Last Updated on January 17, 2023
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How To Learn A Korean Language
Korean (한국어, Hangugeo) is the official language of South Korea, North Korea, and China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture , and is the dominant community language of the Korean diaspora, spanning Uzbekistan to Japan to Canada. It is a fascinating and complex language of debated origins yet rich in history, culture, and beauty. Whether you’re planning a vacation to the Korean World, trying to reconnect with your heritage, or just enjoy learning new languages, follow these simple steps to speaking Korean and you’ll soon be on your way to fluency!
Learn Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. The alphabet is a good place to start when you’re learning to speak Korean, especially if you hope to progress to reading and writing later on. Korean has a fairly simple alphabet, although it may seem strange to most English speakers at first because it is completely different than the Roman alphabet.
- Hangeul was created during the Joseon Dynasty in 1443. Hangeul has 24 letters, consisting of 14 consonants and 10 vowels. However, if you include 16 diphthongs and double consonants, there are 40 letters in total.
- Korean also uses around 3,000 Chinese characters, or Hanja, to represent words of Chinese origin. Unlike Japanese Kanji, Korean Hanja are used in more limited contexts like academic writing, religious (Buddhist) texts, dictionaries, newspaper headlines, classical and pre-WWII Korean literature, and family names. In North Korea, the use of Hanja is almost non-existent.
Learn to count. Knowing how to count is an essential skill in any language. Counting in Korean can be tricky, as Koreans use two different sets of cardinal numbers, depending on the situation: Korean and Sino-Korean, which originated from Chinese and has some of its characters.
- Use the Korean form for numbers of items (between 1 and 99) and age, e.g. 2 children, 5 bottles of beer, 27 years old. Ending consonants are not aspirated, meaning there is no ending breath at the end of the syllable. Here’s how to count to ten in the Korean form :
- One = 하나 pronounced “hana”
- Two = 둘 pronounced “dul”
- Three = 셋 pronounced “set
- Four = 넷 pronounced “ne(t)”
- Five = 다섯 pronounced “da-seo(t)”
- Six = 여섯 pronounced “yeo-seo(t)”
- Seven = 일곱 pronounced “il-gob”
- Eight = 여덟 pronounced “yeo-deolb”
- Nine = 아홉 pronounced “ahob”
- Ten = 열 pronounced “yeol”
- Use the Sino-Korean form for dates, money, addresses, phone numbers, and numbers above 100. Here’s how to count to ten in Sino-Korean :
- One = 일 pronounced “il”
- Two = 이 pronounced “ee”
- Three = 삼 pronounced “sam”
- Four = 사 pronounced “sa”
- Five = 오 pronounced “oh”
- Six = 육 pronounced “yug”
- Seven = 칠 pronounced “chil”
- Eight = 팔 pronounced “pal”
- Nine = 구 pronounced “gu”
- Ten = 십 pronounced “sib”
Memorize simple vocabulary. The wider the vocabulary you have at your disposal, the easier it is to speak a language fluently. Familiarize yourself with as many simple, everyday Korean words as possible – you’ll be surprised at how quickly they build up!
- When you hear a word in English, think about how you would say it in Korean. If you don’t know what it is, jot it down and look it up later. It’s handy to keep a little notebook on you at all times for this purpose.
- Attach little Korean labels to items around your house, such as the mirror, the coffee table and the sugar bowl. You’ll see the words so often that you’ll learn them without realizing it!
- It is important to learn a word or phrase from ‘Korean to English’ as well as ‘English to Korean.’ That way you will remember how to say it, not just recognize it when you hear it.
Learn some basic conversational phrases. By learning the basics of polite conversation, you’ll very quickly be able to interact with Korean-speakers on a simple level. Try learning the words/phrases for:
- Hello = 안녕 pronounced “anyeong” (in a casual way) and “anyeong-haseyo” in a formal way.
- Yes = 네 pronounced “ne” in any situation where you would be speaking formally, or 응 “eung” if you’re speaking with someone informally.
