S1 Ep.9 Korean Age vs. Real Age

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Vanessa: 9화: 한국 나이는 32살인데, 만 나이는 30살이에요.

Chris: Episode #9: I’m 32 years old in Korean age, but my real age is 30.

Vanessa: 안녕하세요? 크리스 씨! 잘 지냈어요?

Chris: 네, 잘 지냈어요. 바네사 씨는요? 저 사실 질문 있어요. Actually, I have a question.

Vanessa: 네, 질문이 뭐예요? What’s the question?

Chris  Last time I noticed that you say different ages depending on which country we are in.  Why do you say you are 30 years old in Canada, yet in Korea you say you are 32 years old to others. Are you trying to fool people with age?

Vanessa: 네? Hahaha. Of course not. It is because the Korean age and the real age are different.

Chris: Different age? You mean the age-counting system is different?

Vanessa: Yes.

Chris: ahhhhh.. How is it possible to have different way of counting age?

Vanessa There is a different method of counting age in Korea. In Korea, age includes the period in the mother’s womb, so it is counted as one year old at the time of birth. Also, one year is added every new year day, January 1.  So if I was born in December 2020, I would be already two years old in 2021 today. So they count one when I was born and another one year as the year turned into 2021, meaning a total of two years old.

Chris What? How can a baby who was born just a few months old turns 2 years old?

Vanessa Yes, according to the Korean traditional calculation method. Actually, my birthday is in December. So I always have a 2-year difference between my real age and my Korean age.

Chris Ah… How interesting and confusing. Why does Korea use such a difficult calculation method?

Vanessa: Haha. Actually, even in Korea, this age traditional calculation method is not used officially or legally. However, it is widely used in everyday life. This is because, in Korea, the title changes according to the age difference in human relationships. So, it is important to have a traditional calculation method to ensure that the age difference between each needs to be fixed and not changed.

Chris: What do you mean that the age difference is fixed and not changing? How can the age difference between each other change? Your birthday doesn’t change.

Vanessa: Well… It can change. For example, if you calculate by age normal method and compare those born in October and December of the same year, the one born in October will be one year older for 2 months after their birthday passes.  This creates one year of age difference during that time and back to the same age for the rest of the year.  This makes it a problem as it is difficult to define a title to call them each time.

Chris: It seems that one year difference is very important in Korean culture.

Vanessa: Yes. It’s really important. For example, there is a word called 오빠that means older male one / brother.  If a man is older than me who I have known for a while, I should continue to call him by this title instead of the words 너/ person’s name + 씨/ 당신. However, if the age difference between the two is broken, this title becomes meaningless. Because the title is based on the agreement that he is older than me.  The same goes to titles like 누나, 언니, 형 and more. That is why this traditional age calculation method is widely used in our daily life in Korea.

Chris: Ah, in a nutshell, is this a way to prevent confusion?

Vanessa: Yes. So when people ask about your age in Korea, they are usually asking for your age in this Korean traditional-age calculation method.  When using the real age, emphasize that “만 나이” since it is not usually used daily.  So, remember to say your Korean age in day-to-day conversation, and it is common to write your 만 나이, real age in government documents such as birth reports and official documents.

Chris Wow… The Korean age calculation method is a new concept for me.

Vanessa Knowing your Korean age is essential when you are meeting and making Korean friends. It sounds a little complicated at first, but once you calculate it, it becomes convenient later. You can add one more year with each passing year.

Chris: Thanks for the interesting lesson today!  Let’s practice some examples with the words we learned today.

Situation #1

Chris혹시 이 / 입국 신고서에 / 어떤 / 나이를 / 써야 돼요? What age should I write on this entry form?

Vanessa만 나이 쓰시면 돼요. You should write your 만 나이 (real age).

Situation #2

Vanessa: 아이고.. 아기가 너무 귀여워요. 몇 살이에요?Aww… the baby is so cute. How old is she?

Chris: 작년 12월에 태어났으니까, 지금 2살이에요. She was born last December, so she is 2 years old now.

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Picture of Hye Su Bae (Vanessa)

Hye Su Bae (Vanessa)

Korean Instructor