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Lesson Transcript

Seol: 안녕하세요. 윤설입니다.
Keith: Hi, Keith here. And we have another culture class for you today. Today, our culture class is continuing with our last culture class on ages. In regards to ages, there’s something important in language, and what is that, Seol?
Seol: The politeness level of language.
Keith: And in Korean, instead of verbs being conjugated according to the first person, second person, third person, verbs are conjugated in regards to politeness levels. And politeness levels play a huge, huge, huge, huge part in Korean language. Why is that?
Seol: Because by the politeness level that you use, people will have impression on you. And if you use wrong politeness level, then, you know, people will think that you are not a good person or you are a little bit rude.
Keith: That’s why when we started KoreanClass101.com, we started with the most polite, so that our listeners don’t sound rude when they’re speaking Korean. Now, that’s what today’s culture class is all about. We want to let you know where and how and which politeness levels you can use with which relationships, so you can be sure that you’re being polite when you need to be polite and casual, when…
Seol: Yeah, you should be casual when the circumstances look very casual, right?
Keith: Exactly. You sound awkward if you’re being polite if you’re in a casual situation. So far, we’ve introduced three politeness levels. What are they?
Seol: Formal, standard and intimate.

Lesson focus

Keith: Ranking from the most polite to the least polite - formal, then the standard, then it’s intimate. Now, in Korean, what do you call that?
Seol: 존댓말 and 반말.
Keith: And if you noticed, we only have two in Korean. So formal and standard politeness fall under?
Seol: 존댓말.
Keith: Can you break that down?
Seol: 존댓말 [slowly - broken down by syllable] 존댓말 [natural native speed]
Keith: And intimate politeness level falls under?
Seol: 반말 [slowly - broken down by syllable] 반말 [natural native speed]
Keith: But there is a difference between the formal politeness level and the standard politeness level. But Korean, they just group it into one group. So our formal politeness level. Seol, personally, who do you use the formal politeness level with?
Seol: With my teachers, professors and to my boss.
Keith: All the time?
Seol: Not really, but those that I met for the first time.
Keith: And why is that?
Seol: Because I’m not familiar with them, I do not know them very well, so I should be polite at first.
Keith: What about your boss? Maybe you know him or her for, I don’t know, five years, ten years.
Seol: Then you should change it to standard politeness level.
Keith: But there’re some instances where they still use the formal politeness level, right?
Seol: Yeah, like business meetings or some formal meetings. I should be really polite to other people, so I should use the formal politeness level of Korean.
Keith: And just as the title suggests, in any formal situation, use the formal politeness level. So there’s business meetings…
Seol: And the classes.
Keith: News.
Seol: And public speaking.
Keith: And articles and magazines?
Seol: Yes, you should, you should. When you write Korean, you should be really polite. So the language that you have to use must be formal politeness level.
Keith: And the reason for that is because you’re reaching out to a wide audience. You’re reaching out to so many people, so you want to be as polite as possible. All right. So in everyday speech, it’s not very common at all.
Seol: Not at all.
Keith: Yeah, not at all, but it’s very important to know at the very, very beginning because you want to be as polite as possible. And it’s also important in advanced levels, when you want to read newspapers or you want to listen to the news or you want to talk to your professor.
Seol: But you have to be sure when you write an article for a magazine or a newspaper, you should use a written form. But for opinion pieces, we need formal standard level of Korean.
Keith: And yes, instead of these three: formal, standard and intimate politeness level, there is also a written form and it’s a little different. It’s a little closer to…
Seol: Kind of 반말.
Keith: Intimate politeness level, yeah, but it’s different. But today we’re just talking about speaking. We don’t want to get too much into this So yes, formal politeness level when you’re giving an opinion piece, because it’s your opinion and you’re reaching out to a wide, wide audience. You’re using the formal politeness level when writing because people tend to write like they speak. Now, when speaking, there’s this guy in my office, he’s Polish and he knows Korean, but he uses the formal politeness level.
Seol: All the time to you?
Keith: All the time.
Seol: Wow.
Keith: So it sounds really…
Seol: You feel like you’re not close to him at all.
Keith: Yeah, yeah. It seems like he’s from a long, long generation ago. And that’s another thing. Traditional Korean families, like very, very, very traditional, they’ll use the formal politeness level, right?
Seol: Yes.
Keith: And if, you know, your grandparents are very traditional then, they’ll be like “Hey, why aren’t you using that?” you know?
Seol: Yes. That is true.
Keith: Not your family?
Seol: Not my family.
Keith: Not your family. Do…well 가족이랑 존댓말 써요?
Seol: 가끔요.
Keith: 가끔?
Seol: Sometimes.
Keith: When do you use polite language?
Seol: When my parents are not in good mood.
Keith: So you don’t use the formal politeness level then, too, right?
Seol: Yes.
Keith: What do you use?
Seol: Intimate, and sometimes standard.
Keith: So when your parents are angry, what kind of politeness level do you use?
Seol: I mix them. I mean, like, I sometimes use formal politeness level and also standard politeness level.
Keith: Which one do you use more?
Seol: Standard politeness level, of course.
Keith: All right. So let’s talk about the standard politeness level a little bit. You don’t use it with your family, huh?
Seol: I use it.
Keith: I mean only when your parents are mad.
Seol: Yeah, yes.
Keith: 친척들은요?
Seol: I use standard politeness level all the time to my relatives.
Keith: So your aunt, your uncles…
Seol: Yes.
Keith: 할아버지, 할머니?
Seol: Yes.
