ESL South Korea

Korean Age

The fact that Koreans count age differently than the rest of us is one of those bizarre concepts that make Westerners frown.  I mean, how can you be 32 if you were born 30 years ago?

Well who said they had to use the boring and predictable system the rest of the world uses?  No one!  So they didn’t…

Age reckoning among East Asian cultures works like this:  First, the time between conception and birth is counted. That means you’re ‘zero’ upon conception and ‘one’ upon birth.  Not a bad idea!  So Korean bambinos are officially one years old when they get born.

Secondly, all Koreans get older, not on their actual birthdays, but on New Year.  So the whole country gets one year older on the 1st of January of the New Year.  One big birthday party.  By this time you’re probably going ‘whaaaaaaat?!’.

This doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate on the day of their birth anniversary.  Parties, especially for younger kids are common on their birthdays, but they don’t add another year to their age until the 1st of January.

Some Koreans still count their age according to the Lunar calendar.  So they won’t use the 1st of January as the day when they get older, but the first day of the lunar new year (which is usually in early February).

Today this system is commonly used in certain regions in China, by the elderly in Japan, but almost universally by Koreans, both young and old.
Now you understand why someone’s Korean age will always be one or two years older than their International age.  Take for example a baby born in September.  Upon birth he’s already one year old, and four months later as January rolls by, he turns two!  But in Western reckoning he’s still only a few months old.  And there you have the difference.