Texting, preferably done through the chatting app, KakaoTalk, is a crucial part of living in Korea. Even though you may be used to sending and receiving text messages in English or any other language, Koreans have a very special style when it comes to texting, which can be very confusing and sometimes impossible to understand. So, if you’re new to texting in Korean, then I hope that this blog post will serve as a useful guide and help you navigate the muddy waters of KakaoTalk.
I’ll get into the use of emoticons, slang, spelling, Konglish, and texting grammar, hoping to teach you as much about Korean texting as possible. Let’s dive in!
A smiley in Korean is different from the standard western 🙂 emoticon. Koreans prefer to type ^^ which symbolizes two smiling eyes. They may occasionally look like this ><, too. If a Korean is winking at you, they would usually send you this one: ~<. Sometimes adding ㅎㅎ to your text message also conveys the same meaning as a smiley face. It simply suggests that you’re giggling (like hehe). So, don’t be surprised if a Korean sends you a text reading “뭐해? ㅎㅎ” (whatcha doin’? hehe). It shows that you’re in a good mood. This, in my opinion, is the biggest difference between ㅎㅎ and ㅋㅋ.
ㅋㅋ is the sound of laughter in Korean, so if you want to write LOL in Korean, you would write ㅋㅋㅋ (I’ve occasionally received and sent up to maybe 15 ㅋ, as in ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ). The more ㅋ you write, the harder you’re laughing. If, on the other hand, you want to show that you are sad about something, you use either ㅜ or ㅠ which symbolizes tears running from an eye. This is equivalent to the standard 😦 sad smiley face. You may also sometimes use one of these symbols to show that something the other party has said or done has moved you to tears.
What if you want to show that you are nervous or uncomfortable or maybe you are being playful and just said something to tease the other and don’t know how they’ll react? Just throw in a handful of semicolons;;;;;. This symbolizes sweating, which is something you may do when you’re nervous. Make sure not to confuse this with a Western winky smiley ;).
Misspelling words on purpose
Just like we may occasionally write u instead of you, I dunno instead of I don’t know, etc., Koreans seem to have made a sport out of misspelling and obstructing words in their texting language making it very difficult for foreigners to even understand what is written. I once had a Korean teacher at Sogang who warned all Korean learners against learning to spell from texting with native speakers. Here are a few examples with correct spellings in parentheses:
싫타 (싫다), 좋타 (좋다), 공뷰 (공부), 아니자나 (아니잖아), 추카해 (축하해), 진짜루 (진짜로), 뭐하구잇어 (뭐 하고 있어), 보고시포 (보고싶어), …죠 (…줘)
As you can see, they are often just simplified spellings probably out of sheer lazyness. Occasionally, a different spelling with the same sound is used just like writing skewl instead of school in English for no apparent reason.
Chatwords and slang
There are also a ton of words that are conveniently shortened for texting purposes. Here are a few:
왜케 (왜 이렇게 = why so…), 어케 (어떻게 = how), 잼게 (재미있게 = having fun), 짐 (지금 = now)
And then a couple of slang expressions that work particularly well in the written language: 맘상 (마음이 상했어 = heart break), 고래 / 그려 (그래 = sure), 노잼 (재미없다 = no fun/boring), 긱사 (기숙사 = dormitory) just to name a few.
It’s also common to add prefixes like 핵 or 개 to emphasize something. 핵쩐다 or 개춥다. Note that this may be borderline swearing, and should never ever be used with anyone you are not close with.
Here’s an example of a text exchange that I may or may not have engaged in in Korean (But feel free to guess if I’m A or B^^):
A: 뭐해? (What r u doing?)
B: 방금 퇴근 ㅎㅎ 넌? (Just came home, you?)
A: 난 공뷰중 ㅠㅠ 핵노잼! (Studying 😦 super boring!)
B: ㅋㅋㅋ 핵노잼이라니… 와이닝 노노해! (LOL super boring… stop whining!)
A: 휴 맘상 ㅠ (Aww, heartbreak)
Note the casual style of the language and the frequent use of emoticons like ㅎㅎ, ㅋㅋ, ㅠㅠ. There’s even a fusion word, 노노해, which is not a word at all but a Konglish word made up of “no no” and the Korean word for do (hae), which is text slang for “don’t or stop”.
There are several ways you can make your texts sound cute in Korean. One way is to switch the 오 with an 우 sound, so instead of saying 나도 you say 나두. Another way is to add ㅇ to the end of words like 엉, 내일 봐용, 재미없당, etc. You may also choose to just add a few ~~~ after a sentence to give it a stretchier sound. I once sent a text like that and immediately got the reply, 완전 음성지원 된다. 음성지원 is a Korean slang word meaning “voice support” and this means that the recipient felt that they received your text message in your voice, because it sounded so much like something you’d say in real life.
The ㅁ ending
Sometimes it’s less about being cute and more about getting your point across, quickly and with no unnecessary fuss. In this case the Korean grammatical structure of the ㅁ ending attached to the stem of the verb comes in handy. Real life example (I’m totally scrolling through old texts to write this post):
A: 도착함? (Have you arrived)
B: 낫옛 ㅠ 내리면 연락할게 (Not yet, I’ll text as soon as I get off)
A: ㅇㅋ ㅇㅋ, 이따 봐 (ok ok, see you soon)
By using the ㅁ form, you make the text clear and direct. A different scenario where it’s used could be this:
A: 이 노래 좋은데, 들어봄? (This song is good, heard it?)
B: 엉, 나도 좋아 (Mmm, I like it too)
English words in Korean
As you have seen in the exchanges above, it’s very common to throw in Korean spellings of English words into a text message. Here are some examples of text Konglish that I use regularly: 낫옛 (not yet), 어썸 (awesome), 어메이징 (amazing), 굿모닝 (good morning), and 굿밤 (good night).
There are probably many things I didn’t cover, but these are in my opinion the most distinct characteristics of Korean texting style. I want to round off by saying that you can of course only use these styles when you are texting with friends. If, for some reason, you are texting in a more formal setting, stick to standard and polite Korean if you don’t want to get in trouble.
If any of you have some fun Korean texting words you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Happy Friday!