Welcome to the next edition of Konju’s Korean blogs! If you have found your way to this blog, it's probably because you have decided to start learning Korean. Learning the Korean alphabet is one of the first steps in learning Korean. It is necessary to learn the Korean alphabet because, without it, you will not be able to read or properly pronounce Korean.
Luckily for you, and everyone else who has ever endeavored to learn Korean, the Korean alphabet is one of the easiest writing systems to learn in the world. You can learn the Korean alphabet from A to Z in less than 30 minutes and be ready to take on any Korean word. Let’s get started by learning a little about why the Korean alphabet is so easy to pick up.
Why the Korean Alphabet is So Easy to Learn
The Korean alphabet is called 한글 (han-geul) in Korean. 한글 (han-geul) means ‘Korean writing’. It consists of 10 vowels and 14 consonants. It also has 11 diphthongs and 5 double constants. We will learn more about these letters later in this blog. You might be thinking now, there are over 40 letters in Korean, how can it possibly be easy to learn?
Even though there are a lot of different letters in Korean, 한글(han-geul) is still easy to learn because Korean is a phonetic language. This means that every letter is assigned a sound. If you learn the sound of each letter then you will be able to read Korean! This also means that words are spelled exactly like they are said. Learn all of the following letters and their pronunciation and you will be able to read any word in Korean.
The Korean Alphabet Pronunciation
Each letter in the Korean alphabet has its pronunciation. We will go over each letter and the pronunciation assigned to it below. In total, you will learn 40 pronunciations, but don’t get too overwhelmed! We will start with basic vowels and consonants, which will help you understand and remember the pronunciation of the more complex vowels and consonants.
ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ
There are a total of 19 Korean consonants. First, we will go over the 14 basic consonants and then learn about Korean double consonants.
The first Korean consonant is ㄱ. It is called 기역 (gi-yeok) in Korean and is pronounced as ‘g’ as in ‘go. Check out these examples of words with ㄱ in them and take note of their pronunciation.
The next consonant is ㄴ. It is called 니은 (ni-eun) in Korean and is pronounced as ‘n’ as in ‘nose’. Look at the following words to understand how ㄴ is used in Korean.
Next up is ㄷ, known as 디귿 (di-geut) in Korean. It makes the ‘d’ sound as in ‘dog’.
ㄹ, known as 리을 (ri-eul) is the 4th letter in the alphabet. It makes the ‘r’ or ‘l’ sound as in the word ‘road’ or ‘light’ When two ㄹs are next to each other, they make the ‘l’ sound.
The next letter is ㅁ, 미음 (mi-eum). It makes the ‘m’ sound as in the word ‘mouth’. Here are a few words with ㅁ in them.
Next in the alphabet is ㅂ, 비읍 (bi-eup). It is pronounced as ‘b’ as in the word ‘bike’.
The next letter is a little more complicated than our other letters. This letter makes the ‘s’ sound but can sometimes change to ‘sh’ depending on what vowel follows it. It is called 시옷 (shi-ot) in Korean.
This next letter is also a little more complicated. It is called 이응 (ee-eung), and it can either be silent or make the ‘ng’ sound, depending on where it is placed in a word. If it is placed before a vowel, it is silent. If it is placed after a vowel, it makes the ‘ng’ sound.
ㅈ makes the ‘j’ sound and is called 지읒 (ji-eut). It is similar to the ‘j’ sound in ‘joke’.
ㅊ is the next consonant. It looks very similar to ㅈ except for a small line at the top. ㅊ is the letter 치읓 (chi-eut) in Korean and is pronounced ‘ch’.
The next letter is ㅋ, 키읔 (ki-euk). It is pronounced as ‘k’ like in the word ‘kite’.
The next letter ㅌ is 티읕 (ti-eut) and is pronounced as ‘t’ like in the word ‘tiger’.
The letter ㅍ is called 피읖 (pi-eup) in Korean and is pronounced as ‘p’ like in the word ‘pie’.
The letter ㅎ, 히읗(hi-eut) is the last letter in the Korean alphabet. It makes the ‘h’ sound.
And that is all of the simple consonants in the Korean language! Next, we are going to learn the last 5 consonants of the Korean language, called double consonants.
Korean Double Consonants
ㄲ ㄸ ㅃ ㅆ ㅉ
Korean double consonants are easy to learn, but a little hard to pronounce. As we learn each double consonant, you can think of them as emphasized versions of the single consonants. I’ll show you what I mean below!
Our first double consonant is ㄲ. You might recognize part of this consonant from above. The letter is a double 기역 (gi-yeok) also known as 쌍기역 (ssang-gi-yeok). If you remember 기역 (gi-yeok) makes the ‘g’ sound. ㄲ makes an emphasized ‘g’ sound. Look at the examples below for reference.
The next double consonant is ㄸ. It is ㄷ emphasized and is called 쌍디귿 (ssang-di-geut). The following words use 쌍디귿(ssang-di-geut) in them.
‘To be hot’
The third double constant is called 상비읍 (ssang-bi-eub) and is pronounced as an emphasized ㅂ.
The double constant 쌍시옷 (ssang-shi-ot) is pronounced ‘ss’ and is written as ㅆ.
The last double consonant is ㅉ and is pronounced ‘jj’. It is called 쌍지읒 (ssang-ji-eut).
ㅏ ㅓ ㅣ ㅡ ㅜ ㅗ
There are 6 basic Korean vowels. The first vowel is ㅏ. It makes the sound ‘ah’ as in ‘father’ Here are a few words that use this vowel.
The next vowel is ㅓ. It is pronounced as ‘eo’. This vowel does not have an exact equivalent in English, but it is similar to ‘uh’.
