S1 Ep10: Can I call you Oppa(오빠)?

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Vanessa: 10화: 오빠라고 불러도 되요?

Chris:  Episode #10: Can I call you Oppa?

Chris:  안녕하세요! 바네사, I have something to say.

Vanessa: 어… 크리스… 갑자기 뭐예요? 이런 분위기 무서워요. 나쁜 소식은 아니죠? Hey Chris… umm what is it all of sudden?  I don’t like this atmosphere. I hope it is not bad news.

Chris:  It’s not like that.  Um… Are we close friend?

Vanessa: Of course! We are close friends! Why do you ask that all of a sudden?

Chris:  But why is that you never call me 오빠? When I watch Korean dramas, Korean women call their close male friends “오빠.”

Vanessa: Ah… Hahaha, That’s because you are younger than me. So that’s why I can’t call you 오빠.

Chris:  Ah? Really? So 오빠 is a term only used to call older men??

Vanessa:  Yes. But to be precise, it’s not the term that can be used to refer to all the men who are older than me. It may sound complicated, but depending on how big the age difference is and whether the person is a man or a woman, the term can be changed. Each term has a slightly different feel and nuance. And depending on how you use it, it can sometimes unintentionally contain a slightly sexual or inappropriate nuance.

Chris:  Even a sexual or inappropriate nuance? Then, if I use it incorrectly to call someone important, I might be in big trouble!

Vanessa: Oh, in some cases, it might be.

Chris:  Then please continue to explain it to me

Vanessa: As many of you already know, there is a very unusual name that exists only in Korean. 형 older brother if the speaker is male, 오빠 older sister if the speaker is female, 누나 older sister if the speaker is male, 언니 older sister if the speaker is female. However, these titles are widely used not only for family relationships but also for close friends. Usually, it’s okay to use this title within a 10 years difference, but it’s better to consider another title for people with a higher age difference.  Especially, the term 오빠 and 누나are used by the opposite gender, so it can lead to misunderstandings if used when there is too much age difference.  It is a term used without hesitation among close friends within a similar age group.  If using to someone close to you with 10 or more years of the age difference, it can give the wrong nuance

Chris:  Ah… Then what term should I use to refer to someone who has a high age difference?

Vanessa: When the age gap is too huge, other titles can be used between relationships. You can use 선배 in the university alumni relationship, or you can also use your opponent’s job or position. If you’re not sure, it’s okay to ask the other person directly and decide what to call each other.  Also, if it is someone you just met for the first time, you can simply omit the title and  use 저… , which doesn’t mean any

Chris:  Oh, so when a new relationship is created, you kinda have to sort out the title of each other, right?

Vanessa: Yes, that is correct. This is also true of the names of 형, 오빠, 누나, 언니.  It is better to start with a casual greeting to someone you meet for the first time and ask if it is okay to use the title, rather than not asking and using the title right away.  It can make you look more polite and give you the image of a decent person. Also, within similar age groups, there are alternative titles when we need to show a little more respect or a sense of distance in some cases. 형 older brother if the speaker is male and with more respect use 형님, and 누나 older sister if the speaker is male and with more respect use 누님. However, in the case of 언니, even though there is a large age difference, if the relationship is good and close, it can be used a bit more universally.  Also, in the case of  “오빠,” there is no other term with the form of respect.  Still, it can’t use universally like 언니, so instead of using 오빠, it can be replaced with 선배 or another title that fits the person.

Chris:  In slightly respectful form, 형 to 형님, 누나 to 누님, for 언니, it is commonly used throughout and for 오빠 use rather different term/title.  Thank you for your lesson on the difference in nuances in titles and expressions that can be used incorrectly.

Vanessa: You’re welcome. Shall we listen to today’s expression together?

Chris:  Yeah!


Chris: 안녕하세요? 반갑습니다. 제가 호칭을 어떻게 하면 좋을까요?

Hello, Nice to meet you. How can I address you?

Vanessa: 음… 2-3살 차이나니까, 그냥 누나라고 불러~

Umm, since we are 2 or 3 years apart, you can just call me 누나.

Chris: 네, 누나 Okay, 누나


Vanessa: 안녕하세요? 저 기억하세요? 지난 번 학교 축제 때 봤었는데… Hello, do you remember me?  We met at the last campus festival event.

Chris: 어! 안녕? 기억나! 오랜만이야~ Oh, yes.  Hi, I do remember. It has been a while.

Vanessa:네… 같은 수업을 들으니까, 앞으로 우리 자주 만날 것 같아요. 그럼 혹시 제가 오빠라고 불러도 될까요?  Yes, Since we are taking the same class, we will probably run-into each other quite often.  Would it be okay if I call you Oppa?

Chris: 응 그래, yeah Sure,


Chris: 누님이 도와주신 덕분에 우리 모두 좋은 성적을 받았습니다. 정말 감사합니다.

Due to 누님’s help, we were all able to get an excellent scores. Thank you very much

Vanessa:아유~ 뭐, 별 거 아니야~ Ah, its nothing. Don’t mention it.

Chris: 다시 한번 더 감사합니다. 누님!  Thank you once again 누님

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Picture of Hye Su Bae (Vanessa)

Hye Su Bae (Vanessa)

Korean Instructor