Learning the Korean Alphabet, Hangul , is a lot easier than trying to learn Romanization of Korean. Throughout your studies, you will run into many resources that will only publish Romanization though. I highly recommend you learn to read Hangul first, as it will be most useful to you. Then later, you should learn Romanization so that you can read the Romanization in those resources and know how to spell it properly in Hangul . Also, many Korean speakers will use Romanization on programs like AOL Instant Messenger, that do not support the Korean alphabet (If you are looking for programs that DO let you use the alphabet, I highly recommend MSN Messenger).
If you still have trouble after this lesson and truly wish to learn Hangul correctly, try out a membership at Learn Korean Now - it's incredibly affordable and will have you reading and writing like a native in no time. The site uses nearly 500 audio files to teach the alphabet - plenty to help you get that pronunciation you deserve!
There are also quizzes to help along the way.
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NEW: Are you busy working on learning Hangul? If so, practice with this simple and playful tool for learning Korean Hangul letters.
First, a few basics on Hangul (Don't worry! You will be reading in Hangul perfectly extremely soon!). Hangul is an alphabet, just like the Roman alphabet English speakers use. The only two differences are Hangul blocks syllables, and there are no lowercase or capitalize letters in Hangul. The letter is always written the same, no matter when it is used.
Characters will be stacked into squares to form each syllable. For example ㅎ, ㅏ, and ㄴ are three separate characters. But, as they would form one syllable, they would be written 한 instead of ㅎ ㅏ ㄴ.
ㅎ + ㅏ + ㄴ= 한
want another example?
ㄱ + ㅡ + ㄹ = 글
We then combine syllables to form words, just as we do in English.
한 + 글 = 한글
Recognize that word? That's right! It's Hangul . It consists of han (한) and gul (글). Two syllables. Six characters. As you begin to learn all the different characters, you will see how to construct the syllables properly depending on which character you are using. Just keep this one thing in mind. Every Korean word, syllable, anything...begins with a consonant. A vowel will always follow it, either positioned to the right of it, or below it. With each vowel, I will tell you where it should be positioned. Also, there will be 2,3, or rarely 4 characters in a syllable. 한 is one way of stacking, having the vowel to the right of the first consonant, with the third character under those two. 글 is the other main way of stacking, where the vowel falls below the first consonant, with the third character below the second. A third character will always fall on the bottom. You will never have three characters in a row on the top. I cannot even type an example for you to see, it just can't be done. Below is a table of the characters you will see.
Learn Hangul - 한글For now, I think it's time to begin! Why not start with the characters that make up Hangul .
The first character is
It has a couple variations. Generally, it is like an "h" sound. If it is at the beginning of a word, it will sound like an "h". There will be more on this one in Lesson 2. Next comes...
This is a vowel, and it is an "a" sound, as in father. It pretty much never varies and always has the same sound. Quite a simple character. This vowel will always be placed to the right of the first consonant. It does not fall below the consonant.
is a character that usually sounds like an "n". It only has one irregular form, which is in Lesson 2.
So far, we have a "h" sound, an "a" sound, and a "n" sound. Or, we have ㅎ, ㅏ, and ㄴ. Together, these form the first half of Hangul, 한.
Now let's break down the second syllable.
This is a light "g" or "k" sound. Don't push the air too hard or try and make this sound too heavy, it is a light sound. Don't emphasize the character. Especially at the end of a word, this character is very light. At the end of a word, it is almost as if you don't say the character.
This a little harder to explain. I think the best way to say it is, it sounds like the "oo" part in "good".
Let me phrase this another way...
It is like a short 'u', said in the back of the mouth. It is almost like a grunt! Be sure you don't actually grunt though when you say it :)
This vowel will always be placed below the first consonant. It does not fall to the right of the consonant.
This character might be the most complicated character you run into! But I'll be honest, you will have it down along with all the other characters before the week is over! Think of it as either a light "l" sound, or a rolling "r" sound, depending on where it is. If it falls between two vowels, it will most likely be a rolling "r" sound. If it is at the end of a syllable, it will usually be a light "l" sound. It does not come at the beginning of a syllable of any Korean word, but will be used at the beginning for borrowed words, like loanwords. If that is the case, treat it as it needs to be in order to say the loanword properly. This character is covered very well in Elementary Korean.