Keith: So your grandparents… Like, some families are so close that they just use…
Seol: Just use what?
Keith: 반말.
Seol: To grandparents?
Keith: Yes… some families do.
Seol: Not in my…
Keith: If they live together.
Seol: Maybe but it’s not very common, I think.
Keith: All right, so I think we’re going a little bit off topic here. So who do you use the standard politeness level with?
Seol: Yeah, I use it to everybody except friends. And generally speaking, I use it to those people who are older than me and who are not very close to me.
Keith: And that includes strangers too.
Seol: Yes.
Keith: Even if you meet someone for the first time it’s totally acceptable to use the standard politeness level. Actually, it’s almost expected to use the standard politeness level. If you use the formal politeness level, then it’s a little bit weird because it’s too formal. So the standard politeness level, I use it with my co-workers, with my relatives, my aunts, my uncles and my grandparents, and to strangers…
Seol: But not to your parents?
Keith: No. Well, here’s the thing, though… I grew up using 반말.
Seol: Yes.
Keith: Intimate politeness level. Because, you know, they’re my family.
Seol: Yes.
Keith: But I’m getting a little older and I feel the need to respect them. Now, that’s a lot of Korean kids… They feel the same way, a little… When they’re young, they always use 반말, and then, after a while, after they get a little older, a little more mature, they’re like “Hey, they’re my parents.” And that’s a thing with a lot of Korean kids. They get a little older, they start feeling the need to respect their parents, so they try to use 존댓말 polite language. So yes, that’s the thing, like these people are not in your inner circle, that’s why you are going to be hearing all the time inner circle, that’s the way you determine with which person you use which politeness level with, But yes, if these people are not in your inner circle, then you use standard politeness level. And how do you change from polite language to intimate language? So for instance, Seol and I, we were…
Seol: We were using standard politeness level at first, right?
Keith: Yes, because I didn’t know you too well, but we were working together and… You know, after a while… We are friends now, so we switched to the…
Seol: Intimate level.
Keith: Yes. So how did we change from the standard politeness level to intimate?
Seol: I asked you to use the intimate politeness level.
Keith: And how do you say that in Korean?
Seol: 말씀 놓으세요.
Keith: And there’s a couple of other ones, right? What else is there?
Seol: 말 놓으세요, 말 낮추세요 and 말 편하게 하세요.
Keith: So a lot of times it’s not very natural to use standard politeness level. You keep using it, you keep using it and then gradually to intimate politeness level. It doesn’t really work like that a lot of times.
Seol: You need an occasion, you need an event.
Keith: And what are those events are usually drinking events.
Seol: Yes.
Keith: So after you get comfortable, you’re like: “Hey, come on. We don’t have to be so polite. We’re friends.” So there’s an event, or something happens, you guys are starting to hang out a lot and then one of you decides: “Hey, we don’t need all of this extra language.” So they say…
Seol: 말 놓으세요.
Keith: Or, the other two?
Seol: 말씀 낮추세요. 말 편하게 하세요.
Keith: And they’re like, ok 그렇게 할까?
Seol: 그래.
Keith: So yes, they’re like: “Yes. Ok. We should do it. All right.”. And then, after that, they’re pretty much in your inner circle, after that. And once you are in the inner circle, you’re ok to use the intimate politeness level. And as we said before, it’s for people that are in your inner circle. Now, who are the people that are in your inner circle?
Seol: My friends, my family and those who are close to me and also younger than me.
Keith: So that’s exactly it. If those are all the people that you don’t really feel the need to respect because they’re close to you. They’re part of your inner circle. Whatever you do, you know they’ll forgive you, you know they won’t be mad at you or not too long, and that’s when you can use the intimate politeness level. And if they’re not in your inner circle, here are some other examples that you can use intimate politeness level with. You can use it if you’re a cop and you’re talking to a criminal.
Seol: Yes.
Keith: Why?
Seol: Because they have to follow you. You’re the person who has the power, authority.
Keith: In the relationship, yes. So if you hold strong, strong power in a relationship, then you can use whatever language that you want. And bosses talking to employees, as well?
Seol: Sometimes.
Keith: Normally, bosses should be using 존댓말.
Seol: Yes. But…
Keith: But…
Seol: Some use 반말.
Keith: And the reason they should be using polite language towards you is because it’s work environment, you should be as professional as possible. But some bosses, they hold power in the relationship, so they say hey. I want to use intimate politeness level. I don’t want to have all this excess baggage. And here’s another example. If you get into a fight, then man, forget all of these politeness levels. That’s your fault. That’s your fault.
Seol: You don’t have to be polite when you are in a fight.
Keith: So sometimes, it can be excess baggage. If you’re in a fight I don’t want to use it anymore. If you become close friends with people it’s a little annoying. Let’s drop it. So it’s a little extra. And typically speaking, the intimate politeness level is shorter, anyway. So it’s a lot easier to use it. So Seol, are you going to be using intimate politeness level with the listeners now?
Seol: No. I want to be polite and like I do not want that listeners think that I’m rude.


Keith: And even that we’re still reaching out at a wide audience? We’re not using formal politeness level because it’s too formal. We want to be a little relaxed. But we don’t want to be rude, so we’re using the standard politeness level. All right. So that’s going to do it for today. Remember to stop by KoreanClass101.com and let us know about your experiences about politeness levels. And after you leave us a comment, remember to check out the PDF. There we have a detailed write up about the politeness levels. All right. That’s going to do it. See you later.
Seol: 안녕.