What is Konglish and How to Use it

konglish

“뭐 마실래?” (What would you like to drink?)

“나는 아아”  (I’ll have an “aa”.)

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Have you ever seen Korean people order like this in K-dramas or in real life? When I first heard it, I thought it was some kind of new drink. But to my surprise, it’s actually Koreans’ favorite drink – iced Americano!

example of Konglish

아아 means iced Americano? Don’t be surprised, there are much more words like this in the everyday Korean language. They are called Konglish.

So today we are going to talk about this special type of Korean words – Konglish (콩글리시), English-style Korean language greatly influenced by English and American culture. It may come from English but its meaning can be slightly (or hugely) different!

Let’s learn more! 

What is Konglish

As the name suggests, Konglish is a mixture of Korean and English. It can be made up of either English loanwords, mistranslations from English to Korean, or pseudo-English words created in Japan and brought into use in Korea. Nowadays, Konglish can also be seen frequently in shopping streets and restaurants in many major cities in Korea. It’s especially popular among the younger generation in South Korea.

Korea's capital city slogan

After the Korean War, the presence of American troops in Korea had a significant impact on the Korean language. English began to become the most popular foreign language in Korea and the two languages naturally blended to develop new vocabulary. The year 1975 saw the first appearance of the concept of “Korean English (konglish)”, meaning a mixture of Korean and English.

After the success of the Korean democracy movement, more and more young people chose to study in English-speaking countries like United States, Canada, and Australia. Nowadays, English is still the most important source language for music, movies, games, and other fields. The main consumers of these services are young people, which makes Konglish more and more popular in Korea.

List of Essential Konglish words 

Some Konglish words (English loanwords) are quite like English

Konglish Romanization English Meaning
피자 pija pizza
주스 juseu juice
드라마 deurama Television drama
콘서트 konsseoteu concert
포크 pokeu fork
케이크 keik cake
아이스크림 aiseukeurim ice cream
콜라 kolla cola
디저트  dijeoteu dessert
샌드위치 saendeuwichi sandwich
메뉴  menyu menu
소울 푸드 soul pudeu  soul food
화이팅 hwaiting fighting

Some Konglish words are very creative

Konglish Romanization English Meaning
아이 쇼핑 ai syoping window shopping (eye shopping)
핸드폰 haendeupon mobile phone (hand phone)
스킨십 seukinship physical contact (skinship)
노트 noteubuk laptop (notebook)
원룸 wonlum bachelor apartment (one room)
서비스 seobiseu free of charge/on the house (service)
원피스 wonpiseu dress (one piece)
이밴트 ibenteu sale/promotion (event)
오피스텔 opiseutel studio apartment (office hotel)
셀카 selka Selfie (self camera)

Some Konglish words shorten English words

Konglish Romanization English Meaning
오버 obeo overdo, exaggerate
니트 niteu knitted sweater
아아 ah-ah iced americano
싸인 ssain signature
오토바이 otobai motorbike
아파트 apateu apartment
셀프 selpeu self-service
밴드 bandeu bandage/Band-Aid
raep plastic wrap
시에프 siepeu commercial film
홈피 hompi homepage
리모컨 leemokeon remote control
에어컨 eeokeon air conditioner

Some Konglish words combine English and Korean words

Konglish Romanization Combination Meaning
헬스장 helseujang health+장 Gym
골프장 golpeujang golf+장 Golf course
노답 nodab no+답 no reply
따아 tta-a 따뜻한+ americano hot americano
꿀잼 kkuljaem honey + 재미있다 being extremely interesting
노잼 nojaem no+재미있다 boring
헬기 helgi helicopter + 비행기 helicopter
싱크대 singkeudae sink+대 sink
팀장 timjang team+장 Team leader

Some Konglish words are from other languages

Konglish Romanization Meaning Source
호프 hopeu beer hall German: hof
알바 alba part-time job German: arbeit
메스 meseu surgical scalpel Dutch: mes
피에로 peiro clown French: Pierrot
데뷔 debwi debut French: début

Konglish vs English loanwords

As you can see, instead of copying English word-for-word, Konglish words are actually very creative, which distinguishes them from English loanwords. Try guessing the meaning of these 4 easily confused Konglish words and you’ll see why!

easily confused Konglish words

So what’s the difference between Konglish and English loanwords?

Konglish includes words borrowed from English or other languages that have been appropriated into Korean and have changed their original meanings. These words and phrases are often shortened or combined with other words to form a new word with a unique Korean meaning, including many uses that are not easily understood by native English speakers.

