Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Survival Korean: Excuse Me?!

Being British, I naturally say 'excuse me' an awful lot. 'Excuse me, can you take our order?' 'Excuse me, how much is this?' 'Excuse me, can I pass by' 'Excuse me, I'm sorry about that', etc etc etc. It's just terribly British, isn't it?


There isn't a simple answer. Because Korean doesn't have one word to fit all the situations that 'excuse me' covers in English. So if you're going to Korea and you want to be nice and lovely and polite and say 'excuse me' a lot but IN KOREAN, here are some phrases you need to know:

1. When you want to get someone's attention. 
For example, in a shop or restaurant. If you want to get the waiter's attention, just call out to them:
This roughly translates as 'over here please!' and is pronounced something like 'chogiyo'. Listen out in a restaurant and you'll hear lots of other people saying it.

2. When someone is in your way, and you want to pass by
For example, on the subway, you want to exit and you need to push through people. Actually, if you're in Seoul, don't worry too much because you'll find that the city is so busy, people don't bother to say 'excuse me' anyway, they just push! But you'll set a great example of politeness if you say:
This really means 'wait a moment!', and you can of course also use it for any situation when you would say 'wait a minute' in English. It sounds like 'cham-shee-man-yo'.

3. When you want to apologise
Sometimes we say 'excuse me' when we mean 'I'm sorry', right? Like when you accidently bump into someone. In Korean, you can apologise by saying:
The pronunciation is a bit difficult. Try 'chwesso-hamnida' said very quickly. (It's always better if you can read hangeul or actually hear the pronunciation - that's why I don't usually try to write in English how to pronounce Korean words). You can use it to politely apologise for most small things.

4. When you interrupt someone:
Easy, use the same word as above:
Because when you interrupt someone, you want to apologise for it first, right? When I say 'interrupt', I mean like if you interrupt a conversation, or if you enter someone's office and interrupt them working.

5. When you cough, burp, fart or sneeze
Umm .... I could be wrong, but I don't think people actually say anything at all in this situation .... do they? And don't expect anyone to say 'Bless you' if you sneeze, because it definitely won't happen.

Finally, a word of warning: DON'T trust phrasebooks! Some of them have completely useless translations for 'excuse me'. The most common word I see in phrasebooks is '실례합니다', but in reality I've rarely heard anyone say this, and as I said before, it won't work in all the same situations as 'excuse me' in English anyway, so be careful.


  1. Hi! (we have the same, haha!)

    I tried out a Pimsleur Method CD to learn Korean, and when getting someone's attention, preceding a question, 실례지만 was taught. Pronounced like shil-le-ji-mahn... is this actually used?
    I want to learn Korean but there are no teachers in my area, now I think it's hopeless to try online..

    1. Hi!

      I don't think '실례지만' is common, as I haven't heard people say it often. I'm really not an expert though, so you'd do better to ask a Korean person! But I'm sure '저기요' is definitely the most common way to get someone's attention.

      If you don't have a teacher or any Korean friends to hel0p you learn, you could try watching Korean TV shows to hear how people really talk :)

  2. Yes. i am using Pimsleur Method, too and they say Shil-le-ji-mahn. Every book I have says something different. Even when I look up info on youtube, different. I think I am going to go with what everyone else is saying. Pimsleur is good though, but I am finding some things are different from the books. I agree with Ari, watch some movies and listen carefully.

    1. You guys might find this episode of 'Let's Speak Korean' useful:


      It gives an example of when you might use '실례합니다'

  3. Thanks. I've gained alot from all the info. God bless you and help you in learning