Korean Age vs. “American” age

Did you know that as soon as your plane lands in Korea, you’re automatically one or two years older? This is because Korea calculates age differently than other countries.

Korean age is called “한국 나이” (“han-guk nai“), and non-Korean age (or Western age) is called “미국 나이” (“mi-guk nai“). 한국 (“han-guk“) means “Korea” and 미국 (“mi-guk“) means “America.” Even if you’re not from America, you can use “미국 나이” (“mi-guk nai“) to say your non-Korean age.

In America (and most countries), we count our age from the day we are born. A newborn baby outside of Korea is zero years old. A baby will gain one year on his or her birthday. This is what “American age” is.

But in Korea, a baby is one year old at birth. A baby in Korea will not gain one year on his or her birthday. Instead, people will gain one year together on January 1st of every year (New Year’s Day). This is what “Korean age” is.

1 Day Old or 2 Years Old?

Imagine a baby born in America on December 31st. The next day, January 1st, the baby will only be 1 day old.

Now, imagine a baby born in Korea on December 31st. The next day, January 1st, the baby will be 2 years old. The baby was one year old at birth, and gained one year on New Year’s Day.

How to Calculate Your Korean Age

It’s really simple to find your Korean age. Since Koreans gain 1 year on New Year’s Day, you only need to know your birth year to find your age. Take the current year (2015) and subtract the year you were born (1986, for example). This will give us 29. Then, remember to add 1 because a Korean baby is 1 year old at birth. Now we have 30. A person who is 28 in America can be 29 or 30 in Korea.

Try it for yourself:

So if you want to specify your age in Korean as “Korean age” or “American age,” here’s what you could say:

  • 저는 한국 나이로 #살입니다. (“jeo-neun han-guk nai-ro #sal-im-ni-da“) –> “I’m # years old in Korean age.”
  • 저는 미국 나이로 #살입니다. (“jeo-neun mi-guk nai-ro #sal-im-ni-da“) –> “I’m # years old in American age.”

If you don’t specify, then Koreans will understand that you are talking about “Korean age.”

  • 저는 #살입니다. (“jeo-neun #sal-im-ni-da“) –> “I’m # years old (in Korean age).”

Remember to use Pure Korean numbers when saying your age. These are:

  • 한 살 (“han sal“) –> “1 year old”
  • 두 살 (“tu sal“) –> “2 years old”
  • 세 살 (“se sal“) –> “3 years old”
  • 네 살 (“ne sal“) –> “4 years old”
  • 다섯 살 (“ta-seot sal” –> “5 years old”
  • 여섯 살 (“yeo-seot sal“) –> “6 years old”
  • 일곱 살 (“il-gop sal“) –> “7 years old”
  • 여덟 살 (“yeo-deol sal“) –> “8 years old”
  • 아홉 살 (“a-hop sal“) –> “9 years old”
  • 열 살 (“yeol sal“) –> “10 years old”
  • 열 + 한 살 (“yeol han sal“) –> “11 years old”
  • …(continues)…
  • 스무 살 (“seu-moo sal“) –> “20 years old”
  • 서른 살 (“seo-leun sal“) –> “30 years old”

Beyond 30 years old, feel free to return to Sino Korean numbers (일 [“il“], 이 [“i“], 삼 [“sam“], etc…).