That's it! You now have learned 6 characters. You can now write
and you can! You can write both in Hangul, and the word Hangul.
Now, do you remember what each of those characters is like? Let's provide a little practice. Read these words to yourself, and try to not refer to the section above. You may if you need to, but try first!
Learn Hangul - Common CharactersSo, you feel like you are beginning to see how Korean and Hangul are? Are you ready for more?
This is a common character. It will have a light "b" or "p" sound. 바 pa 밥 bap. 반 ban. At the end of a word, it will have a very light, almost unheard sound.
This is a very easy character. It sounds just like an "m" sound. As simple as that. What do you think 마 would sound like? If you said ma, that's right!
I think you are ready for a very commonly used character. It has two sounds. One sound, is no sound! It makes no sound at all when it is the first consonant in the syllable. It is as simple as that. It is more like a place holder since all Korean syllables must start with a consonant. When it falls at the end of a syllable, it sounds like a light "ng" sound in "running". It is that ng sound in the back of your throat, but do not emphasis the "g" part of it. So the two sounds? No sound at the beginning of a syllable, "ng" sound at the end. Simple.
Let's learn two more, and then have a little practice.
This is an "o" sound. It is hard to explain, but try this. Say the letter O. Make it really really long and say it slow. Notice where your mouth starts to close in? This sound is the sound before that. The beginning of the O sound.
Let's look at this in a different way...
Shape your mouth as if you were to say the 'o' in 'go'. Now make a sound like aw, as in awe, pawl, bawl, and law.
This vowel will always be placed to the right of the first consonant, never underneath.
This is another "o" sound. They sound very similar. The best I can do is say this may be more like the other side of saying O, as with the experiment before. The part toward the end in O is more like this.
Or, think of it this way. ㅗ is like the 'o' in go, row, bow, and low.
They are very similar. Some people will be able to hear the difference if they have a good ear. Many non native speakers have the problem hearing the difference though at first.
So, for those who cannot hear the difference, When spelling and learning Korean, try to think of these are learning to spell. In English you can't always know how to spell a word, you must learn it properly. It is the same way in Korean. When words with an O sound comes up, just learn how it is spelled and leave it at that because they sound so similar.
This vowel will always appear underneath the first consonant, never to the right of it.
Let's try a few more practice words to read. So far we have covered (in order): ㅎ, ㅏ, ㄴ, ㄱ, ㅡ, ㄹ, ㅂ, ㅁ, ㅇ, ㅓ, ㅗ
Go back and review the characters you have learned now. Here is a list of them. If you know what has been said about each so far, move on! ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅇ, ㄴ, ㅏ, ㅎ, ㅗ, ㅓ, ㄱ, ㄹ, ㅡ.
This one is easy. it is the "ou" part in you. Simple as that. "oo" in boot. This vowel always falls below the first consonant, never to the right. *Notice a pattern with placement of vowels? One vowel consisting of a horizontal line will be placed underneath the consonant, while vowels consisting of a vertical line will be placed to the right. Don't believe me? Go back and check!*
This character is easy as well. It is the "ee" sound in meet. An example using it would be 미. That sounds just like saying "me" in English. You can guess where it is placed...Go ahead and try! This vowel is placed to the right of the first consonant, never underneath.
This vowel sounds like ea in bear. The vowels are all easy if you just memorize them, and do not ever sound irregular (When could they?!?). This vowel always appears to the right of the first consonant, never underneath .
This one is pretty similar to the one above. It sounds like the e in yes. The e in met. This vowel always appears to the right of the first consonant, never underneath.
Learn Hangul - More On Vowels
You have now covered all the basic vowels. There are two more things you can learn about vowels, and then you know all vowels and everything about them. And these next two things are simple.
You will see vowels like ㅠ, ㅑ,ㅛ,ㅕ,ㅖ ,ㅒ etc. Notice how instead of one short line, there are two? This means that before the vowel sound, there is a y like sound. I will give two examples.
