Due to the imperfect nature of translating Korean writing into romanized characters, you will find a lot of confusing variation in place names. For instance "G" and "K" seem to be used interchangably and what is spelled with a G on map might be spelled with a K on signs. An example is that Gyeonbok Gung palace is alternatively known as Kyongbok Kung.
No seriously.... the Koreans have only started interacting with foreigners (with the exception of the US armed forces) since the late 80's and English has only been mandatory in schools for about 10 years. Unlike it's South East Asian neighbours Korea has had a history of isolationism so do not expect anyone outside the young middle-classes to speak any English.
Even the trendy youngsters for whom English is seen as a fashion thing (rather than an actual language used amongst groups of mixed nationalities all over the world) you will discover that they may be able to read and write English but cannot speak or understand anything you say.
Bizarre pronunciations such as "Pischa Hottu" (Pizza Hut) and Englishii (English) abound and although you may see English used on shop fronts and in commercials it tends only to be one or two words used for effect rather than for practical purposes. (i.e Actually using the language).
Don't be surprised if you go to even upmarket restaurants and shops in the trendier uptown areas such as Gangnam and no one can speak a word of English or any other foreign language.
Also, do not be at all surprised if you are expected to be able to speak Korean even though you are obviously a tourist. This is Korea...... they are simply not used to outsiders and many Koreans mistakenly believe that Korean is widely spoken outside their borders as a "business language".
It can be a great adventure but don't expect it to be anything like South Asia who are much more used to dealing with international visitors and ex-pats communities.
I found that many travellers complained about language barriers in Korea. As I lived in Korea for a long time, I can give you some useful tips. First, most young people in Korea learn English in school, which means that they can understand basic word and sentences. So, you don't need to use polite expressions when you ask something to people, (though it seems weird). e.g) If you're looking for a toilet, you'd say "Excuse me, where is the toilet?" rather than "Excuse me, Could you please - - -" Second, ask those who look like students. Young students, esp. university students, are really keen to study English. Moreover, they like to talk to foreigners to practice their English. (But they hardly try to have a chat with you since they're usually shy.) So, feel free to ask or talk to people who look like students. I bet most of them will eagerly you. Third, Korea has become very globalized that they use a lot of English words in their life. But pronunciation often cause problem, especially "t" at the end of the word. If people don't understand your English, pronounce it like "tu". e.g) ticket : tic ke tu. In fact, this tip would be more helpful in Japan. They pronounce also "l" like "lu".
I spent five days in Seoul and met about three people in the city able to communicate in English and two of them worked for the tourist office. I'm not complaining because my Korean is no better. I only mention it as a warning, most of us believe that somebody will be able to speak a little english. Don't travel to south korea operating under this mistaken belief you will be sadly disapointed. You have to be willing to learn a few key phrases and not be easily embarrased when people look blankly at you. Please don't let this put you off I had a wonderful time but I don't mind making a bit of prat of myself when it comes to language.
Korea is a place whereby it is tough to travel on your own if you do not know their language. Cos the signages for shops, instructions for items etc are all in Korean and there is no English translation available.
Beware of the use of Konglish, it tends to sneak up on you. Often found on T-Shirts, Pencil Case and Menus.
Konglish is the mix of English and Korean terms that totally make no sense.
Be Warned - you may find yourself starting to talk like this to taxi drivers as soon as you get off the plane.
Be careful on what you order in restaurants if you don't know the language. Three out of the four dishes I ordered were hot, Hot, HOT!
Watch out taxi drivers! A few bad drivers deceive foreigners. If you speak in English or other languages, they would pretend they can't catch your words. But it is the worst situation.
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