S1 Ep8: Why are there so many ways to say “one’s age” in Korean?

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Vanessa: 8화: 나이가 어떻게 되세요?

Chris:  Episode #8: How old are you?

Vanessa: 안녕하세요 크리스씨 뭐하고 있어요?

Chris: Oh, nothing. I’m just reading over the informational guide on the vaccine. But, hey, what does the phrase “백신 접종 연령 제한” mean?

Vanessa: Ah, 백신 접종 연령 제한 means the Vaccination age limit.  백신 접종 means Vaccination, 연령 means age, and 제한 means limit.

Chris: The word 열령 meant age? I thought the word for age is 나이 in Korean.

Vanessa Oh, you are right. Usually, 나이 referred to as age. However, when speaking in such a formal and neutral tone, the word 연령 is used. It is generally used in official documents in public offices or companies.

Chris: Oh, why do people have to use that words?  나이 is an easy and general expression.

Vanessa: Actually, there are many words for age in Korean. The term “나이” is used more commonly in everyday conversation. And there is a similar word for “살.” This word has many other meanings, one of which is “years old.” “나이” and “살” are commonly used in everyday life, but you can think of 나이 as a noun/subject and 살 as a unit to express age.

And there is another word, “연세” that has the same meaning as age. This word is used for older people who have a large age gap, and the word “연세” is usually used for people over 60.  The honorific word for age, “연세” which is used in conversation. That’s why in writing when readers’ ages are unspecified, to ensure to deliver neutral tone, the word 연령 exists.

Chris: Oh, That makes sense. So there a common word for age 나이, age unit to express 살, honorific word 연세, neutral-toned word 연령. Knowing that there are many words to express age, Koreans really care a lot about their age.

Vanessa: Absolutely. Actually, the reason has a lot to do with the age culture of Korea. Korea was ruled by the “Joseon Dynasty” for about 500 years before the present Republic of Korea. At that time, the Joseon Dynasty promoted Confucianism as the main guiding ideology, and one of the five virtues of Confucianism was “장유유서,” that means keeping order and law between adults and children.  Since then, age has been an important factor in human relationships, so it is important to respect older people.

100 years have passed since the end of the Joseon Dynasty. The social atmosphere has pursued more pragmatic values, as South Korea has adopted democracy and capitalism. Yet, the age difference is still important as the culture of the importance of age remains.

Chris:  Got it. It makes sense. Korean society is deeply influenced by history and culture.  I think it is a good culture carry-on, which respects elders as they have lived and have experienced.

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

Vanessa: Yes, Iet’s do it!

Situation #1

Vanessa: 안녕하세요? 선생님, 연세가 어떻게 되세요? Hello Sir, How old are you?

Chris: 아, 예순두사리에요. I’m 62 years old.

Situation #2

Chris: 죄송합니다. 아직 제 한국어가 서툴러요. 혹시 이 입국 신고서에 연령은 무슨 뜻이에요?

I’m sorry. My Korean is limited. What does 연령mean on this immigration entry form?

Vanessa: 아~ 괜찮아요. 음… 그 칸에 크리스 씨 나이 쓰면 되요. It’s okay. Well… You can write your age in that space.

Situation #3

Vanessa크리스 씨는 나이가 어떻게 되세요?   Chris, How old are you?

Chris아, 네 저는 27살이에요. 그럼 바네사 씨는 몇 살이세요?

I’m 27 years old, what about you Vanessa?

Vanessa저는 28 살이에요.   I’m 28  years old

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Picture of Hye Su Bae (Vanessa)

Hye Su Bae (Vanessa)

Korean Instructor