Do you shy away from approaching South Koreans to start a conversation?
You’re not fluent—you’re a beginner. Putting yourself out there is scary.
But here’s the thing: You don’t have to be fluent in Korean to connect with native speakers.
You should always be working toward fluency. But that doesn’t mean you have to put making South Korean friends on hold. You can memorize a few simple Korean conversation starters to get going.
Breaking the ice can involve multiple phrases in Korean. Openers don’t have to be stale! Korean openers often involve introductions, questions and interesting ways to get a conversation going.
Memorizing these phrases and perhaps some possible responses will make a conversation flow perfectly and with ease.
Ready to break the ice and make some pals?
How Can Korean Conversation Starters Help Me Connect with Others?
- They’re easy to memorize, and most Korean speakers will understand them. While you’re working on improving your overall fluency in Korean, you can certainly memorize a few key phrases to get by and speak with native speakers. You definitely don’t have to wait until you’re a pro to make some language exchange buddies!
- They’re great for breaking the ice in the majority of social situations. Not all conversations have to open with a basic, “Hi, how are you?” You can get creative with how you interact with new people in Korean and spark some interesting conversations that don’t become boring right away. You wouldn’t open every conversation in English the same way, and Korean is no different!
- Every bit of spoken Korean or written 한글 (hangeul) — Korean characters you pick up brings you one step closer to achieving real, tangible fluency. The beauty of language learning is that you can start small, such as with a handful of conversation openers. Add them to your study plan and take baby steps to more substantial and complex phrases.
Looking for more phrases to learn as a beginner? Start with FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
There are videos for every learning level, from novice to nearly-fluent. Each video also comes with flashcards and exercises to help you remember the words even after you’ve finished watching. You can even create a flashcard set specifically for Korean conversation starters!
10 Korean Conversation Starters for Connecting with Native Speakers
1. 한국어 할 수 있습니까? (Hangugeo hal su isseumnikka?) — Do you speak Korean?
This one is a great opener that helps you get a feel for who you’re talking with. Plus, a native Korean speaker could take this as a cue that you’d like to exercise your Korean language skills with them.
Alternatively, if you’re in a friendly, informal atmosphere, you could open with 한국어? (hangug-eo?) — Korean?
A note: It would be wise to use this opener specifically when you’re in South Korea, where it would make sense to assume that someone might speak Korean. You probably shouldn’t approach a stranger in a non-Korean-speaking country with a question that presumes they speak Korean.
한국어 할 수 있습니까? (Hangugeo hal su isseumnikka?) — Do you speak Korean?
네, 한국어를 할 수 있어요. (Ne, hangug-eoleul hal su iss-eoyo.) — Yes, I can speak Korean.
멋있어요! 저는 한국어를 공부하고 있어요. (Meos-iss-eoyo! Jeoneun hangug-eoleul gongbuhago iss-eoyo.) — Cool! I am studying Korean.
2. 영어 할 수 있습니까? (Yeongeo hal su isseumnikka?) — Do you speak English?
A good alternative to opening with 한국어 할 수 있습니까? (Hangugeo hal su isseumnikka?) — Do you speak Korean? is asking if a Korean speaker can speak English. This can be helpful if your Korean skills are limited, but you still want to connect with native speakers while you’re learning.
An alternative to the phrase 영어 할 수 있습니까? (Yeongeo hal su isseumnikka?) — Do you speak English? would be 영어? (Teong-eo?) — English?
영어 할 수 있습니까? (Yeongeo hal su isseumnikka?) — Do you speak English?
네, 좀 합니다. (Ne, jom habnida.) — Yeah, I can speak a little.
죄송합니다, 한국어를 할 줄 몰라요. (Joesong habnida, hangug-eoleul hal jul mollayo.) — Sorry, I don’t know how to speak Korean.
3. 어떻게 지내세요? (Eotteoke jinaeseyo?) — How are you?
This is a basic opener that works well in most situations, with the exception of very formal or professional settings. If you’re casually talking to new people in a social setting, this phrase works well.
어떻게 지내세요? (Eotteoke jinaeseyo?) — How are you?
괜찮아요. (Gwaenchanh-ayo.) — I’m good.
4. 몇 살이세요? (Myeot sariseyo?) — How old are you?