- No = 아니요 pronounced “aniyo”
- Thank you = 감사합니다 pronounced “gam-sa-hab-nee-da”
- My name is… = 저는 ___ 입니다 pronounced “joneun ___ imnida” but the sentence “내 이름은 ___ 예요” pronounced “nae ileumeun ____yeyo” can also be used.
- How are you? = 어떠십니까? pronounced “otto-sib-nikka”
- Pleased to meet you = 만나서 반가워요 pronounced “mannaso bangawo-yo”
- Goodbye when other party is staying = 안녕히 계세요 pronounced “an-nyounghi kye-sayo”
- Goodbye when other party or both of you are leaving = 안녕히 가세요 pronounced “an-nyounghi ga-seyo”
Understand the forms of polite speech. It is important to learn the difference between the degrees of formality in Korean speech. Korean differs from English in that verb endings change depending on the age and rank of the person being addressed, as well as the social setting. It is important to understand how speech formality functions, in order to properly navigate polite speech. There are three major types in the degrees of formality:
- Informal – Used to address people of the same age or younger, especially among close friends.
- Polite – Used to address people older than the speaker, a stranger, or a co-worker. It is used in formal social situations.
- Honorific – Used in very formal settings such as on the news or in the army. Rarely used in normal speech.
Study basic grammar. In order to speak any language correctly, it is necessary to study the grammar particular to that language. There are several distinct differences between English grammar and Korean grammar, for example:
- Korean uses the subject – object – verb order, and the verb always comes at the end of the sentence.
- In Korean, it is pretty common to omit the subject of a sentence when the subject being referred to is known by both the readers and the speakers. The subject of the sentence may be inferred from the context or may have been referred to in an earlier sentence.
- In Korean, adjectives function like verbs in that they can be altered and may take on different forms to indicate the tense of a sentence.
Work on your pronunciation. Korean pronunciation is vastly different from English, and it takes a lot of practice to be able to pronounce words correctly.
- One of the major mistakes English speakers make is to assume that the pronunciation of Romanized Korean letters is identical to the same letter’s pronunciation when speaking English. Unfortunately for language learners, this is not the case. It is best to not learn with romanization because it slows your learning.
- In English, whenever a word ends in a consonant, the speaker always makes a little sound after saying that last letter. It is very faint and difficult to hear for a person with a ‘non-Korean ear’ to hear. For example, when an English speaker says “ship” there is a tiny sound of breath following the ‘p’ when their mouth opens.  In Korean, they do not have that final ‘breath’ sound, as they just keep their mouths closed.
Don’t be discouraged! If you’re serious about learning to speak Korean, keep at it – the satisfaction you’ll get from mastering a second language will far outweigh the difficulties you encounter along the way. Learning a new language takes time and practice, it won’t happen overnight.
Immersing Yourself in the Language
Find a native speaker. One of the best ways to improve your new language skills is to practice speaking with a native speaker. They will easily be able to correct any grammar or pronunciation mistakes you make and can introduce you to more informal or colloquial forms of speech that you won’t find in a textbook.
- If you have a Korean-speaker who is willing to help, that’s great! Otherwise, you can place an ad in the local paper or online or investigate whether there are any pre-existing Korean conversation groups in the area.
- If you can’t locate any Korean-speakers nearby, try finding one on Skype. They might be willing to exchange 15 minutes of Korean conversation for 15 minutes of English.
- Popular Korean messaging apps are a good way to practice, as well, because it will help you to learn more slang and to read Hangul quickly.
Consider signing up for a language course. If you need some extra motivation or feel you would learn better in a more formal setting, try signing up for a Korean language course.
- Look out for language courses advertised at local colleges, schools or community centers.
- If you’re nervous about signing up for a class by yourself, drag a friend along. You’ll have more fun and also someone to practice with between classes!
Watch Korean films and cartoons. Get your hands on some Korean DVDs (with subtitles) or watch Korean cartoons online. This is an easy, entertaining way to get a feel for the sound and structure of the Korean language.
- If you’re feeling particularly proactive, try pausing the video after a simple sentence and repeat what has just been said. This will lend your Korean accent an air of authenticity!
- If you can’t find any Korean films to buy, try renting them from a movie rental store, which often have foreign language sections. Alternatively, see if your local library has any Korean films or ask if they would be able to source some for you..
