Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Destinations > Asia > Korea
Reload this Page >

Is English widely spoken in Seoul?

Is English widely spoken in Seoul?

Old Feb 5, 15, 11:56 pm
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Nov 2014
Location: Kuwait
Posts: 532
Is English widely spoken in Seoul?

Hello all

I'm planning on visiting Seoul for tourism, but before I do that do people there speak English? Or will I face issues in communicating with the people around me?

Edit: sorry I meant widely* Can a mod edit my title and fix the typo?
aceboy44 is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 12:07 am
  #2  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
Hyatt Contributor Badge
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: QLA
Programs: SBUX Gold
Posts: 14,506
"Wisely" ... love it!

I think the prevalence of English speakers is slightly higher than average. You'll have some trouble but it wouldn't put me off from visiting.
IceTrojan is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 12:18 am
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Nov 2014
Location: Kuwait
Posts: 532
Originally Posted by VNAFlyer View Post
"Wisely" ... love it!

I think the prevalence of English speakers is slightly higher than average. You'll have some trouble but it wouldn't put me off from visiting.
So..... would it be better if I hire a private tour guide or can I manage on my own?
aceboy44 is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 12:36 am
  #4  
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 4,772
No, Koreans have pretty horrible English, along up there with the Chinese and Japanese.

You will have a difficult time ordering food. Unlike Japan they usually don't have fake food or photos. And they don't understand English at all. You would do better with Chinese (Mandarin) there.

You should hire a guide. My friend learned Korean and still had a guide.
s0ssos is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 12:41 am
  #5  
A FlyerTalk Posting Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: back to my roots in Scotland!
Programs: Tamsin - what else is there to say?
Posts: 47,845
There has been a US base in Seoul for decades - its much more widely spoken there than anyplace else in South Korea. Generally a lot of people speak a little english, but they may be reluctant to do so because they believe their english is bad so they lose face.

Hotels, it's usually fine, desk staff speak english. There is also the underground to get around on, which is relatively straightforward.

It is entirely possible to get around speaking/reading little/no Korean and without a tour guide but it may depend on how used you are to travelling in situations where you cannot communicate with those around you. As a traveller to Japan and China, I found South Korea a bit easier than either of those two, although China has improved considerably.
Jenbel is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 1:48 am
  #6  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
Hyatt Contributor Badge
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: QLA
Programs: SBUX Gold
Posts: 14,506
Originally Posted by aceboy44 View Post
So..... would it be better if I hire a private tour guide or can I manage on my own?
A guide will make it much easier, that's for sure. I'm the adventurous so I winged it knowing no Korean except "Thank you" (can't spell it, just know how to mimic the sounds ) and I managed just fine. Be sure to have Google Maps offline... most of the communication problems I had related to directions.
IceTrojan is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 2:04 am
  #7  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Bangkok or San Francisco
Programs: United 1k, Marriott Lifetime PE, Former DL Gold, Former SQ Solitaire, HH Gold
Posts: 11,881
Originally Posted by aceboy44 View Post
Hello all

I'm planning on visiting Seoul for tourism, but before I do that do people there speak English? Or will I face issues in communicating with the people around me?

Edit: sorry I meant widely* Can a mod edit my title and fix the typo?
I spent a week there with only English. No problems at all.
Tchiowa is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 2:20 am
  #8  
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Boulder
Programs: AA Plat, CX Silver
Posts: 2,304
One difficult thing about Seoul was the exit guides in the metro stations. Unlike Tokyo where the exit guides always mark tourist highlights and are in clear English, Seoul's often only listed places useful to locals (apartment complexes, grocery stores), leaving off things useful for tourists.
txflyer77 is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 4:09 am
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London & Sonoma CA
Programs: UA 1K MM, Hertz PC, BAEC Silver
Posts: 7,959
It seems to me that English is less wisely spoken everywhere, especially as it becomes more widely spoken. Perhaps there should be a Chinese proverb on the topic.
lhrsfo is online now  
Old Feb 6, 15, 4:13 am
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Programs: LH SEN, VA Plat, BA Gold
Posts: 465
Originally Posted by txflyer77 View Post
One difficult thing about Seoul was the exit guides in the metro stations. Unlike Tokyo where the exit guides always mark tourist highlights and are in clear English, Seoul's often only listed places useful to locals (apartment complexes, grocery stores), leaving off things useful for tourists.
I'd like to think that I'm alright with navigating myself in a foreign country .... but I also struggled quite a bit with the Seoul Metro!
im.daniel is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 5:19 am
  #11  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Austin, Texas
Programs: Airline nobody. Sad!
Posts: 25,674
Is English wisely spoken in Seoul?

Seoul Metro worked well for me, but Tokyo metro is definitely more tourist friendly. That said, I've been to Seoul for three straight years, and will be going later this month for a fourth and longest stay yet, and I know "hello" and "thank you" in Korean and that is it, and have gotten along fine. Most hotels (even Korean hotels) will have English speaking staff, with western business hotels having almost all staff capable in English. Many tourist sights have descriptions in English in addition to Korean. Restaurants can be an issue as noted, you might not be able to be quite as adventurous in Seoul as some other locations, but most western chain places (McD's etc.) will have English speaking staff so you won't starve! The tourist website Visit Seoul is fully bilingual and was a big help to me. Of course, get a copy of your hotel's business card in Korean, taxi drivers will rarely speak English. There are international taxi drivers that can be reserved that do speak English. http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/TR/TR_EN_5_2.jsp

Enjoy your trip!
TheBOSman is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 5:24 am
  #12  
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: European: ZRH, Asian: SIN
Posts: 7,505
Seoul is better regarding English than the rest of Korea, but it's still rather bad.

Forget about older people understanding English in general (mostly like in China and Japan) - and for the younger generations, it's not that much better. of course some do speak English, but in general, English language skills in Korea aren't much better than in Japan. In China, it seems the younger generations do pick up more English than in Japan/Korea.
YuropFlyer is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 6:25 am
  #13  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Location: ORD
Programs: AA (current EXP, occasional PLT, 0MM); UA; DL
Posts: 6,094
Well, I wasn't looking to hold a conference of English speakers, but when I needed I was always able to find someone who could understand and help me. That was adequate.

I'd say, have no fear, keep an open mind, be prepared that once in a while you'll feel like a stranger that you really are, and you'll have a great time and rewarding travel experience.

BTW they have a great Hop On Hop Off bus service for tourists in Seoul! I recommend it.

Last edited by aktchi; Feb 6, 15 at 6:42 am
aktchi is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 6:28 am
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: K+K
Programs: *G
Posts: 4,284
incredibly generalized, but in seoul its about on par with japan. mostly its the youth that speak it, but the % is far lower than in western and central europe, and the ones that can have relatively low proficiency are quite shy about it.

its far from "difficult" to get around and etc
deniah is offline  
Old Feb 6, 15, 6:32 am
  #15  
A FlyerTalk Posting Legend
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: NYC
Posts: 69,099
Just wrapped a long weekend in Seoul in November and as a tourist and, while English was not widely spoken from what I could overhear, it was present sufficiently in the tourist areas to get by. That includes visits to Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Hanok Village, Noryangjin Fish Market (including getting lunch in one of the restaurants, though that was one of the harder bits) and dining at the Gwangjang Night Market.

We certainly did not randomly make friends and strike up long, involved conversations with folks on the street, but we did just fine on the visit overall. You might want a guide for some specific bits if you are the sort of visitor who wants to ask lots of questions at any given point in time, but we definitely didn't think one was necessary.

n.b. The link above is to my blog or to one which I am a regular contributor. FT rules require that I disclose that in the post.
sbm12 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread