Looking for something to cheer you up? These motivational Korean proverbs might be the inspiration boost you need.
Like you, Koreans are no strangers to words of encouragement from their loved ones. And aside from giving comfort, these proverbs teach a lot about the values Koreans have held for generations.
Here are 20 Korean sayings that will inspire you today, wherever you are in the world.
1. 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다
Pronunciation: weon-sung-i-do na-mu-eh-seo ddeo-leo-jin-da
Literal translation: Even monkeys fall from trees sometimes.
Meaning: If even the best tree-climbers can fall off a tree, then surely anyone can mess up. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert in what you do, it’s perfectly fine to make mistakes.
2. 고생 끝에 낙이 온다
Pronunciation: go-saeng ggeut-eh nagi eun-da
Literal translation: At the end of hardship comes happiness.
Meaning: Struggling with something right now? Maybe you’re studying for an exam or still hunting for a job. This Korean saying reminds you to never give up, because hard work will be rewarded with success.
English equivalent: No pain, no gain.
3. 티끌 모아 태산
Pronunciation: ti-ggeul mo-a tae-san
Literal translation: One can make a mountain by collecting specks of dust.
Meaning: Small things can build into something. Even your tiniest effort will add up to your success. Just as how tall mountains are made of specks of dust! Every day counts, so keep on fighting!
English equivalent: Many a little makes a mickle.
4. 서당 개 삼 년에 풍월 한다
Pronunciation: seo-dang gae sam nyeon-e pung-weol han-da
Literal translation: Even a dog can recite a poem after three years at a village schoolhouse.
Meaning: You become great by practicing and surrounding yourself with the right people. If you’re feeling down because you think you lack the skills, there’s always room for improvement!
English equivalent: Practice makes perfect.
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5. 길고 짧은 것은 대어 보아야 안다
Pronunciation: gil-go jjal-beun geo-seun dae-yeo bo-a-ya an-da
Literal translation: You have to measure it to know if it’s long or short.
Meaning: Is your fear of failure stopping you from going for that dream job? Remember that you won’t really know if you can do it unless you try. It might seem scary to fail. But if you won’t do it, it won’t happen. So keep shooting your shot!
English equivalent: You never know until you try; You miss 100% of the shots you don’t make.
6. 오늘 걷지 않으면 내일 뛰어야 한다
Pronunciation: o-neul geot-ji an-eu-myeon nae-il ddwi-eo-ya han-da
Literal translation: If you don’t walk today, you have to run tomorrow.
Meaning: Putting something off for quite a while? Or maybe you’re a chronic procrastinator? This Korean saying advises you to face your problems now or else they’ll add up and get more complicated next time.
7. 구더기 무서워 장 못 담그랴
Pronunciation: gu-deo-gi mu-seo-weo jang mot dam-geu-rya
Literal translation: Fear of maggots shouldn’t prevent you from making soy sauce.
Meaning: It’s great to anticipate future problems. But your fear of them shouldn’t stop you from doing something. This Korean proverb is telling us not to be scared of problems before they happen.
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8. 한 술 밥에 배 부르랴
Pronunciation: han sul bab-eh be bu-reu-rya?
Literal translation: Can you be full with one spoonful of food?
Meaning: Success doesn’t come overnight. So don’t be discouraged if you think you’re taking too long to improve or learn a skill. Remember, great things take time.
English equivalent: Rome wasn’t built in a day.
9. 장구를 쳐야 춤을 추지
This is one of our favourite Korean sayings!
Pronunciation: jang-gu-reul chyeo-ya chum-eul chu-ji
Literal translation: One can only dance if the drum is tapped.
Meaning: There are things we can’t do without others’ help. Don’t keep it all to yourself. It’s okay to ask for help – everyone needs extra hands at times!
10. 하늘이 무너져도 솟아날 구멍이 있다
Pronunciation: ha-neur-i mu-neo-jyeo-do sos-a-nal gu-meong-i it-da
Literal translation: Even if the sky falls on you, there will always be a hole to which you can escape.
Meaning: There’s a way out even in the worst situations. No matter how bad your problem is, you will always find a way to solve it. Talk about optimism and hope!