This sounds like saying "you" in English.
This sounds like saying Ya in English. All the teenagers should know it from the song Hey Ya! by Outkast. It played all the time.
All other vowels follow the same pattern.
Next, you will see vowels combined to form a new vowel sound, such as ㅘ, ㅝ, ㅢ, ㅟ. You just run the vowels together into one sound. The vowel on the left (long horizontal line) comes first. Here are a couple examples.
This sounds like wa in water.
This sounds just like the French oui. It is more or less like wee.
I have chosen to include this one for a special reason. It works just like the others, except if it comes after a consonant, you only hear ㅣand not the other part. It is just how it sounds when spoken. At the beginning of a syllable, you do run the two together however.
Speaking of mixing these with consonants. Let's just take a look at a couple and it will explain itself on how to write them.
The first consonant is written in the top left. Any consonant that comes after the vowel sound comes at the bottom.
You are now a master at vowels. You also know a few of the consonants in Korean as well. Let's finish up the rest of the consonants.
Learn Hangul - More Consonants
This is a consonant that sounds like an s in English. It is a very light s and isn't stressed or anything. Also, before the Korean vowel ㅣ, like 시, it is usually pronounced like an sh, or for this example, shee. At the end of a word or before a syllable that begins with a vowel or consonant other than ㅅ, it ends with a light d sound. You will find many consonants sound like a light d sound if they are at the end of a word.
Speaking of light d sounds, here it is. This is a light d or t sound. 맏 sounds like mat, with a very light t sound at the end. So does 맛 however. See what I mean by ㅅ sounding like a light d sound at the end? 맛 is not mas. It is mat.
This is a light j sound in between vowels. At the beginning of the word, it is often heard as a "ch" sound instead. At the end of a word, it sounds just like an ㅅ and a ㄷ.
Are you excited? There are only four more consonants left, and you know Hangul! But first, let's make sure we know what we have covered so far. We have covered A LOT! Better put, we have covered ㅂ,ㅈ,ㄷ,ㄱ,ㅅ,ㅛ,ㅕ,ㅑ,ㅐ,ㅔ,ㅁ,ㄴ,ㅇ,ㄹ,ㅎ,ㅗ,ㅓ,ㅏ,ㅣ,ㅠ,ㅜ,ㅡ. That is actually in order of the keyboard. ^-^
Also, let's try one of these on for size. Most likely you won't understand it, but you can try and pronounce it!
한국말을 알아요? 한국말을 사랑해!
Learn Hangul - Aspirated Consonants
Here are the final four! These four are aspirated sounds. If you don't know what that means, they basically are said with more of a puff of air. Also, try to see if you can catch something in common with all of these in relationship to their similar consonant sounds.
this is like kha. It is similar to the ㄱ sound, except is said with more air. More towards a K sound.
This is a t sound, much like ㄷ, except said with more air to it!
This is a cha sound. Always. It is similar to the ㅈ sound, except said with more air to it. Always a cha sound, never a j sound ( ㅈ sounds like a j between vowels,ㅊ sounds like a cha between vowels.)
This is the last consonant, and last character you will learn in Hangul! It has an airy P sound to it. Similar to ㅂ but with more air.
Did you catch what is in common in them all? They all look very similar to the other consonants that sound similar! The only thing is, each contains an extra little line somewhere. The only one that doesn't fit perfectly with this is ㅍand ㅂ. Look at them and compare them.
ㅊ - ㅈ
ㅌ - ㄷ
ㅋ - ㄱ
ㅍ - ㅂ
If you are lucky enough to own Rosetta Stone Korean Level 1 then you will easily be able to hear the differences between the similar characters. It is often difficult at first but eventually you will be able to hear the subtle differences.
Learn Hangul - List Of Characters
Here is a list of all the characters. Vowels are written first, followed by consonants.
One more note, you will see some consonants doubled up. You can consider these seperate characters if you wish, or just think of them as being stronger with more voice to them. These are ㅃ,ㅉ,ㄸ,ㄲ,ㅆ.
Let's practice one more time.
한국말을 재미 있어요?
네! 한국말을 참 재미 있어요!