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Lesson Transcript

Seol: 안녕하세요.
Keith: Hi. Keith here. And today we have a culture class for you. It’s been a while since we did our culture class. We had a couple of pilot lessons go up, but, Seol, this is your favorite to do it, isn’t it?
Seol: Yeah. I love culture class.
Keith: Because you love Korean culture?
Seol: Yeah.
Keith: All right. Well, what’s today’s culture class about?

Lesson focus

Seol: It is about Korean Korean age, 나이.
Keith: Can you break down that word?
Seol: 나이 [slowly - broken down by syllable] 나이 [natural native speed]
Keith: So when you ask somebody 나이 어떻게 되세요?, we can use that and ask someone’s age. So 설씨, 나이는 어떻게 되세요?
Seol: 우아...
Keith: 말하기 싫어요?
Seol: 네.
Keith: You don’t know what I say? Ok. Well, that’s ok.
Seol: I heard that in American culture it’s a little bit rude if you ask someone’s age, right? We are taught like that.
Keith: Is it?
Seol: In Korea it’s really common. Everybody asks other people’s age.
Keith: Well, some people don’t like to be asked what their age is, but if you’re in Korea, you have no choice but to answer because you’re going to hear this question all the time.
Seol: Keith, 나이가 어떻게 되세요?
Keith: 한국 나이로 스물다섯.
Seol: 아, 그렇구나.
Keith: So how do you ask “How old are you?”
Seol: 나이가 어떻게 되세요?
Keith: And this is a polite way. What’s a more intimate way?
Seol: 몇 살이세요?
Keith: Two phrases, same thing. All right. And you are going to be hearing this all the time. Seol, let’s pretend that we’re meeting each other for the first time. Ok?
Seol: Ok.
Keith: 안녕하세요. 처음 뵙겠습니다.
Seol: 안녕하세요. 어...저는 윤설입니다.
Keith: 아, 저는 Keith입니다.
Seol: Keith씨는 나이가 어떻게 되세요?
Keith: Right there. See? Right after “What is your name?”, “How old are you?”. And the reason for that is because once you know somebody’s age, you place yourself in relation to that person. So if you think of it as a vertical line and everybody’s age is from zero to, you know, whatever starting from the bottom and then all the way up. So if you know somebody’s age you can see if they’re above you, on the same level as you or below you. And this is a huge part of Korean social dynamics. So we meet for the first time. And 저는 25살이에요. I’m 25 years old. So what do you think, immediately?
Seol: You’re younger than me, so I’m above you. According to age, I can change my speech level and I can use more intimate way of speaking and making conversation.
Keith: So after we start hanging out and start knowing each other a little bit more, and I’m still using polite language towards you.
Seol: Right. And I still use the polite language.
Keith: Right. We both still use polite language, but it’s a little annoying, you know? You’re just like, ah, let’s stop being polite.
Seol: Then, why don’t you ask me to lore my speech level to you? You’re younger than me.
Keith: So the younger person tells the older person 말 놓으세요.
Seol: Yes. Ok. 그래, 말 놓을게.
Keith: So you kind of have to get permission to lower your speech levels. And the older person can say that to the younger person too, right?
Seol: Right, right.
Keith: So it goes both ways, but you kind of have to get permission to lower your speech levels. And it’s like “Yeah? You sure? Okay. All right, no problem.”. It’s like that, but, even though Seol and I don’t have a big age gap. So even though she is only , what is like, a year and a half?
Seol: Two years.
Keith: Wait, wait, wait. Really, you’re only a year and a half older than me.
Seol: But, in Korean system I’m two years older than you.
Keith: So instead of going by birthdays, Koreans go by the year you were born and instead of asking how old you are, sometimes they just ask...
Seol: 몇 년생이세요?
Keith: What year were you born? And the reason they ask this is because they find out, once again, if you are on the same level, if you’re older or if you’re younger. Your birthday, it doesn’t matter, it’s the year that matters. Because once it’s January 1st and the calendar moves up one year, then everybody’s one year older.
Seol: Right.
Keith: Your birthday does not have to pass, so instead of asking how old you are, they ask what year you were born. And that’s, once again, to know where you stand in relation to them, if you are older, younger or the same age. And, here, I am 25 and, Seol, you are?
Seol: 27.
Keith: Yes, but really, that is Korean age, isn’t it?
Seol: Yes.
