You may or may not have heard of the term “hanja”. Whether you’re familiar with the term or not, you most definitely have seen it around the city. Around 60% of the Korean language is based off Hanja (한자, 漢字), which is the Korean name for characters borrowed from the Chinese Language. Though seldom used by the younger generations in modern Korea, Hanja is taught in the school curriculum from elementary school to high school.
Though being able to read and write hanja is not necessary for navigating daily life in Korea, being able to recognize some characters will be greatly beneficial. In this article, we’ve compiled a list of common hanja characters that you will frequently encounter in Korea. Knowing them will definitely give you some coolness points among your friends and colleagues.
At many restaurants, (particularly those that serve jjigae, soups, fried chicken, and Chinese food) you may notice varying prices next to the same menu item. The prices vary depending on portion size which are noted by the following hanja signs 大, 中, 小 (large, medium, small). When it comes to ordering, recognizing these characters and being able to pronounce them serve a great purpose.
小 indicates the small portion, pronounced as 소 “soh”
中 indicates the middle portion, pronounced as 중 “joong”
大 indicates a large portion, pronounced as 대 “deh”
*Tip - You can remember the medium portion by remembering the line that goes down the middle, hence the middle portion, or medium size.
* You can recognize the large portion by seeing the hanja character as a person spreading out their limbs to appear big.
Aside from restaurants, you may also come across the Chinese characters for Male and Female on signs to indicate gendered washrooms. Oftentimes you’ll encounter these signs in Japanese Izakayas as well as Korean bars and restaurants. Though it is not necessary to know how to pronounce them, being able to recognize them will be of great use!
男 indicates Male (남자/namja)
女 indicates Female (여자/yeoja)
*a tip to recognizing this character as a female: The character resembles a woman crossing her legs
Though it is not absolutely necessary to get around Korea knowing hanja, the characters mentioned in this article will be appearing over and over again in daily Korean living.