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15 Deep Korean Quotes

The Korean language and culture has borne quite a few profound quotes that can appeal to all kinds of people around the world. So whether you’re studying Korean or not, everyone can benefit by learning a few sage and life-relevant sayings to get you through the day.

Here, we’ll go over 15 powerful Korean quotes that you should remember by heart.


1. 해안이 보이지 않는 것을 이겨낼 용기가 없다면 절대로 바다를 건널 수 없다.

English translation: You can’t cross the ocean if you don’t have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

A good quote to live by when you’re attempting to achieve your aspirations. For some Korean natives who choose to go abroad, whether for work or study, this may hit particularly close to home.

It was also a source of comfort for me when I had to move to a different state for my college studies, and as unpredictable and new as it was, the ocean I traversed was well worth the expedition.

2. 개떡같이 말해도 찰떡같이 알아듣는다.

English translation: Even if you speak nonsense, you’ll be understood perfectly.

It’s worthwhile to point out the terms the quote uses: 개떡 and 찰떡. They both refer to rice cakes, but the former is a roughly-shapen, lumpy one, while the latter is of a more pristine shape.

This humorous quote is referencing the moments in which you ramble or stumble over your words, yet you’re somehow still understood by whoever’s listening. I attribute this quote often to my own ever-attentive friends and family, who are experts in decoding my nonsensical blabber.

3. 서당 개 삼 년에 풍월한다.

English translation: A dog at a schoolhouse can recite poems in three years.

An amusing quote that brings to light a practical truth: with enough practice and exposure, anyone can learn or do anything, so don’t lose hope when you don’t get things right on the first try.

Please don’t actively search for talking dogs in Korea–after all, they’re quite good at playing dumb.

4. 말은 나면 제주도로 보내고 사람은 나면 서울로 보내라.

English translation: Send horses to Jeju Island and send people to Seoul.

Jeju Island is a lovely, arboreal place with a geography and culture different from the modern hustle and bustle of Seoul city. And yes, the island is also home to a good deal of horses (I’ve gone horse-riding there myself, and it was definitely worthwhile).

This quote is simply saying that one fosters in an environment that suits their wants and needs. By the way, it’s not that you won’t see a horse in Seoul–it would stick out like a sore thumb (or hoof) though.

5. 웃음은 최고의 명약이다.

English translation: Laughter is the best medicine.

As the usual comedian within my friend group, I couldn’t agree with this quote more. Making people laugh, even during difficult times, is a blessing that I never take for granted.

If you haven’t yet gotten a taste of unique Korean comedy, I recommend you check out some Korean films, TV shows and dramas. You may just discover a new favorite brand of humor.

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6. 시간은 금이다.

English translation: Time is gold.

It’s not just an equivalent to the English proverb “time is money.” Take it from me, Korean people can be a rather nostalgic bunch, and reliving memories is a common pastime for folks both old and young (especially after a few cups of soju have been consumed).

And they really can go on and on about them–I’ve had moments in which I was stuck at the dinner table (for an hour, if I’m lucky) having to listen to my father recount his youthful years for the 100th time.

Treat time as the invaluable treasure it is, if only so that your Korean elders stop reminding you to do so everyday.

7. 자신을 사랑하라. 그래야 남을 사랑할 수 있다.

English translation: Love yourself. Only then can you love others.

I think most of us can agree that we all need more self-love than we give ourselves. It’s especially the case in South Korea, which harbors a rather demanding culture that can be rife with societal pressure and expectations.

Don’t forget to give yourself a hug or pat on the back when you deserve or need it. I’ve been trying to make it a somewhat daily habit for myself, and it’s amazing just how much a quick moment of self-acknowledgement can elevate your mood and appreciation of others.

8. 수시로 안부를 전하라. 눈과 귀에서 멀어지면 마음에서도 멀어진다.

English translation: Say hello frequently. Out of sight and ear, out of mind.

Sometimes, losing contact with someone is a choice–other times, it can be an unfortunate prolonged circumstance of forgetting the occasional “hello” or “how are you.”

I’ve noticed that for Korean folks, especially the older generation, it’s quite important to check in every once in a while (every other day, if you can) to show that they’re still remembered. That being said, when was the last time you called your parents?

9. 콩 심은 데 콩 난다. 좋은 씨앗만 심어라.

English translation: Plant beans, and the beans sprout. So plant good seeds.

Sounds a bit redundant, but the quote is simply saying “as one sows, so shall he reap.” Growing up, this was a motto that I was frequently reminded of anytime I felt like lazing off or being crass towards someone.

Even a little bit of effort to do good at the moment can save you from issues down the road.

10. 인생은 드라마다. 연출하고 연기하라.

English translation: Life is a drama. Direct and act.

There’s really no need to make Korean people, the overlords of the drama genre, believe this quote. It’s also meant to be a bit of a comfort when confronting the highs and lows of life.

There are moments in which you’ll have agency and control and moments you won’t. Regardless, you have a part to play, so keep on chugging on.

11. 모두가 잠든 밤에 피는 꽃도 있다.

English translation: There are flowers that bloom at night when everyone is asleep.

This quote can be interpreted in more than one way. It suggests that one’s potential and talents can be nurtured and expressed even when others aren’t around to see them (being a night-owl introvert, I quite like this interpretation).

Another interpretation is that one who works hard or through late hours, even if others aren’t, can burgeon into a lovely, impressive specimen. This take, while potentially truthful, might not be the best one to tout at Korean students and corporate workers–they already have a lot on their plate, and sleep deprivation really shouldn’t be part of it.

12. 칭찬에 앞장서라. 적군도 아군이 된다.

English translation: Take the initiative to compliment. Then even enemies become allies.

You thought that Korean people were just nice for nicety’s sake? No, it’s all a martial strategy to win the everyday battle that is life. You wouldn’t believe how many foes I’ve disarmed with a single nice comment about something as mundane as their fashion choices.

In all seriousness, though, it doesn’t hurt to be sweet without motive. Kill them with kindness, as the saying goes.

13. 백문이 불여일견.

English translation: It is better to see something once than to hear about it 100 times.

A golden instance of when the Korean language can capture such a profound idea, in so few words. Many Koreans I’ve met in my life are quite extravagant and verbose storytellers, but really, words can get a bit befuddling over time and repetition.

Too bad cameras weren’t often an option when the chronicles they would talk about occurred.

14. 가지가 많은 나무는 바람 잘 날 없다.

English translation: A tree with many branches is weak to wind.

Growing up, I was acquainted with many Korean families that consisted of multiple children. This very saying was a common one shared among the parents while we youngsters made a wild mess of ourselves.

The quote refers to the notion that having more people to care about makes you all the more vulnerable and prone to trouble. We all know of the kid whose individual recklessness brought a fair amount of grief and exasperation to the rest of his or her family.

15. 새로운 언어는 새로운 삶이다.

English translation: A new language is a new life.

Finally, a lovely quote for all you language learners out there, whether you’re studying Korean or something else. I’m sure I don’t need to explain this one in depth–you already know that learning a language opens doors to all kinds of opportunities.

It’s probably the reason why you started your studies in the first place, and it never loses its truth, so good on you and keep it up!

If any of these quotes stuck out to you, it’s worth memorizing them in both their original Korean and English translations.

Beyond just providing a list of some motivational pick-me-ups, I’m hoping that I’ve nudged or furthered your interest and appreciation in the Korean language!

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