Keith: So according to the Western standard, how old are you?
Seol: 25.
Keith: I’m 24 by Western standard. What happened?
Seol: Because my birthday is December, I became one year old right after my mom gave birth to me, right?
Keith: The minute you come out of your mother’s womb, you’re one year old.
Seol: And then, the calendar changed, so after the January 1st came, I became two years old.
Keith: When, in reality, you’re only like…
Seol: I was like 20 days old.
Keith: But you’re two years old.
Seol: Yes.
Keith: Wow. So everybody in Korea, one year added on to their actual age. Or, sometimes, even two years old as is in Seol’s case. She has two years added almost every year, right?
Seol: Yes.
Keith: You only have one year added on for some couple of days out of the year, and then the rest of the days of the year, you have two years added on to your age.
Seol: Yes, that’s right. I don’t like 한국 나이. I love Western standard better than 한국 나이.
Keith: Can we break down that word?
Seol: 한국 나이.
Keith: Korean age. All right. Now, you are 27 and I’m 25 한국 나이로. So, since you’re older than me, even by a year and a half, you’re 누다.
Seol: Yes, yeah. Even though I don’t want to admit it, I’m 누나.
Keith: Well, isn’t that a good thing?
Seol: Why?
Keith: No?
Seol: No, not at all.
Keith: All right. Well, this is a kinship term, it means “older sister” for a male, “a male’s older sister”, but we use it even for people that are not related to you at all, even for people you can meet on the same day. So we have a bunch of these terms, and we’re going to have another Culture Class on this, but for now just know that there’s a bunch of kinship terms that Koreans use all the time.
Seol: It decides a lot of things.
Keith: So everybody is in the same group according to year, but they do this because is reinforced over and over by school, by family, and just general culture in Korea. It’s oh, you’re this age? Oh, he’s this age. Oh, she’s this age? Oh, he’s this age. So, even in school when you’re doing everything with the same grade with...
Seol: 동갑.
Keith: Just people that are born in the same year, you’re doing everything together.
Seol: If we are 동갑, we share a lot of things. For example, the year that we got into the school is the same, so we got through a lot of similar situations or similar events, that’s why we can find a lot of things in common among 동갑 friends.
Keith: So when you meet someone for the first time and they say “Oh, how old are you?” “Oh, me too.” and they get really excited...
Seol: Yes. And we get closer.
Keith: Yes. It’s like an automatic two steps closer to friendship.
Seol: Good expression.
Keith: There’s also something called 빠른, something, something, right?
Seol: Right.
Keith: So I’m born in 1983, so I say 팔삼, just 83 and everybody knows oh, 1983.
Seol: But sometimes there are people who say 빠른 82년생이에요 or 빠른 80년생이에요.
Keith: So we have something called 빠른 and then you have the year that you were born, 82, 79, 75. And that just means that you were born that year. Let’s say, for example, let’s have 빠른 85, 85, 1985. 빠른 means “fast” or “quick,” so it means “fast 85”. This means you were born when?
Seol: In January or February.
Keith: Of 1985.
Seol: Right.
Keith: But, you went to school with?
Seol: 84.
Keith: Everybody that was born in 1984.
Seol: So let’s pretend that I’m 빠른 85, early 1985, then I would think that I’m older than usual 85. So if you are born in 1985, for example March, and I’m like the same year February, then I’m one year older than you because I went to school earlier than you. So this is quite complicated Korean system, but you have to be familiar with this system. 나이가 어떻게 되세요? or 몇 살이세요? If you are asked by these questions, don’t be caught off guard. You will be hearing these questions a lot and tell the truth. Don’t lie like me.
Keith: All right. I think that’s going to do it. Remember everybody, Seol is going to be 26.
Seol: Yes.


Keith: December 13th and the Intermediate series is going to be starting that same day. And be sure to say happy birthday to Seol because she’s going to be one year older about 17 days later. All right, so that’s going to do it. Remember to stop by KoreanClass101.com, check out the PDF and leave us a post. Tell us what you think and let us know about your experiences with Koreans and age. All right. That’s going to do it. See you later.
Seol: See you later.