Find apps designed for Korean children. Translate “learn the alphabet” or “games for babies and/or children” into Korean and then cut and paste the Hangeul Korean results into the app store search bar. The apps are simple enough for a child to use; so, you don’t need to read or speak Korean to operate the app. It is also less expensive than buying DVDs. The apps teach the right way to write Korean letters; and, most have song and dance routines; also, there are puzzles and games to learn common everyday Korean vocabulary. Be careful not to buy an app that is for Korean children to solely learn English.
Listen to Korean music and radio. Listening to Korean music and/or radio is another good way to surround yourself in the language. Even if you can’t understand everything, try to pick out keywords to help you get the gist of what’s being said.
- Korean pop music is sang primarily in Korean, but some English words are sprinkled in too. Fans will often write out English translations, so you can understand the message of the song.
- Get a Korean radio app on your phone, so you can listen on the go.
- Try downloading Korean podcasts to listen to while exercising or doing housework.
Consider taking a trip to South Korea. Once you feel comfortable with the basics of Korean speech, consider taking a trip to Korea. What better way to immerse yourself in the Korean language than a journey to its native land!
How long will it take to learn Korean?
Language fluency can take years, but it’s likely that you will have a fair amount of knowledge in conversational terms in a year or two. It will take a lot of work to get up to that level in such a short amount of time, so if you’re learning on your own, it’s more likely it’ll take you 2-3 years.
What is the easiest way to memorize the alphabet?
You can memorize hangul by learning the characters and their pronunciation. You can learn the simple consonants and vowels and their pronunciation first. After, you can combine them to make words. For example, a vowel you would memorize is ㅏ, which is pronounced “ah” like you had an idea. A consonant is ㄴ, which is pronounced “n” like when you are saying “no.”
- Download a Korean learning app. It might help you speak Korean, and learn more about their culture.
- You can also watch a Korean TV Shows and Movies with Eng Sub. Or watch a Korean Music Videos with English Subtitles too so when they are saying one word like ‘OMO’ and the English Sub says ‘Oh My/Oh My Goodness’ you can understand it quickly.
- You have to practice. Do a little every day, even if you’re on your own.
- Take lots of notes! Whenever you’re learning a new word/phrase write it down somewhere. Also, try writing it in Korean, it can help with your reading and writing. Watching YouTube videos on learning Korean words and phrases is good too.
- Take screenshots of your favourite sentences in k-pop lyrics song videos and try to write them and memorize them.
- Make sure to pronounce well and if not sure, browse online for some pronunciations.
- Try watching k-dramas and listen to some k-pop.That way just by hearing the language you will be familiar with it and notice that you understand some of it already.
- Watch Korean shows and listen to Korean songs without subtitles. After translating a sentence, check the answer.
- Review older materials from time to time. It keeps you from forgetting.
- Your two real paths to long-term memory are high frequency and high emotion. You can learn about 500 words with the high-frequency approach, because that’s how many words in the language are common enough for the frequency method to work. Anything beyond that will require an emotional connection to the topic you’re studying.
- Watch some dramas in Korean and listen to Korean songs with subtitle. You can also watch Korean news on TV. And try to say the words you’ve learned and use them often.
- It may sound weird but if you can try to think in Korean. When thinking of a subject you may know about try to think of it in Korean without translating it in your head.
- Don’t be shy about befriending a native Korean-speaker if the opportunity presents itself. Some Koreans are shy but many of them are extremely enthusiastic about learning English with a native English speaker. It would be a great opportunity for language exchange and to learn about their rich culture firsthand. Be wary, though. Many people who do not speak English natively are more interested in learning it than you are interested in learning Korean. Actually talk about the language exchange before that happens.
- Try keeping a special journal for learning Korean/Hangul. It is convenient and will help you stay organized.
- Consistent learning is key. Do about 10 minutes a day, this doesn’t have to be learning new vocabulary. This could simply just be revising some phrases and vocabulary you have already learnt. Commitment is also a big part in language learning in general.
- Watching Kdramas (Korean Dramas) could help A LOT. Try downloading the app “Viki” they have Korean dramas that also has CC on the bottom to learn those words or phrases.
