Better late than never.
Do not try to walk before you can crawl.
God helps those who help themselves.
Life is what you make of it.


Have you heard those expressions before? If not, it must be odd for you to see these idiomatic or proverbial phrases.


We quote these to express a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. By using them, we learn a lot from these sayings or proverbs.


Let's look at three simple and useful idiomatic phrases in Korean. They are also often spoken by native Korean speakers!


1. 하늘의 별 따기 - Reaching for the Stars in the Sky


Definition in English:


하늘의 별 따기 - Reaching for the stars in the sky.


How to read: naeul-ui byeol ttagi


Listen to me reading it here.


I was thinking to translate this one as “catching the stars in the sky.” But in English, we often say “reaching for the stars in the sky,” so that's what I did. But anyways, you know what I am trying to say here!


하늘의 별 따기! It's similar to the expression in English.


When I give lessons to intermediate learners, I use a lot of idiomatic expressions. And the first one I teach is this one because it is easy to remember!


When do you say, “it's like reaching for the stars in the sky?” You say it when something is hard to do, or when it's tough to get things done, right?


When you say it's like 하늘의 별 따기, it means it's too difficult or impossible to get done. Or it's just hard to do. But when speaking figuratively, you're just saying it to be dramatic.


Now let's see the definition. :)


하늘의 별 따기


Meanings in Korean:


무엇을 얻거나 성취하기가 매우 어려운 경우를 비유적으로 이르는 말.

매우 어렵고 난해한 일


In English this means, “you cannot make it (happen).” It's too tough or too hard to do.


Anything could be 하늘의 별 따기. It's one of the most common idioms, or collocation if you prefer, in the South Korean language.


하늘 - sky

- star(s)

따기 - catching something, picking something (like fruits)


If you listen to the radio, they say it. If you watch television shows, they say it.


You can treat it as a noun: 그건 하늘의 별따기야. This would be like saying, “It is like a reaching for the stars.” Or 하늘의 별을 따는 게 더 쉽겠다, which could be, “It must be easier to reach for the stars in the sky.”


~ 는게 is just like, “to (do something)” in English!


So? When do you think you can use it? Where else? Do you think you can make another example sentence using 하늘의 별 따기?


2. 금강산도 식후경 - A Loaf of Bread is Better than the Song of Many Birds


Definition in English:


금강산도 식후경 - A loaf of bread is better than the song of many birds.


How to read: geum-gang-san-do sig-hu-gyeong


Listen to me reading it here.


You can just memorize 금강산도 식후경 as, “a loaf of bread is better than the song of many birds.”


But! It's not easy to remember it just like that. At least, I can't. So we will dive deeper into this sentence to make sure you get it!


First of all, to understand what it means and how it is created, we need to know what 금강산 is. :)


금강산 - Mount Kumgang

금강 - Vajra or Diamond


People who went to Mount Kumgang always say, “It's breathtaking there. You should go.” It's that beautiful. It's one of grandmother and grandfather's dreams to visit Mount Kumgang in their lifetime.


So you can imagine how beautiful and desirable it can be to visit 금강산!


But even touring 금강산 should be done after eating something!


식 후 경 is all from hanja (the Korean name for Chinese characters).


is food, is after, is to see or to view.


Therefore it means, “A meal is better than the view of Mount Kumgang.” Or you could say, “Even the view of Mt. Kumgang should be seen after eating.” So it means, “Eating is better than a great view.”


You can think of Mount Kumgang as the Grand Canyon of Korea.


This sentence was not very popular, but you've seen it from script, like from TV shows and dramas. What I remember this quote most from is an advertisement.


The television advertisements, I recall, were about Ramen CF commercials. At the end, somebody in the Ramen CF commercial says, 금강산도 식후경이지~! in a funny way. After that, this saying became quite popular. So did 니들이 게맛을 알어? We will get to it later. But anyways, this is one of the most popular idioms in Korean.


Especially when you gotta (have to) eat something, or if it's time to eat. :)


금강산도 식후경 is used as it is, just like other proverbial phrases.


See that, 금강산도 식후경 이야, 먹고 해. In English this is, “Bread is better, blahblah, do it after eating (dinner or lunch, or anything).”


금강산도 식후경 이라고, 점심 먹고 계속 하자. Some say 금강산도 식후경, which means, “let's continue this after lunch.”


This one is shorter and easier to use. :)


3. 천 리 길도 한 걸음부터 - A Journey of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Step


Definition in English:


천 리 길도 한 걸음부터 - A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


How to read: cheon li gil-do han geol-eum-bu-teo


Listen to me reading it here.


Wow! What a good quote for the new year!


천 리 길 means “a journey of a thousand miles.” Here, is Sino-Korean, from the Chinese character meaning one thousand. () is miles in English; this is still used in small villages. It used to be a unit of distance, but now we use kilometers for distance. is a road; here it could be a journey.


So, the thousand mile journey is 천 리 길.


한 걸음부터


Let's look at this:


- one

걸음 - step

~부터 - from, start with


This can be translated to “from one step,” or “starts with a single step.” 한 걸음부터.


When I was in middle school, I was doing a group project for a Korean subject. A friend of mine said, “Hey, 천 리 길도 한 걸음부터래, 우리 열심히 하자 (해보자).”


And you know what this means, 천 리 길도 한 걸음부터래. They say (people say) a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


우리 열심히 하자! (u-li yeol-sim-hi ha-ja!) Let's work hard! Let's get started!


Haha, well, I don't recall how well we did though.


You can also say, 우선 해보자, which means, “Let's just do it.” (u-seon hae-bo-ja)


천 리 길도 한 걸음부터잖아 - A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


It can be used to encourage your teammates to do something now, or to just do it.


This saying means a lot to us now at this time of the year too. This is the new year. Do you have a plan this new year?


They say 천 리 길도 한 걸음부터. So why don't you start? :)




Idioms, collocations, or proverbs are very interesting; each country has its own quotes or sayings. I appreciate the cultural diversity expressed in languages. You can learn a lot about different cultures and backgrounds from languages, because language is built from culture. So I very much encourage my students to learn and use idiomatic expressions when they communicate in Korean with me.


Just remember that these sounds-like-native sentences, idioms, and proverbs can help you understand cultural differences. That's why it's a bit of a necessity in order to improve your speaking and cultural understanding. Keep learning these little idiomatic phrases to improve your Korean!


If this article has helped you, please answer this question for me! How else can I help you learn Korean?


Thank you so much for reading this article. You can read all of them in more detailed posts at


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