Part one focuses on developing an immediate ability to read and write basic Korean by concentrating on word and sentence formation. Only the basic Korean vowels and consonants are introduced in this lesson.
Part two introduces the remaining Korean vowels and consonants. By the end of part two, the learner should be competent at reading and writing Korean.
Part three concentrates on pronunciation and the rules that accompany the combination of particular vowels and consonants.
Audio files and written examples of how each letter or word should sound are included. It's important to listen carefully to all the native Korean pronunciation examples and to orally repeat multiple times after the audio examples. Written examples of how a letter or word generally sounds should be treated as hints only. The audio files deliver the true native Korean pronunciation.
a quick introduction to hangul
The Korean alphabet is called Hangul. It was created in 1446 by King Sejong. Before the creation of Hangul, Koreans were using Chinese symbols only. Therefore, a lot of Koreans were illiterate. Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn it. Since the creation of Hangul, it has been said 'A wise man can acquaint himself with Hangul before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn Hangul in the space of ten days'. And with literacy rates of 85% in America, 73% in China and almost 100% in Korea, the simplicity and common sense behind the design of Hangul is obvious. It is no surprise that Hangul is often praised by literary scholars and continues to win awards for its design.
“It is the simplest writing system in the world. Sejong is the Korean Leonardo da Vinci as he is gifted with deep and various talents.” (Pearl S. Buck 1938, Winner of Nobel Literature Prize, 1938).
Korean sentences are formed by words which are comprised of syllable blocks formed by a combination of Korean letters named Hangul -
A Korean sentence - 우리 한국어 같이 공부하자
A Korean word - 한국
A Korean syllable - 한
A Korean letter - ㅎ
Unlike English which is simply written from left to right, Korean words are formed by combining syllable blocks -
우|리 한|국|어 같|이 공|부|하|자
For example; 공부하자 'Gongbu Haja' (meaning 'Lets Study!) is simply written in English from left to right: 'g-o-n-g-b-u h-a-j-a'. But in Korean, the words are split into syllable blocks - gong|bu ha|ja. The letter g is represented by ㄱ , o by the letter ㅗ and ng by the letter ㅇ . Written altogether they form the first syllable block 공 (gong). The letter b is represented by the letter ㅂ and u by the letter ㅜ . Written altogether they form the second syllable 부 (bu). Combining the first and second syllables creates the word 공부 'gongbu' (meaning 'study'). The letter h is represented by the letter ㅎ and the letter a by the letter ㅏ . Written together they form the first syllable of the second word 하 (ha). The letter j is represented by the letter ㅈ and the letter a by the letter ㅏ . Combining these two letters gives us the second syllable to the second word 자 (ja). Combining these two syllables gives us the second word 하자 (haja). Now we can create our first Korean sentence - 공부 하자 or 'Lets Study!'.
You may notice the letters in 공부 are written vertically and the letters in 하자 are written horizontally. The direction depends on the vowel/consonant combinations which will be introduced later.
THE KOREAN ALPHABET - VOWELS AND CONSONANTS
There are three types of Korean vowels:
1. basic - ㅏ ㅓ ㅗ ㅜ ㅡ ㅣ ㅔ ㅐ
2. 'y' diphthongs (compound) - ㅑ ㅕ ㅛ ㅠ ㅖ ㅒ
3. 'w' diphthongs (compound) - ㅘ ㅚ ㅙ ㅢ ㅝ ㅟ ㅞ
And three types of Korean consonants:
1. basic - ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ
2. aspirated - ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ
3. tense - ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅉ ㅆ
Only the basic vowels and consonants will be introduced in this part. The remaining are introduced in part two
VOWELS - Basic
The eight vowels below are the most basic of vowels. They are also the foundations for the remaining Korean vowels. The first six vowels are in their most simplistic form. The last two (ㅔ and ㅐ) are compound vowels.
Although it's not so important to know at this stage, it's worth noting that each letter has it's own name. Unlike English where the name of the letter often sounds different to the sound, fortunately, the names for the Korean vowels are simply the same as the sound they make.
ㅏ ㅓ ㅗ ㅜ ㅡ ㅣ ㅔ ㅐ
read along with the audio...
- ㅏ , ㅏ , 안 ㅏ , ㅏ , 산
- ㅓ , ㅓ , 어머 ㅓ , ㅓ , 너
- ㅗ , ㅗ , 온 ㅗ , ㅗ , 목
- ㅜ , ㅜ , 우리 ㅜ , ㅜ , 둘
- ㅡ , ㅡ , 은 ㅡ , ㅡ , 근
- ㅣ , ㅣ , 이미 ㅣ , ㅣ , 립
- ㅔ , ㅔ , 엑스 ㅔ , ㅔ , 네
- ㅐ , ㅐ , 앤 ㅐ , ㅐ , 개
- ㅔ and ㅐ can sound very similar and it may be difficult to distinguish an audible difference. However, the difference in writing is retained so one vowel cannot be replaced by the other.