For example, “AD” means “apology”.

Think of it as the abbreviation of “apple do”. In Korea, 사과 “sagwa” has two meanings, “apple” and “apologize”. Here “apple do” refers to 사과해 (sagwa hae), which means “apology”.

English loanwords, on the other hand, are English words with a Korean pronunciation. They have the same meaning as the original word and are generally understood by native English speakers.

For example, 케이크 (keikeu) means cake in English and 게임 (geim) sounds just like game. Both pronunciation and meaning of these words are similar to English.

konglish vs English loanword

Konglish and Korean Learning

In recent years, Konglish has become more and more integrated into the daily communication of Korean people, and can even be heard frequently in government settings and public places. This is actually good news for English natives learning Korean because many Konglish words can be memorized relatively easily once their meaning is understood! In addition, knowing some Konglish is a ticket to modern Korean culture and communication with the younger generation.

Of course, learning Konglish does not mean that you will be able to communicate fluently with Korean people – the most important thing is still to master basic Korean!

LingoDeer has a wealth of Korean learning resources, so you can learn how to pronounce the language and communicate simply in no time. Best of all, it also has tips on travel and living in Korea to make your trip even easier! I highly recommend you give it a try for FREE.

LingoDeer Korean travel phrasebook

Konglish jokes

As Konglish absorbs many English words into the Korean language, some of them inevitably resemble Korean words. As a result, a lot of Konglish jokes have developed over the years. Take a look and test if you can understand them!

Joke #1

Q: What is the biggest bean in the world?

A: 킹콩! (kingkong)

Explanation: The word 킹 (king) is “king” and 콩 (kong) means “bean” in Korean. Putting them together, it is the king of beans.

Joke #2

Q: What do you call a coffee that can’t move?

A: 모카! (moka)

Explanation: 못카 (moka) is the konglish word for mocha coffee, but in this case it is actually used as a homophone alternative to 못가 (motga), which means can’t go. 

Here is a related grammar tip: In Korean, if you can’t do something, add 못 before the verb. For example, 가 meaning to go and 못가 meaning can’t go.

Joke #3

Why don’t you care about a small cow?

It’s 소소 (so-so). 

Explanation: 소소 (so so) means small in Korean and 소 (so) means cow 

Joke #4

Q: What do you call a pig that plays guitar?

A: 포크무시크! (pokeumusikeu)

Explanation: In Korean, 포크 (pokeu) is the Konglish word for pork and 뮤시크 (musikeu) is music. Combined together it becomes 포크뮤시크 (pokeumusikeu), meaning pork music.

Criticisms of Konglish

As Konglish has gained popularity, voices in opposition to it have also arisen. As you may know, Korean people are very proud of their national language and many regard it as a symbol of Korean culture and national identity. Every year on October 9th, people celebrate Hangul Day to commemorate the invention of Hangul, the scientific writing system of the modern Korean language.

On last year’s Hangul Day, the Korean government said, “We will reduce the use of unnecessary foreign language, restrict technical terms to Korean, etc., and observe our language and script.”

But, ironically, the Korean government’s frequent use of “wid corona” is also Konglish. “Wid corona” is derived from “with corona,” an expression for the “phased daily recovery policy” implemented by the Korean government, while “wid” is used because “th” is not pronounced in Korean. 

During the Covid-19 epidemic, new Konglish vocabulary continued to grow and many English words were borrowed incorrectly. For example, “언택트 (untact)”, meaning “non-contact”, and “코로나 블루 (corona blue)” referring to the depression caused by the epidemic. The term “코로너미 (coronomy)” was created to refer to the economic slowdown caused by the epidemic.

For some Koreans, the widespread use of Konglish is disrespectful to the language. The Korean Language Association, which works to promote and maintain the purity of the Korean language, also believes that the misuse of foreign languages undermines the ability of Koreans to use their own language correctly. 

The frequent use of Konglish has led people to question why they cannot create new terms in Korean and always borrow from English. This makes it more difficult for older generations and foreigners to integrate into Korean society and creates more inequality.

But as far as the language itself is concerned, this innovation is a natural development considering the progress of the times.” Konglish” reflects cultural identity and is a reflection of linguistic diversity. Most importantly, it is used not only for communication within Korea, but also for connecting people from different countries interested in Korean culture, which is the ultimate purpose of the language.

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Nagizatz
Nagizatz
1 month ago

It is very interesting

Kanu
Kanu
1 month ago

This was a great and informative article! Keep going!