- You can try installing Phrasebook apps that provide you some basic words or greetings and have a Korean dictionary.
- You can’t be completely fluent overnight. If you really want to master the language, you need to take your time and practice using it frequently.
- Try memorising 5-10 Korean words every day (at least 3) ..Repeat them with the translation so you say that word and than you say the translation or the other way around. It’s actually very fun.
- Talk to Korean people if you can find some or know some.
How To Learn Korean Alphabet
Hangul – The Korean Alphabet
The official writing system for South Korea is Hangul (한글), which is the name for the Korean Alphabet system. That means you can say Hangul and Korean alphabet interchangeably since they mean the same thing.
Korean is the official language of South Korea, and it uses Hangul as its alphabet and writing system. The same writing system is used in North Korea which is called Joseongeul (조선글). Both South Korea and North Korea use the writing system created by King Sejong the Great.
Hangul in Korean
Hangul in Korean is 한글 (hangeul). Hangul is also written in English as “Hangeul”. There are two different ways of spelling the same word. “Hangul” is the most common way, and “Hangeul” is the newer way of writing it.
The word Hangul comes from the Chinese characters 韓㐎. “Han” means “Korean”, and “gul” means “letter”. Put them together, and you’ve got the term “Korean letter”, or “Korean Alphabet”.
Hangul Letter Sounds
The Korean alphabet sounds share a lot of similarities to the English alphabet. That makes it easy to learn because you can use the English sounds to learn the Korean letter sounds.
The Korean alphabet consists of consonants and vowels that form syllable blocks. These syllables can be sounded out just like words in English.
Below is a basic Hangul chart for the consonants and the vowels of the Korean alphabet.
The first Hangul chart, or Korean alphabet chart, is for the consonants. Next to each of the consonants is the romanized spelling for that particular consonant. The spelling changes depending on whether the consonants are positioned at the start or the end of the syllable.
The romanization is only used for the spelling of the Korean word in English letters. If you’re learning Korean, or want to know the correct pronunciation, then you should use the associations later in this lesson and learn the correct pronunciation of the Korean alphabet consonants.
|Consonant||Romanization (initial)||Romanization (final)|
Below is a Hangul chart for the vowels of the Korean alphabet. Next to each of the vowels is the romanized spelling of each vowel. The spelling of the vowels is consistent and doesn’t change. However, keep in mind that some people may spell Korean words in English letters using their own system.
|Vowel/Name of Vowel||Romanized Spelling|
To have good pronunciation of the Hangul consonants and vowels, it’s best to use the associations below as a guide and learn how each letter is correctly pronounced.
Korean Alphabet Structure
Since Hangul is a very scientific alphabet. It’s one of the best writing systems for beginners to learn who don’t know any Korean. It’s also quite easy to write in Hangul since the letters follow a basic order.
Did you know that there are fewer letters in the Korean alphabet than there are letters in the English alphabet?
The Korean Alphabet has 14 consonants and 10 vowels.
Unlike Japanese or Chinese, which have thousands of characters and each can have 10, 15, or more strokes, the most complex Korean character in the alphabet can be written using only five strokes. That makes learning both Hangul and Korean quite easy.
It all starts with knowing the Hangul (Korean alphabet) – the basic building blocks of the language.
Hangul is a very scientific writing system. It was developed with precision in mind about 500 years ago by King Sejong the Great. The Korean writing system before it was created used classical Chinese characters. Only those who are educated are able to read and write using the old Korean writing system. As a result, King Sejong wanted to give Koreans a practical way of reading and writing to promote literacy.
Throughout this page, we’ll use the terms Korean letter and Korean character interchangeably. People tend to use them both when they learn Hangul, so you can use either one.
How To Learn The Korean Alphabet
This Korean alphabet lesson makes use of psychological techniques to help make learning Hangul fun and easy. Namely, it uses associations and stories to help everything stick in your brain so you can’t forget it.
This lesson covers the Korean alphabet A to Z, broken down and simplified so you can begin speaking right away. There is audio to help your pronunciation with Hangul. The audio looks like this: ㄱ
The Korean Consonants
Hangul (the Korean Alphabet) has both consonants and vowels just like English.
