’re a fan of awkward bathroom moments.

Tip: A popular way to remember the chinese character for female (女) is to think of it as a woman crossing her legs 😉

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. Waegook Tom says:

    The ones for small, medium and large are pretty useful….although I’ve never, ever seen those characters for male and female appear on a bathroom, ever, in three years here?! I must be going to the wrong places! This is useful, as I know zero hanja, only hangeul. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Vanessa says:

    Nice to know! 😀 The bathroom I won’t ever enter the wrong one, because I’d studied a liiittle bit of japanese, and I remember how to say/write that I’m a woman hahahaha
    Although, by being a 한국어 student, seeing hanjas confuse me and doesn’t exactly help (meaning that most of the times I don’t know how to pronounce properly by seeing it and I won’t memorize them), but I like the idea of you koreans remaining part of your chinese history.
    Here in São Paulo (Brazil) we have many, many indigenous words (usually in birds, trees names, etc; some nouns come from them), but we don’t study anything about the indigenous languages at school, so we barely know the meaning :/

    What I barely know about this subject in Korea is that at school you get to choose what language you want to learn (between chinese, japanese, english), is that right? How does that work? Do you learn any basic hanjas because of Korea’s origin?

  3. Melinda says:

    are they pronounced the same?

  4. Bucky says:

    Another one is 出口 (출구), which means “exit.” Commonly seen at subway stations, but often accompanied by “Way out” in English so it’s not necessarily seen as a must-know.

  5. starla says:

    I’m a chinese, and I’m really glad that most of the korean words pronunciation are quite similar to chinese…so learning korean is always easier for us 🙂

    • Emily says:

      Yeah, I get what you mean! I’m Chinese too! I actually worried a bit about learning korean because there are so many topics of words and stuff. But now I feel better since I can read some Chinese words and some words that are in Korean sound similar to Chinese words. ^^
      Hi-5 for being Chinese!

  6. Doug says:

    I’ve seen 無 used a lot on Korean food packaging (I.e. no artificial flavors), etc. I’m
    I’m surprised so few are used. I learned Japanese first and you get used to seeing certain basic ones a ton. Hanja/Kanji has a bit of a learning curve but on the other hand they’re very effective in visual communication, plus they help make Korean compound words much easier to remember or understand.

  7. Carrie Ang says:

    Yea.. being of Chinese descendant does gives you an added advantage to grasp the Korean language better as most of the Korean words have similar pronunciation as Chinese Characters like 약 & 药 are pronounce quite similarly. Well, being a Native English speaker also has its ups as some of the Korean words are direct translation of the English words itself! For eg. 아이스크림 (a-ee-su-ke-rim) Ice-cream & 오토바이 (o-tto-ba-ee) motorbike! ^^ So what about this 바나나 would be fun if you could post a topic on these for the readers. Would be so so fun! ^^

  8. 147 says:

    Another one that you might see, that isn’t must know, but useful, is 美. The translation into Korean is 미, which means “Pretty/beautiful” and typically would be used on signs for Beauty Salons.

    Some others that you may see, just FYI:

    北/북=North. Typically if you see this Hanja in the newspaper it’s an article about North Korea.
    文/문=Culture. This Hanja in Chinese is also used to denote language, but if you see this, it’s something culturally related.
    韓/한. This will be used as an abbreviated version of Korea more often than not.
    南/남=South. This will be less used in newspapers as, well duh, if it’s not denoted with 北, it’s usually about South Korea. On the subject of newspaper Hanja, I mentioned 美 before as denoting beauty parlors, but if you see it in a Newspaper, it’s about America.

  9. AW says:

    I speak a bit of Cantonese and Mandarin so I caught on pretty quickly in terms of hearing the total amount from the clerk when shopping. Almost as quick as my wife, who is Korean(her numbers vocabulary is not so good).

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