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11. 개천에서 용난다
Pronunciation: gae-cheon-eh-seo yong-nan-da
Literal translation: A dragon rises from a small stream.
Meaning: One day, your modest roots will turn to success. Similar to the “rags to riches” idiom, this Korean saying encourages those in humble circumstances today.
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12. 떡 줄 사람은 생각도 않는데 김칫국부터 마신다
Pronunciation: ddeok jul sa-ram-eun saeng-gak-do an-neun-de kim-chi-gug-bu-teo ma-shin-da
Literal translation: Don’t drink kimchi soup before someone offers you rice cake.
Meaning: Don’t get ahead of yourself. Koreans used to drink kimchi soup before eating rice cake. So this Korean saying is cautioning us from making plans based on something good even if it hasn’t happened yet.
English equivalent: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
13. 기지도 못하면서 뛰려고 한다
Pronunciation: gi-ji-do mot-ha-myeon-seo ddwi-ryeo-go han-da
Literal translation: Try to run before you can crawl.
Meaning: You must first learn the basics before you can do advanced tasks. If you’re not skilled enough for something yet, don’t be discouraged. Take things step by step and someday you’ll become ready for it.
English equivalent: Don’t try to run before you can walk.
14. 급하다고 바늘 허리에 실 매어 쓸까
Pronunciation: geup-ha-da-go ba-neul heo-ri-eh shil mae-eo sseul-kka
Literal translation: Should I tie a thread around a needle’s waist in a hurry?
Meaning: It’s tempting to take shortcuts. But this Korean saying is reminding us that whatever’s made hurriedly will also go to waste quickly. Don’t do things the wrong way just to finish them quickly.
English equivalent: More haste, less speed.
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15. 호랑이에게 물려가도 정신만 차리면 산다
Pronunciation: ho-rang-i-eh-ge mul-lyeo-ga-do jeong-shin-man cha-ri-myeon san-da
Literal translation: Even if you are caught in the mouth of a tiger, you will survive if you keep your calm.
Meaning: Getting overwhelmed with panic is normal. But tough moments need tough mentalities. You can escape even the most desperate situation as long as you stay focused.
16. 옥도 갈지 않으면 빛이 나지 않는다
Pronunciation: og-do kal-ji an-eu-myeon bi-chi na-ji an-neun-da
Literal translation: An uncut gem does not sparkle.
Meaning: No one’s born great. Even someone who looks perfect had to practice and go through rough times to be great.
17. 남의 떡이 더 커 보인다
Pronunciation: nam-i ddeooi deo kheo bo-in-da
Literal translation: Someone else’s rice cake always looks bigger.
Meaning: We tend to think that other people have it better. This Korean saying reminds us that this is not always the case. It teaches us to appreciate what we have and stop getting jealous of others.
English equivalent: The grass is greener on the other side.
18. 호랑이 굴에 들어가야 호랑이 새끼를 잡는다
Pronunciation: ho-rang-i gur-e deur-eo-ga-ya ho-rang-i sae-kki-reul jap-neun-da
Literal translation: You can get a cub if you go into the tiger’s den.
Meaning: Scary times holding you back? There’s no other way to accomplish your goal but to face your fear. Don’t expect things to fall on your lap. You need to go to the source and take the risk to succeed.
19. 시작이 반이다
Pronunciation: Shi-jag-i ban-i-da
Literal translation: Starting is half the job.
Meaning: Beginning a task is the hardest part. If you’re low on motivation lately, remember that starting something makes it easier to do the rest.
English equivalent: Well begun is half done.
20. 수박 겉 핥기
Pronunciation: su-bak geot hart-gi
Literal translation: Lick the outside of a watermelon.
Meaning: If you lick a watermelon’s outside, you won’t taste its sweetness inside. This Korean saying warns us from doing something superficially. Do something wholeheartedly to get the best results.
Korean culture isn’t just rich in music, dramas, fashion, and food. It also has a ton of inspiring wisdom from which each of us can learn! Save these 20 beautiful Korean sayings for the next time you need some inspiration boost.