Let’s learn the consonants in the Korean alphabet to start.
First, let’s take a look at the English alphabet. Instead of looking at the actual letters, let’s just look at the sounds they make.
In doing so, we can find the closest equivalents in the Korean alphabet so that we can start to make associations to learn the Hangul letters.
In Korean, there are no F, R, V, or Z sounds, so let’s take them out.
The rest of the consonant sounds exist in the Korean language. However, the Q, W, X and Y sounds must follow one of these two rules:
a) They only can be made by combining two or more sounds (ie., X = K+ S)
For example: The X sound can be made by combining the K and S sounds (X = K + S). Try it now!
b) They cannot be made without adding a vowel sound after (ie., “ya” or “yo”)
For example: In Korean, we can create the sounds ya or yo but not the standalone Y sound.
So let’s take these letters out too.
Finally, let’s remove the English vowels since we are first focusing on the consonant sounds.
How many are remaining in red?
But we can group C and K together since, in English, they make the same sound.
This leaves a total of 12.
Let’s take a look at those 12 letters of the alphabet first. Since we’re learning a new language and have never seen these shapes before, it will be very difficult for us just to memorize them. Therefore, we need to ‘link’ the characters to something already in our minds in order to create an association.
Let’s do this using a visual learning technique to associate the new letters with pictures and sounds we already know.
The first letter of the English word in the picture has the same sound as the corresponding Korean letter.
This will help to start to create associations with Hangul characters.
The Hangul letter ㅂ, which has a sound similar to B in English, looks like a bed with a post at either end. Look for a yellow speaker icon followed by the word, and click on the yellow speaker. Here’s an example: ㄱ
Make this association in your mind. Write it down and commit it to memory.
Likewise, the Hangul letter ㄷ could seem as a doorframe or the panels on a door. Correspondingly, this letter makes the sound D.
The Korean consonant ㄱ has the appearance of a gun and sounds similar to an English G. This Hangul letter is especially easy to write since it’s only two lines.
The same goes for the Hangul letter ㅎ(H), which looks like a man with a hat. You can write this consonant as a circle with two lines above it.
And the consonant ㅈ (J) which could be seen as a jug with a spout at the top. You can write this Hangul letter a few different ways, so just become familiar with the overall shape of the letter.
Try creating the associations for these consonant letters now.
Next is the Hangul letter ㄹ, which is written using 5 basic strokes and could be compared to the rungs of a ladder. Its sound is most similar to an English L and can be made the same way by pressing down with your tongue. This is a fun letter to write!
Finally, there are the Hangul letters ㅁ, ㄴ, and ㅅ, which have the sounds M, N, and S respectively.
The ㅁ is a square box like a message on a phone or a piece of mail. You can write this consonant like a rectangle.
The Hangul letter ㄴ points up and to the right like a compass pointing to the north (and the east at the same time). You can write this letter in two lines.
The consonant ㅅ is like a seashell or clam, having only two strokes that slightly overlap. There are two different ways to write this Hangul letter, so just get used to the overall shape. It’s basically just two lines.
The Korean Aspirated Consonants
Now we’ll learn the aspirated consonants of the Korean alphabet. To do that, let’s take a look at four of the consonant sounds we just learned.
B, D, G, and J.
Make each of these sounds now. “B”. “D”. “G”. “J”.
What if we made these consonants stronger, aspirating as we spoke them? What sound would we then make?
For B, a more aspirated sound forcing out more air would make P sound.
How about D? It would result in a T sound. “T”. Try it now.
And G? A “K” sound, like a C or K. In English, these two sounds are very similar. Try saying “I’ve got a cot” five times.
The C is really just an aspirated G.
Finally, if you aspirated a J, it would result in a “ch” sound. Try saying “cheap Jeep” several times and you’ll notice how similar the sounds are.
Let’s match up the non-aspirated English sounds with their aspirated sound pairings.
