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How much English is spoken in Seoul?

London
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How much English is spoken in Seoul?

Especially Myeongdong, where I am staying?

I would like to try and use my phrase book to good effect, but at the same time it is very intimidating for a solo traveller who has never been to a non-English speaking country before.

FWIW, I will also be in Tokyo the week before!

Say I go into a local convinience store for a Mars Bar? Is it at all likely the shopkeeper would speak a few words of English if I need to ask a question?

And what about buses and taxis? I plan to show the taxi driver the Hangul word of my destination, but apart from that I will be a mute passenger. He could be kidnappping me for all I know lol.

I will be using the Limo Bus service from ICN to Myeongdong, would the bus driver likely converse in English as well as Korean, or will I need my phrase book straight away?

Long Island
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1. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

Your experience will vary. Most store employees, hotel employees, and taxi drivers will know some english and you'll likely be able to communicate, maybe with some difficulty. However, the farther away from Seoul you get, the less likely everyday people will speak english.

One tip, in addition to written words for your destinations, is a great iphone app, googletranslate. Another option is to use the voice memo feature and have the concierge at your hotel say where you need to go. It's easier than writing it down as the concierge can speak whole sentences and elaborate on your destination a bit better. One thing I noticed which I thought a bit strange, many taxi drivers didn't know the locations of some of the museums.

San Francisco
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2. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

Not much English is spoken, same as in Tokyo. But you really don't need to do too much talking, especially if you are buying a Mars Bar or drink, do you chat away in your local super market or 7/11? you buy, you pay, you go. I smile, I bow a little (bow more in Japan), I point at dishes, talking is way over-rated. I don't speak nor read a word of Korean, I had no problem in Seoul. But once I left a popular Myeongdong restaurant after 5 minutes, because it had no picture, I could not figure it out and I could tell what they are on the next tables. I ate elsewhere, it worked out.

There is a very popular noodle shop in Myeong, 3 stories, jam packed, only has 3 items on the menu. I ordered all. Also a Tonkatsu restaurant there is very good, it has pictures.

Doing business is a different story, information is far more extensive and complicated, we cannot do without our Korean manager.

I noticed on the last trip, many shops and companies have Chinese speaking employees, I was told most of them are Koreans returned from schools in China. Koreans are super sharp business people, they know where the money is and where it will be coming from in the next 20 years. They don't fight it, they go with the flow before the trend.

Edited: 19 August 2011, 05:48
Johor Bahru
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3. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

I think Koreans can understand but they find it difficult to speak english.

Some restaurants have english menu, espc those in Myeongdong! So I think there should not be any probs if you are staying n eating in Myeongdong. Try learning to recongnize a read a few hangul characters, they are not hard and very useful when you go into small restaurants without english menu. I think the fun part for me about Korean restaurants is that you speak English to the waiter, and they speak to you in Korean and the food you want still gets served on your table!!!

Major tourists spots (like Insadong, Myeongdong, Hongdae..) have Tourists Information Centre around the area. And the ppl inside speaks English and can help with whatever you need to know. When lost, just find one and they will give you a map of the area and your prob is solved!

Have fun!~

SF
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4. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

Try your best with your phrase book first. It's only considerate and polite to at least try to communicate in the host's language and they'll appreciate it. Learn to pronounce words correctly at the minimum, and you'd be surprised how far you can get even if you don't speak in sentences.

Seoul, South Korea
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5. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

Lol, funny post, Macbcmini! Glad to see a visitor keep coming back to the forum to help out other visitors. It's always great to see that!

Anyhow, most people speak some English, but most are afraid to try and often run away when asked questions by foreigners. Your best bet is to target college students. They are more likely to try to help.

Ten million foreign tourists visit Seoul every year. Don't worry, you'll be fine!

San Francisco
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6. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

On our first Seoul visit few years ago, first day, first taxi ride, I told driver to go to Namdaemon, he didn't get it, so I said it 7 more times, even with Korean accent, he got it on my 8th try. Strange, because the 8th try sounded same as 3rd, 4th and 6th tries, or somewhat close. It works.

Talking is way over-rated, I don't read manual, I don't ask for direction, I certainly don't use phrase book, I always find what I want to find, eventually. It is more exciting and adventurous. If I am lost, I pretend I am not lost until my wife finds out we are lost.

Based on what westinhan said in another post, I canceled my Plaza hotel reservation and changed to Hamilton hotel in Itaewon, I hope he knows what he is talking about. Hamilton looks like is in the middle of actions, I don't want to repeat the mistake of staying at Shila hotel, which is on a huge mountain some say is 2 minutes climb, which is actually 20+ minutes climb with smoking break, plus subway ride.

