Does culture shape language or does language shape culture? Either way, the two are most definitely interconnected. Thus, examining a language gives a great glimpse into the culture. This connection also allows for words that exist in one language to be untranslatable in another. Having grown up in South Korea with Korean as my first language, I definitely hold values uncommon in the United States and feel emotions I can’t describe in English. Here is a list of Korean words without a direct English translation!
n. deep friendship, fondness, familiarity
I’m starting to develop 정 for Berkeley; it’s growing on me.
n. unique attractive charm
The main character has so much 매력, I want to be like her.
n. cute charm
Her 애교 won his heart.
n. social and emotional sense; tact
He has no 눈치 — he’s never aware of the elephant in the room.
n. duty to show loyalty, respect and devotion to parents
My biggest priority is to express gratitude to my parents by fulfilling 효도.
n. spirit, energy
Having so many people around, my dog’s 기 is really alive today.
n. polite/informal speech
She’s older than me, so I use 존댓말 to her, while she uses 반말 to me.
adj. not salty enough
This soybean paste soup is way too 싱거워.
adj. cheesy/greasy (regarding food or a person)
Animal fries from In-N-Out are so 느끼해.
adj. feeling “stuffy”, physically or emotionally
I’m so 답답해 because they won’t talk to me and I don’t know why.
adj. sad/inconvenienced by a lack; feeling pity for a situation; bummed out
It’s 아쉬워 that our travel plans got cancelled because of COVID; it’s a bummer.
adj. ridiculous; makes no sense and has one dumbfounded
That driver just honked at me then cut in front of me — so 어이없어.
adj. mad, upset, salty in a petty way
They’re 삐져 at their friend for not saving any cake for them.
adj. nervous in a positive way; excited
I’m so 설레 for our upcoming spring break trip.
adj. emotionally moved, touched, impressed
I got 감동받아 from Bong Joon-ho’s new movie.
excl. “Have strength!” “You got this!”
You’re going to do great this semester! 화이팅!
Many of these example sentences are commonly used by many of my Korean American friends and myself when we speak to each other, as we constantly mix Korean and English to speak “Konglish.” What are some words and phrases you grew up using that are unique to your culture?