See how similar these sounds really are?B —P D —T G —K J —Ch
When we do the same in Korean, we’ll see some visual similarities in the letters, which can help greatly for the memorization of Hangul characters.B ㅂ —ㅍ PD ㄷ —ㅌ TG ㄱ —ㅋ KJ ㅈ —ㅊ Ch
It’s almost as if all we did was add a small line to each of those consonants to create the aspirated equivalent.
The next four Korean letters are called the aspirated consonants and are similar in sound to their non-aspirated counterparts.
Let’s make a visual association as well to really drill in these Hangul letters.
The ㅋ (K) could be compared to a key. You can write this Hangul letter using three lines.
And the Hangul letter ㅌ, which has a “T” sound, could be associated with teeth (like the ones in your mouth or the teeth of a fork). You can write this similar to the English letter “E.”
Remember math class? I hope so!
What’s that number? Pi! And the Korean letter with a similar sound to P looks very similar to the symbol for pi. That makes it easy to remember. If you know how to write pi, then you’re good to go with this letter of the Korean alphabet!
So there we have it. That’s how you learn Hangul!
But we said there were a total of 14 consonants in the Korean alphabet, so what are the last two Hangul letters?
One of the consonants is special because it doesn’t have a direct equivalent to an English letter. Instead, it represents a sound in English.
ㅊ, the character representing the “ch” sound in English (“choose”), looks like a church with a steeple at the top. We can associate this Hangul letter with a church. Alternatively, we can remember it as an aspirated J (ㅈ) and add an extra line.
Ok, so that’s 13 Korean letters already! You’re more than halfway there.
The last consonant in Korean is really just a placeholder, and makes no sound by itself when placed in front of another character. Nonetheless, it is considered a consonant.
Just like in math, where we use the number 0 as a placeholder, in Korean, the placeholder character (ㅇ) is a round shape that looks like a zero.
This is a very special character!
It acts as a placeholder and is silent most of the time. After you learn the Hangul vowels in the next part of this challenge and see them next to the placeholder character, you’ll know what sound to make based on the vowel.
However, if the placeholder character ends a particular syllable, it is pronounced “ng” like the “-ing” in English.
This is a very important rule to remember. Without it, we would be tempted just to skip over the consonant, assuming it had no sound.
This will be easier to understand later so it’s best to just make a note of it for now.
The Korean Vowels
In Korean, there are ten basic Hangul vowels that you need to learn. They are the basic building blocks from which you can create all other vowel sounds.
But before we get into that, it will be helpful to do a basic review of English grammar.
In English, we have short and long vowel sounds.
All of these vowel sounds exist or can be made using Korean letters except for the short I sound (this just doesn’t exist in Korean and so is very difficult for Koreans to pronounce).
The letters for the vowels are all pretty easy to learn. No complex shapes here, just good ol’ lines!
The first four Hangul vowels we’ll learn are horizontal or vertical lines with a perpendicular line in the middle facing in a particular direction. They look like this:ㅗ ㅓ ㅜ ㅏ
The only problem is that we need to remember which way the perpendicular line points and associate that character with the particular Hangul vowel sound.
Let’s use a little bit of psychology to learn this part of the Korean alphabet.
First, memorize the following acronym:Old iPod, new iPad
A little fun fact: did you know the first iPod came out in 2001?
That makes it old.
The iPad came out in 2010, making it comparatively new.
Now listen carefully to the vowel sound in each word.
old. Long O sound.
iPod. Short O sound.
new. Long U sound.
iPad. Short A sound.
Great! Let’s go back to the acronym. We’ve placed it on a timeline to represent when each gadget was released.
Recite “Old iPod, new iPad” working counterclockwise around the circle.
Now, all we need to do is line up the Hangul vowel letters with the corresponding sounds.
The letter with the line pointing up is “old” and has the long O sound.
The letter pointing to the left has a short O sound like the O in “iPod,” while the letter pointing to the right has a short A sound like the A in “iPad.”
Finally, the letter pointing down has a long U sound like the e-w in “new.”
Not too bad so far, right? Commit these vowels to memory and let’s keep the momentum going!
Remember how we added an extra line to some of the consonants to change the sound and make it aspirated? Well, we can also add a line to the four vowels we just learned to create new sounds!
