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Is Korea English friendly?


Korea has become one of the most popular destinations for both tourists and expats. One question that is often asked by those who wish to visit or live in Korea is whether the country is English friendly. This article will explore the topic in-depth and provide a comprehensive answer.

The History of English in Korea

English was first introduced to Korea during the late 19th century when the country opened its doors to foreign trade. Since then, there have been efforts to promote English education, especially after the Korean War. Today, English is taught as a second language from elementary school through college.

English Proficiency Index (EPI)

The EPI is an annual ranking of countries based on their English proficiency. In the 2020 ranking, Korea ranked 31st out of 100 countries, which indicates that Korea has moderate proficiency in English.

English in Daily Life

While Korean is the primary language spoken in Korea, English can be found in daily life. Many signs, menus, and announcements are written in both Korean and English, and many Koreans speak at least some English.

English in Business

English is essential in the Korean business world. Many Korean companies require employees to have at least a basic understanding of English, and English-language proficiency can increase job opportunities and salary.

English Education

English education is heavily emphasized in Korea. Private tutoring, known as hagwons, are prevalent throughout the country, and many students attend these outside of regular school hours to improve their English skills.

Challenges for English Learners

Despite the emphasis on English education, there are still challenges for learners. Many Koreans struggle with speaking and listening comprehension due to a lack of opportunities to practice speaking with native speakers.

English-Language Media

There are several English-language media outlets in Korea, including newspapers, magazines, and television networks. These can be helpful resources for those looking to improve their English skills.

English-Language Services

Korea is home to many foreign residents, and as a result, there are several English-language services available. These include medical and legal services, as well as expat communities that can provide support.

Teaching English in Korea

Teaching English is a popular job for foreigners in Korea. There are many opportunities for native English speakers to teach in public and private schools, as well as hagwons.


Overall, while Korea may not be considered the most English-friendly country in the world, it is certainly not unfriendly towards the language. With the emphasis on English education and the prevalence of English in daily life, visitors and expats should have no trouble navigating Korea with at least a basic understanding of the language.


For those planning to visit or live in Korea, it is recommended to learn at least some basic Korean phrases to help navigate daily life. Additionally, taking advantage of English-language resources such as media and services can make the transition easier.

Can you live in Korea if you only speak English?

To put it briefly, it is possible to live as an expat in Korea without knowing the language, but there will be moments of difficulty and communication barriers that you may encounter.

Is South Korea easy for English speakers?

From my personal experience, I would rank Korean as one of the most challenging languages I have learned. Even though the alphabet is relatively easy to pick up, overall, Korean requires a significant amount of effort (I would rate it 4/5 in difficulty). It is tougher for an English speaker to become fluent in Korean than in French or German, but easier than Chinese or Arabic.

Is South Korea safe for American tourists?

Visiting South Korea is very safe and many visitors are impressed by the clean streets, friendly atmosphere, and low crime rate, including low rates of crime against foreigners.

What percent of Korea speaks English?

The percentage of Koreans with English proficiency (defined as being able to speak English “very well” and at least one other language) has remained fairly stable at around 43-44%.

Can Americans move to South Korea?

If you plan ahead, moving to South Korea is straightforward. While South Korea traditionally hasn’t been open to foreign migration, this has changed as the country welcomes more international businesses.

Is Japan friendly to English speakers?

English is widely used and enjoyable to learn according to many people. Japanese, Chinese, and Korean are also increasingly common in Japan, but English is sufficient for getting around, especially in larger cities and areas with foreign visitors.

Future of English in Korea

As Korea continues to globalize, English proficiency will become increasingly important. The government has recognized this and has implemented various initiatives to improve English education and proficiency levels. For example, the Ministry of Education has recently introduced a program that aims to increase the number of English immersion schools in the country.

Cultural Barriers

While language is a significant barrier for foreigners living in Korea, cultural differences can also pose challenges. It is essential to understand and respect Korean culture to have a successful experience living in the country. This includes understanding the importance of hierarchy, social etiquette, and customs.

Language Exchange Programs

Language exchange programs are popular in Korea and offer opportunities for foreigners to practice their Korean language skills with native speakers. These programs can also be an excellent way to learn more about Korean culture and make new friends.


Overall, while Korea may not be considered an English-friendly country compared to other countries such as Singapore or the Netherlands, it still offers many opportunities for English speakers. With the emphasis on English education, the prevalence of English in daily life, and the availability of English-language services, visitors and expats can navigate Korea with ease. Additionally, understanding and respecting Korean culture is essential for a successful experience living in the country.

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