- As mentioned above, ㅔ and ㅐ are compound vowels. Their combinations are as follows -
- ㅔ is combined of ㅓ and ㅣ
- ㅐ is combined of ㅏ and ㅣ
CONSONANTS - Basic
The nine consonants below are the most basic of consonants. They are also the foundations for the remaining Korean consonants. The sound of the consonants are slightly more complicated to grasp compared to the basic vowels because the sound of some letters are slightly altered depending on their position within a syllable or word. These changes are displayed below in the 'syllable initial/final' column. The basic Korean consonants produce similar sounds to their English counterparts but are generally pronounced a little softer.
The Korean consonants also have names but unlike the Korean vowels, their names are different to the sound they create.
ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ
read along with the audio...
- ㄱ , ㄱ , 가 ㄱ , ㄱ , 먹
- ㄴ , ㄴ , 너 ㄴ , ㄴ , 난
- ㄷ , ㄷ , 덕 ㄷ , ㄷ , 믿
- ㄹ , ㄹ , 리 ㄹ , ㄹ , 굴
- ㅁ , ㅁ , 맛 ㅁ , ㅁ , 암
- ㅂ , ㅂ , 방 ㅂ , ㅂ , 갑
- ㅅ , ㅅ , 새 ㅅ , ㅅ , 듯
- ㅇ , ㅇ , 입 ㅇ , ㅇ , 강
- ㅈ , ㅈ , 제 ㅈ , ㅈ , 짖
“Whether or not it is ultimately the best of all conceivable scripts for Korean, Hangeul must unquestionably rank as one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind.” (Geoffrey Sampson, Professor of Natural Language Computing in the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex)
Rain - ㅂ +ㅣ = 비(bee)
You - ㄴ + ㅓ = 너(noh)
Cow - ㅅ + ㅗ = 소(so)
River - ㄱ +ㅏ + ㅇ = 강(kung)
Mountain - ㅅ + ㅏ + ㄴ = 산(sun)
Water - ㅁ + ㅜ + ㄹ = 물(mool)
Chicken - ㄷ +ㅏ + ㄹ +ㄱ = 닭(duk)
Soil - ㅎ + ㅡ + ㄹ +ㄱ = 흙(heuk)
Wisdom - ㅇ + ㅏ + ㄹ + ㅁ = 앎(arm)
Ocean - 바 + 다 = 바다(ba-da)
Lion - 사 + 자 = 사자(sa-ja)
Hill - 언 + 덕 = 언덕(on-dok)
Basket - 바 +구 + 니 = 바구니(ba-goo-nee)
Refrigerator - 냉 + 장 + 고 = 냉장고(naeng-jung-go)
Airplane - 비 + 행 + 기 = 비행기(bee-heang-gee)
Grandpa - 할 +아 + 버 +지 = 할아버지(hah-la-boh-jee)
Diary - 다 + 이 + 어 +리 = 다이어리(da-eye-ah-ree)
Microwave - 전 + 자 + 렌 + 지 = 전자렌지(jon-jah-lehn-jee)
Understanding the basic Korean vowels and consonants is enough to begin forming Korean vocabulary. Here are some basic fundamental rules for forming any words or syllables in Korean:
- All Korean words BEGIN with a consonant.
- If the SOUND of a word begins with a vowel sound, it still must be WRITTEN with a silent consonant. The silent consonant is the ㅇ consonant.
- A syllable can only have ONE vowel
- Whether a syllable is written horizontally (left to right) (밤 chestnut, 나 me) or vertically (top to bottom) (옷 clothing, 문 door) is determined ONLY by the type of vowel followed by the INITIAL consonant. Of the eight basic vowels, you can notice that three are written horizontally (ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅡ) while the other 5 are written vertically (ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅣ, ㅔ, ㅐ). The three written horizontally are written below the initial consonant. The remaining vertical vowels are written with the initial consonant to their left.
- The third or fourth consonant in a syllable will ALWAYS be written underneath the vowel.
Consonant and Vowel Combinations
“Koreans invented the solely creative and amazing alphabetic writing system called Hangeul for the Korean people. Hangeul is perhaps the most scientific system of writing in general use in any country.” (E. O. Reischauer, Professor, Harvard University
After reading this lesson a few times, you should have a decent understanding of how to read and write basic Korean. If you are in Korea, have a go at reading the street signs, subway advertisements etc.
Part two introduces the remaining vowels and consonants, a few more rules about word formation and some helpful charts available for download.