Tel Aviv, Israel
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7. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

I jumped into a taxi one night and lo and behold I ended up with a driver who spoke fluent English. People are helpful even without the language. One night I had to get off the metro before my stop due to some unforseen problem and some lovely lady without a word of english took me under her wing to get me to my destination. I went into loads of stores, especially to buy snacks and never felt a need to get into an intellectual conversation over a mars bar. I stayed at a great hostel and all the people that worked ther spoke excellent English. On my one trip a bit further afield and using buses they wrote down everything I needed in Korean for me. You will have no problems whatsoever. Things like the subway are tourist friendly and easy to use and if you get lost just show someone your station and they will show you the way. .

have a great trip

angie

www.angietravels.com

Whistler, Canada
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8. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

I think everyone's experience is different. I found it was a bit of a hit and miss. I was in Seoul for a week, stayed at the Ibis Hotel in Myeongdong. I didn't have a problem with staff at the hotel. No problem with taxi's, as we always had the hotel write out where we wanted to go, and brought a hotel brochure with us, for our return trip. Shopping in the major department stores was fine. Not every sales clerk knew English but at least they were able to find us someone who did speak some. Shopping at the markets was pretty simple, most vendors knew the phrase "how much". As for our bus driver on the Limo Bus, not a word of English. but there is an automatic announcement made on board at every stop, however if you're sitting pass the middle of the bus it's hard to hear. There's a list of stops on the window of the bus if you want to follow. The most challenging part for us was dining. We only picked restaurants that had pictures, but even that was difficult as some of the picture are not a clear indication of what the food is. I managed to order something so spicy I was only able to eat 2-3 bites. A few restaurants we went to (perhaps more casual), we had to order at the front counter and pay at the front counter, one time we spent about 30 mintues waiting for a server at our table until we clued in. It was actually comical in a way... one restaurant we were at, the server managed to point out "chicken"... I'm guessing that was the only word she knew... anyhow, we ended up with 3 plates of chicken! The irony is that we only ordered 2 (or at least tried to order 2). So at the worse case, if you can't find someone who speaks English at least you'll have a bit of an adventure. I did really enjoy eating from all the street food off the carts, so make sure you leave some room for this! Incidentally all the restaurants we ate at were in the Myeongdong area, so we were a bit surprised that not more English was spoken.

Seoul, South Korea
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9. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

Macbcmini, I don't think I ever recall recommending the Hamilton Hotel! It is a bit rundown and the price is too high considering its quality. In fact, I have repeatedly advised against the Hamilton Hotel. The only good thing I have said about it is that's absolutely centrally located in the heart of Itaewon. Actually, if you want to stay in Itaewon, I'd suggest the IP Boutique Hotel instead. It is newer and nicer and only a 5 minute walk up from the Hamilton Hotel.

The Plaza Hotel is newly renovated and it has a great location in downtown Seoul. You can walk to most tourist sites in nice weather (up to 20-30 minute walk to even places like Insadong and about 5 minutes for Myeongdong).

The Shilla Hotel is a very nice hotel, but it is on a hill and you need to walk about 15 minutes to get down to the subway station.

If you are a tourist looking for the sites and you can afford it, go with the Chosun Westin Hotel. It is ideally situated and the service is top-class. The Lotte Hotel is also great, but it is too big and impersonal.

San Francisco
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10. Re: How much English is spoken in Seoul?

You once suggested Itaewon, I sent our Korean manager to Itaewon to check, he said area is fun. Hamilton is okay, rundown is okay, more exciting and exotic, I booked a suite. IP 5 minutes walk is too far, factor No.1 is always location, which means when I step out there should be many people, shops and restaurants right there, ZERO MINUTE, not 5 minutes or 15 minutes away. Subway 5-10 minutes walk is too far, should be under the hotel. Thus one can experience the neighborhood to the fullest in the shortest possible time, you cannot do that in Westin or Hyatt. It is only one night, day time is for business elsewhere, time is a luxury we do not have. We will have 2 nights in Tea Tree Hotel to experience Kangnam area. Will save Plaza for next time, maybe.

I already spent 4 weeks in 2011 in Hyatt and Hilton hotels, I don’t need to do that in Seoul, this is our chance to have fun in small hotels.

In Shanghai TA forum, you said you will stay in Pudong, let me caution you, your Pudong hotel is in a very boring far away area with nothing nearby, you will waste a lot of time and energy traveling to and from downtown.