It probably wouldn’t be wise to use this phrase right off the bat. It would sound a little weird walking up to someone and asking them what their age is in English, wouldn’t it? After a little bit of a back and forth, you could throw this phrase in so you can exchange ages.
It’s also worth noting that asking someone’s age in Korea is a bit different culturally than it is in, say, America. In many countries, asking for someone’s age might come off as rude or odd. In South Korea, it’s actually a pretty standard question people ask to break the ice with someone.
In Korean, you sometimes use different language to talk to people of certain ages, so this question can help you determine how to proceed.
몇 살이세요? (Myeot sariseyo?) — How old are you?
저는 열아홉 살입니다. 몇 살이세요? (Jeoneun yeol-ahob sal-ibnida. Myeot sariseyo?) — I’m 19 years old. How old are you?
저는 스물세 살입니다. (Jeoneun seumulse sal-ibnida.) — I’m 23 years old.
5. 무슨 뜻이에요? (Museun tteusieyo?) — What does this mean?
Say you’re out and about in South Korea with your study abroad group. Perhaps you’re going out to eat or to an outlet mall and see something you don’t recognize. This could include both physical things and Korean words that you don’t quite recall.
무슨 뜻이에요? (Museun tteusieyo?) — “What does this mean?” is a clear and simple way to ask what that object or phrase means.
You see a photo of a type of food on a restaurant menu and point to it.
무슨 뜻이에요? (Museun tteusieyo?) — What does this mean?
그것은 불고기입니다. (Geugeos-eun bulgogiibnida.) — That’s bulgogi.
6. 이름이 뭐예요? (Ireumi mwoyeyo?) — What’s your name?
This is great to chuck in right after saying 어떻게 지내세요? (Eotteoke jinaeseyo?) — How are you?
At the most basic level, all Korean learners should be able to figure out their name and how to exchange names when they first begin learning Korean.
이름이 뭐예요? (Ireumi mwoyeyo?) — What’s your name?
제 이름은 지수입니다. 이름이 뭐예요? (Je ileum-eun jisu-ibnida. Ireumi mwoyeyo?) — My name is Jisoo. What’s your name?
제 이름은 마리아입니다. (Je ileum-eun maria-ibnida.) — My name is Maria.
7. 어디 출신이세요? (Eodi chulsiniseyo?) — Where are you from?
This is a fantastic question to ask both a new friend and someone you’ve known for a while.
South Korea, especially Seoul, has quite the melting pot of ethnicities and immigrants. You may be surprised to learn where someone is from.
어디 출신이세요? (Eodi chulsiniseyo?) — Where are you from?
나는 부산에서 왔어. (Naneun busan-eseo wass-eo.) — I’m from Busan.
8. 어디에서 일해요? (Eodieseo ilhaeyo?) — Where do you work?
This is a very common question in South Korea. It’s one of the first questions you can expect someone to ask you. It isn’t considered rude, but rather quite polite.
어디에서 일해요? (Eodieseo ilhaeyo?) — Where do you work?
저는 간호사입니다. (Jeoneun ganhosaibnida.) — I’m a nurse.
9. 어떤 음악을 좋아해요? (Eotteon eumag eul johahaeyo?) — What music do you like?
It’s no secret that South Korea is known for its iconic pop music.
Still, there’s a ton of music from non-pop genres in Korea. It would be worth it to familiarize yourself with some of the more popular musical acts that are hot in South Korea right now.
어떤 음악을 좋아해요? (Eotteon eumag eul johahaeyo?) — What music do you like?
나는 재즈가 좋아. (Naneun jaejeuga joa.) — I like jazz.
10. 시간 있을 때 뭐 하세요? (Sigan isseul ttae mwo haseyo?) — What do you do when you have free time?
This conversation starter can open up some serious floodgates and may be a bit more appropriate to ask if your Korean language skills are upper-beginner or intermediate level in fluency. This is simply because there are so many unique answers you could receive!
시간 있을 때 뭐 하세요? (Sigan isseul ttae mwo haseyo?) — What do you do when you have free time?
나는 축구와 저글링을 해! (Naneun chugguwa jeogeulling-eul hae!) — I play soccer and juggle!
Are you going to add some of these stellar icebreakers to your go-to Korean phrase list? We bet that with a little bit of studying, you’ll be able to connect with native Korean speakers with ease.
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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