A Good Question: “What is Konglish?”

Konglish is an English expression used in Korean as a Korean word, and it is usually completely messed up. They destroy the pronunciation so native speakers may not even understand it. They also use English words in contexts that we may not use them, so it makes no sense to a native English speaker if they are listening. I will give you some examples:

“Ah-ee-soo-koo-ree-moo” is very popular in Korea. There is a Baskin Robbins in every small town. Every small mom and pop shop has a freezer full of ice cream bars they sell. Photo by Sittisak C on Pexels.com

If someone said, “ah-ee-soo-koo-ree-moo,” it would make no sense to English speakers. However, it is something that some people in western countries eat quite often, and it originally comes from an English word. The problem is that “ice cream” went into Japan before it went into Korea. The Koreans got ice cream from Japan. Before the Koreans ever even heard our word “ice cream,” they had learned the mispronunciation that comes by trying to put that word into Japanese letters: ah-ee-soo-koo-ree-moo.” Yes, it is
“ice cream.”

Before your friend runs a race, takes a test, or tries hard at anything, you say “pah-ee-teeng!”Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

Another good example is the word “pah-ee-teeng.” They think they are saying “fighting.” They use it as a way to encourage one another or urge one another on. It is a translation of a Japanese word “gahmbahteh.” In Japan, if you take a test or are trying to do something difficult, the Japanese all around you will say, “gahmbahteh!” trying to encourage you. It is like, “You can do!” or “Try hard!” or “Keep fighting!” or “You can accomplish it!” The Korean word “pah-ee-teeng” has the same meaning as the Japanese word “gahmbahteh.” Perhaps the Koreans got the concept from the Japanese when they occupied Korea, but since they didn’t like the Japanese, but liked the Americans, found a word to use in English for the same concept. We only use it that way if we are cheering for a football team or something, but they picked up on it somehow, and they use it as a word to encourage one another.

Our concepts of “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” confuse them, and they all want to think they have that kind of relationship when they don’t. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Korean guys also like the words “girlfriend” and “boyfriend.” They are trying hard to figure out what they mean. There is no “f” sound in Korean, so it comes out kind of funny when they say it. The first year I got to S. Korea, everyone around me was trying to figure out what those words really meant. If you are married and make friends with a colleague who happens to be of the opposite sex, you aren’t going to call them “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” but the Koreans just couldn’t figure this out. My male colleagues all wanted me to say they were my “boyfriend,” but it just didn’t work for me. They had a hard time figuring it out. It is a cultural thing they are trying to put into Korean and change to konglish, but many really don’t have a handle on it.Related to that, they also have the word “pool-reh-ee-boh-ee” which means “playboy.”

They will often call this a “beg” meaning “bag” or “beg-pek” meaning “backpack.”Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

If you happen to be new to S. Korea, something that is really useful to know is the word “beg” which means “bag.” When you go to the grocery store, they will want to know how many shopping bags you need. They often say “punctul” which means “shopping bag” and well as envelope, but they also use “beg” which means “bag.” That makes it easier on you. They can also use this word for a suitcase, a backpack, or a purse. When I learned another word for “bag” used in Korean, I recognized it as a word the Japanese use too: “kah-bahng.” This is used more for a suitcase or a purse. When I told my students it was the same in Japanese, they decided to never use the world again because they didn’t want to be associated with Japanese at all.

The call this “kay-ee-ku.” Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Another Konglish word is the word for “cake.” One of the words they use for “cake” is “kay-ee-ku.” It sounds like our word for “cake” also, and could be classified as konglish. If you are at a train station, they have another word from English: “pul-raet-poom” which means “platform.” One of the things you can see here is like they did with “girlfriend” and “boyfriend.” They have no “f,” so they are going to substitute a “p” for the “f.” I have even heard food called “pood.” My own family name was hard for them because it has a “v” in it, and there is no “v” in Korean, so I became “Ebos” instead of Everson.” They took the “son” to be like Miss, Mr., or Mrs. because that is what it means in Japanese.

The word for bread, originally came from Latin: bahng. Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

S. Korea is adding more and more words from other countries. English is not the only language they have adapted words from. They have a word “arobait.” It doesn’t have Korean origin at all. It came from German or Dutch, and it means “part time job,” but before I could speak Korean, my student were using it on me like they thought it was English. Their word for “bread” comes from Latin rather than English. They may have gotten this word from the Japanese too. The Japanese word for bread is “pahn” which was borrowed from the Portuguese. The Korean word for bread is “bahng” which also seems just an adaptation of the Japanese word.

The word “kiss” thrills the Korean young people, and they say “kees.”Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

One of the funniest things I heard was when my daughter was invited to a Valentines Day party, and they called it a “Kees pahtee.” That comes from English. “Kees” is “Kiss,” and the young Koreans love that word! “Pahtee” means “party.” Needless to say, my daughter was put off by the name of the party and didn’t go, but it is indicative of many young Koreans. They are very innocent and very intrigued by the word “Kiss.” Many of them won’t kiss anyone until they get married, but they love to talk about it. Koreans are trying to learn about the west and the ways of doing things in the west. However, they are still a pretty innocent bunch, and I hope they stay that way.

In S. Korea, this is a “hahn-du-pon.”Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

The cell phone is a recent invention, so you might think they would use our word “cell phone,” but they have their own English rendition. They say “Hahn-du-pohn” which if we use the English pronunciation of what they are saying is “hand phone.” I am not sure why they chose that word, but it is a Konglish word originating in English, but used as if it is Korean. They expect native English speakers to understand their Konglish words.

Most Korean children go to school after school. They study in Korean at school and in English at the private school after school. They are going to be finding more and more English words that thrill them, and they will incorporate them into Korean. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

These are just a few interesting examples of loans that S. Koreans have made. After a while, you learn to hear the way they destroy English and try to use it as Korean words. They don’t even realize they are using English words often. They have so many words like this that when they begin speaking English, they try to use these funny pronunciations while speaking English because they sound more normal to them, but the smart ones weed the funny pronunciations out when they speak English. If they don’t, it is called Konglish.

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