You may recall back to the beginning of this challenge when we explained how we couldn’t create a Y sound on its own. But we did say we could if we added a vowel sound after it!
Well, we can do just that when we add a line to each of the first four vowels. That way, we can simply learn four more of the vowels!
The Hangul vowels we have learned so far are:ㅗㅓㅜㅏoldipodnewipad“oh”“aw”“oo”“ah”
We can now create the following alphabet sounds by just adding a second line:ㅛㅕㅠㅑ“yoh”“yaw”“yoo”“yah”
So, once you learn the first four vowels, the second four are really easy. All you need to do is double up the line and remember to add a Y sound in front.
Learn these characters and commit them to memory.
So, there are only ten Korean vowels and we already know eight of them.
Luckily, we saved the easiest two for last. The last two Hangul vowels are just lines as well — one horizontal and the other vertical.
The hardest part is just remembering which of the Hangul letters makes which sound.
Luckily we’ve got some visual associations for that!
We love nature, and these two Hangul vowels do too.
The first one is the “tree vowel.” It is so-called (at least by us) because it’s tall and straight!
Notice how the double e in “tree” creates the long E sound. The Korean character with the same sound (ㅣ) looks like a tree, making it easy to remember.
And the most picturesque landscapes are not complete without a brook. This next Hangul vowel is long and straight just like a brook!
Also, notice the sound the double o in “brook” makes. This is the same sound the final Korean vowel makes. This vowel (ㅡ) is just a horizontal line.
Reading Korean Words
Just like English, you read Korean left to right, top to bottom.
However, the Hangul letters stick together, existing within small invisible “boxes”. Each one of these boxes can have up to four letters.
Each little “box” is considered a Korean syllable. You can also think of them as syllable blocks.
Instead of reading Hangul straight across as we do in English, we read one Korean syllable (or syllable block) at a time. Within each syllable, we read using the rule left to right, top to bottom. Then we move to the next syllable block. That’s all there is to it!
This is the Korean word for “hello.” It has 5 syllable blocks, and each syllable block has 2 or 3 Korean letters.
In the first two syllable blocks, there are two Hangul letters on the top and one on the bottom. Following our rule of left to right, top to bottom, we would read in the order 1, 2, 3 as shown above.
The same goes for the second syllable. But remember, the placeholder character here is ending the syllable so it would have to be pronounced “ng.”
The third, fourth and fifth syllable blocks are more straightforward and are just read simply left to right.
So going syllable block by syllable block, could you determine which order we would read the characters in? Give it a try!
It would look like this if we wrote the numbers in. Now, if we use our associations we learned earlier we can pronounce the word!
The word sounds like “an-nyeong-ha-se-yo” when you read it correctly.
If you’ve gotten the associations with the Hangul consonants and vowels down pat in the previous sections, you can start to read some Korean words on your own.
Let’s try it out. Give each one a try first, then check your answers below. Use the associations we made to help you out!
How would you pronounce the words written below? Try reading them aloud. We’ll write the pronunciations below using romanization so you can check afterward!1. 카2. 너3. 바보
For the first two, we would just read left to right.
1. k for key + a as in iPad = ka. This is the Korean word meaning “car.”
2. n for northeast + eo as in iPod = neo. This means “you.”
Now, for the third one, we just read left to right for the first syllable, then top to bottom for the second syllable.
That would make it:
3. b for bed + a as in iPad plus b for bed + o as in old = babo. This is the Korean word for “fool.” If you can read these words already, you are definitely not a 바보!
Now, remember the placeholder character ㅇ that doesn’t make any sound if placed in front of a vowel? It exists for a special reason!
Syllables (or “boxes”) must always start with a consonant, and then have a vowel following it.
Let’s do a quick recap of the Hangul consonants and vowels:
Hangul base consonants: ㅂㅈㄷㄱㅅㅁㄴㅇㄹㅎㅋㅌㅊㅍ
Hangul base vowels: ㅗㅓㅜㅏㅛㅕㅠㅑㅡㅣ
The ㅇ is a consonant, so that means it can start a syllable. But remember that is silent when it does!
