So, I’ll be uploading a lot of Korean lessons and dialogues for you guys, but I first wanted to teach you how to read Hangul, the Korean writing system, so that you know it and can progress with the lessons. Personally, I have never been great at reading the Romanized Korean and think it’s way simpler to just learn Hangul so if you learn it sooner, it’s better for you.
It looks quite scary to start with but once you have it down you’ll be just fine! And, seriously, it doesn’t actually take as long to learn as you think – I learnt it in like 6 hours!
Quick note: You’ve probably noticed from looking at Korean words that they don’t write stuff out in a long string of characters like we do. Instead of the string of letters we use in English, Korean characters are stacked into syllables. Take the informal casual word for thank you: Gomawo.
As you can see, in English it’s a string of letters g-o-m-a-w-o. But, in Korean, it’s broken in to syllables and then the characters are stacked to match. So gomawo becomes go-ma-wo or 고마워.
First things first!
In Korean, syllables always begin with a consonant! If a syllable begins with a vowel then the character ㅇ、which looks like an o with a stem at the top, and the vowel goes to the right or below it.
And remember that there’s always at least one consonant and one vowel to every syllable.
ㄱ is spoken like a g sound, however it’s a ‘harder’ sound so it sounds like a mix between g and k.
This n sound is a lot like the sound for ‘nose’, ‘never’ or ‘nope’. However, one important difference is tongue placement. In English when making the ‘n’ sound we often put our tongue to the roof of our mouth, just behind the front teeth. But, in Korean, you should put your tongue between your front teeth – almost like biting your tongue.
ㄷ [t, d]
This sound is kind of a mix between a ‘t’ and a ‘d’ sound. With the sound 다, it is pronounces almost like ‘tda’ with a very subtle ‘t’ sound before the ‘d’.
This one’s a little tricky as it’s sometimes ‘l’, sometimes ‘r’ and often a mixture of the two.
For example, 2 in Korean is 일 ‘il’. That’s pronounced like ‘l’.
However, one common particle you will use in Korean is ‘를’, which is pronounced like ‘reul’
This one is simply just a ‘m’ sound.
ㅂ [b, p]
This is said like softer ‘b’ sound. Think of the common Korean word ‘오빠’ it is written in Romanized Korean as ‘oppa’, when it is more of a softer ‘b’ than a regular ‘p’. Soften your be and you’ve got it!
ㅅ [s, sh]
This one changes depending what other characters it is combined with, but you will naturally pick it up as you listen to more spoken Korean (get watching those dramas!)
For example 사 and 소 are pronounced ‘sa’ and ‘so’ (a soft ‘o’, like in ‘sorry’), but 샤 and 쇼 sound like ‘sha’ and ‘sho’. You’ll naturally get a hang of the pronunciation with time, so don’t fret too much over it.
This is an interesting character, because if it comes at the beginning of a syllable, it is silent. It is only paired with a vowel for grammatical purposes and doesn’t make a sound.
The only time ㅇ makes a sound is if it is at the end of a syllable. When placed at the end of a syllable, ㅇ makes the ‘ng’ sound.
For example, the word 응 uses ㅇ in both ways. The first one is used to allow the vowel ㅡ to make a sound (‘uh’), while the second one adds the ‘ng’ sound on the end making the word ‘ung’ (This is a very informal word used to say yes, to convey interest or to say like “Go on”, to show you’ve realised something or when hanging up the phone. This is bit of a tricky word and you need to know how to use if- if you want to know more here’s a link to the Youtuber ‘ChoNunMigookSaram’ talking about the word 응)
ㅈ [j, ch]
This character sounds like a hard ‘j’ or a softer ‘ch’ sound, depending on what characters it is partnered with.
For example, 자 and 저 are pronounced quite differently. The first one if ‘Ja’ while the second one sounds more like ‘cho’.
I know these changing sounds can be quite confusing at first, but with regular listening you will naturally start to pick up on the differences quickly!
While the last character was a little dubious whether it made a ‘j’ or a ‘ch’ sound, this character is a lot simpler – It’s just a stronger ‘ch’ sound than before.
Is like ‘ㄱ’, but instead of being a soft k, it’s a hard ‘k’ sound.
So, while 기 is like ‘gi’, 키 is ‘ki’.
Remember ㄷ? Well this is the same again, but this time it makes a strong ‘t’ sound.
In Korean, the word for note is 노트 “No-tu”. And the reason it’s ㅌ instead of ㄷ is because ㅌ is a hard T sound.
This is like ㅂ, but this time it is a hard ‘p’ sound (sorry, that sounds dirty XD)
This one is very easy as this sound doesn’t change much with different words and uses. This one is, quite simply, just the usual ‘h’ sound that we are very used to already in English.
This vowel makes the sound ‘a’, like ‘and’ or ‘harp’. Say it like ‘ahh’ rather than ‘ay’ or ‘ar’, as it’s quite a soft breathy sound.
- 야 This is just like 아/a, but the addition of another stroke makes it ‘ya’
This particular one used to catch me out all the time as the Romanization is really deceptive, in that it leads us to think that we are supposed to be making an “ee-oh” sound, when it’s really more of an “uh”.
The proper use of this one is one that you will naturally become more comfortable with as you listen, read and speak more Korean.
- 여 is like 야, as in that the additional stroke adds a ‘y’ onto the beginning.
So 어/eo becomes 여/yeo (pronounced ‘yuh’)
This one can be one of the trickier to pronounce as it’s so tempting to fall into the trap of pronouncing it as “oo” (like “moo”). It is a little like the “oo” sound, except it is cut short. Listen to the pronunciation of the work “Hanguk” (Korea) and listen to the short “u” sound. You’re aiming for that kind of clipped sound.
- Add another stoke and 우 becomes 유/yu!
This character makes an ‘o’ sound. It’s not a long sound, but quite a clipped ‘o’.
- Again with the last three, adding an extra stroke to 오 makes it 요/yo.
Like 오 this character does make and ‘o’ sound, but it is elongated and pronounced more like ‘oo’.
Unlike the others, this one does not change with the addition of another line (In circumstances that you would need that, I believe 유 would suffice)
This one is nice and simple. It’s just an ‘ee’ sound. Possible the easiest one there is, 이 just so similar to I in English, that there’s not much to get confused over!
I hope you’ve found this piece helpful in learning Hangul.
If you have any further comments, questions (or corrections), message me using the form below and I’ll get back to you!