Let’s try reading some more difficult words and we can practice this rule. If you get stuck, remember to ignore the placeholder if it exists before a vowel and just read top to bottom and left to right as you normally do!
Ready, let’s go for Round 2! Look at the words written below. How would you pronounce the following?4. 오늘5. 미국6. 커피
How did it go? Did you remember all of the Hangul letters from the associations we made before?
4. Did you remember to ignore the placeholder? Good. For the first syllable, o as in old. Then n for northeast + eu as in brook + l for ladder. Romanized, it is written as oneul. 오늘 means “today.”
5. m for mail + i as in tree plus g for gun + u as in new + g for gun again. This word is written in romanized English as miguk, and is the Korean word for “U.S.A.”.
6. k for key + eo as in iPod plus p for pi + i as in tree = keopi, the Korean word for “coffee.”
Congratulations! If you got these, then you are now able to read 6 vocabulary words in Korean (and many more!).
Korean Double Consonants
In the alphabet, strong double consonants also exist.
But the good news is that there is no need to learn any new characters to incorporate them into our skillset!
When you see a double consonant, all you need to do is slightly change the way you pronounce it by making it stronger.
We’ve already associated an English consonant sound with each of the characters we’ve already learned, so with these, we just need to double that up.
There are only five of these tense double consonants, and here they are:
The ㄸ is the double ㄷ, so we’ll keep the door association. The D sound will be pronounced stronger, like DD.
The ㅉ will use the same J sound as does the ㅈ, but it will be pronounced as a stronger JJ.
We’ll use the strong GG sound for ㄲ, as well as the gun association.
If you put two ㅂs next to each other, you’ll get ㅃ. We will use the bed association. It will b pronounced using the strong BB sound.
The ㅆ is like two seashells next to each other. The sound is pronounced similar to a strong SS.
Korean Double Consonants Pronunciation
To pronounce double consonants correctly, all you need to do is tense up your tongue and pronounce the sound with a little more force. Just double it up!
For example, let’s take the double consonant ㅃ. For a moment, imagine a bus was coming quickly and your friend was standing in the middle of the street.
You might yell “BUS” really loudly to give your friend a warning!
That b sound when you yell the word would be more similar to the bb sound of the character ㅃ.
The same goes for the other tense double consonants. For example:
- 떡볶이 (tteokbokki) – rice cakes in sauce (a type of Korean street food)
- 빨간색 (ppalgansaek) – the color “red”
The tough part is making the pronunciation distinction. The twin consonant is basically the same as the single consonant, except it’s said with emphasis. Here is a list of the single consonant sounds, their twin counterparts, and the pronunciation:
If you were going to say the word “상” in Korean, then it would sound like “sang”.
If you were going to say the word “쌍” in Korean, then it would sound like “ssang”.
The difference is in the emphasis and the strength of the “s” sound. The twin consonants sound almost aggressive because they are so sharp.
Korean Vowel Combinations
If you followed the lesson above to learn Hangul, then you have learned the majority of the Korean alphabet characters. You know the base consonants and vowels, which are the most important.
Hangul base consonants: ㅂㅈㄷㄱㅅㅁㄴㅇㄹㅎㅋㅌㅊㅍ
Hangul base vowels: ㅗㅓㅜㅏㅛㅕㅠㅑㅡㅣ
In addition to these Hangul letters, there are also 11 additional vowel combinations. These are combinations of the base Hangul vowels you see above.
The Hangeul vowel combinations are:
The first Hangeul vowel is written as a combination ofㅓ(iPod) + ㅣ (tree) = ㅔ (egg). If you say the “o” sound from “iPod” and the “ee” sound from “tree” together very quickly, it becomes the “e” from egg.
The combined ㅓ+ㅣ doesn’t exactly sound like e, but they are similar. Alternatively, you can skip the sound blending and try to remember this one as “egg”. Whatever works best for you!
The second Hangeul vowel combination is written the same as the first, except that we’re starting with ㅏ instead of ㅓ. Blend together “iPad” and “tree” and you get egg, the same sound as with ㅔ above.
Even though the pronunciation is the same, the romanization spelling is different. It is done that way so if you see the spelling in English, you know which “egg” is used to spell the word in Korean.