Vowel number three is ㅣ. It is pronounced ‘ee’ as in the word ‘ bee’.
This next vowel also does not have an English equivalent. I like to think of it as the sound that you might make if you were punched in the stomach. ㅡ is pronounced as ‘eu’. Listen to words with this vowel to practice its pronunciation.
‘To be hurt’
ㅜ is the next vowel. It is pronounced ‘oo’ as in the word ‘boot’.
ㅗ is the last basic vowel. It is pronounced as ‘oh’ like the word ‘boat’.
Korean Diphthongs and Other Vowels
ㅑ ㅕ ㅛ ㅠ ㅐ ㅒ ㅔ ㅖㅘ ㅙ ㅝ ㅞ ㅟ ㅢ ㅚ
Now that you have learned the basic Korean vowels, let's move on to Korean diphthongs. These are more advanced vowels that are created by combining simple vowels. If you know the simple vowels well, you will be able to pick up these 14 vowels in no time! Below I will show you each diphthong and the 2 vowels combined to make them.
ㅣ + ㅏ = ㅑ(ya)
ㅣ + ㅓ = ㅕ(yeo)
ㅣ + ㅗ = ㅛ (yo)
ㅣ + ㅜ = ㅠ (yoo)
These first four diphthongs are a combination of 4 of the basic vowels and ㅣ. When pronouncing these diphthongs it is like saying ㅣ and the combined vowel together really fast. For example, try saying ㅣ(ee) and ㅏ(ah) together really fast. The pronunciation turns into ‘ya’. If you see two lines on a vowel, you can remember the pronunciation by simply adding a ‘y’ to the beginning.
ㅏ + ㅣ=ㅐ(ae)
ㅑ + ㅣ=ㅒ (yae)
ㅐ is a combination of ㅏ + ㅣ, though it doesn’t sound like a combination of ㅏ and ㅣ. For this vowel, you will just have to remember the pronunciation as ‘ae’. It is similar to the pronunciation ‘e’ the word ‘hey’. ㅒ is the same pronunciation but with a ‘y’ added at the beginning to become ‘yae’.
ㅓ + ㅣ = ㅔ(eh)
ㅕ + ㅣ = ㅖ(yeh)
These vowels often sound similar to the above ㅐ(ae) and ㅒ(yae), but if you listen carefully, you will hear the difference. ㅔ is pronounced ‘eh’ and ㅖ is ‘yeh’. Though they are a combination of ㅓ andㅣthey sound different than you might think, so try to remember the pronunciation of these 2 vowels instead of guessing from how they look.
ㅗ +ㅏ= ㅘ (wa)
ㅗ(oh) and ㅏ(ah) said together fast becomes ㅘ (wa). When you see this diphthong, think of it as two separate vowels said together. This will help you remember the pronunciation.
ㅗ +ㅐ= ㅙ (wae)
ㅗ(oh) andㅐ(ae) said together fast becomes ㅙ(wae).
ㅜ +ㅓ= ㅝ (wo)
ㅜ(oo) andㅓ(eo) becomes ㅝ(weo).
ㅜ +ㅔ= ㅞ (weh)
ㅜ(oo) andㅔ(eh) becomes ㅞ (weh).
ㅜ +ㅣ= ㅟ (wi)
ㅜ(oo) andㅣ(ee) together becomes ㅟ (wee).
ㅡ +ㅣ= ㅢ (ui)
ㅡ(eu) and ㅣ(ee) said together becomes ㅢ (ui). This diphthong can often sound like ‘wee’ when pronounced, but if you listen carefully, you will hear both ㅡ and ㅣ being pronounced.
ㅗ +ㅣ= ㅚ (weh)
ㅗ(oh) and ㅣ(ee) together becomes ㅚ(weh). This is another unusual diphthong in that the sound it makes is different than what might be expected.
Korean Syllable Blocks
Korean is made up of syllable blocks. Each word has at least one syllable block in it and each syllable block has at least one vowel and consonant. In a syllable block, there can be up to 4 vowels and consonants. A syllable block is read from left to right, up to down. Let's take a look at some examples of Korean syllable blocks.
This first syllable block is comprised of ㅇ + ㅗ. Since ㅇ is on top of ㅗ we know it is the first letter in this block. We also know that it is silent because ㅇ only makes the ‘ng’ sound when it's the last syllable in a block. After ㅇ is ㅗ which makes the ‘oh’ sound. Since ㅇ is silent, the only sound in the syllable block is ㅗ so this syllable block is pronounced as ‘oh’.
Syllable blocks are read from left to right, so this syllable block is read as ㄱ + ㅏ. ㄱ makes the ‘g’ sound and ㅏ makes the ‘ah’ sound. Together it becomes 가, ‘ga’.
This syllable block is read as ㅈ + ㅏ + ㅁ. That is ‘j’ + ‘ah’ + ‘m’. Together it becomes 잠, ‘jahm’.
This syllable block is a little trickier than the other syllable block because it is read first as up to down and then left to right. So it is read as a combination of ㅎ + ㅡ + ㄹ + ㄱ. This is ‘h’ + ‘eu’ + ‘r/l’ + ‘k’. Together it becomes 흙, ‘heulk’.
To practice syllable blocks, read! With reading you will get introduced to different kinds of syllable blocks and eventually, you won't even have to think about the order of a syllable block and how to pronounce them. It will just come naturally.
How to Memorize the Korean Alphabet
The best way to memorize the Korean alphabet is to read and write in Korean. Pick up any Korean book and start reading. It doesn't matter if you understand the contents. Your goal should be to pronounce and read each word correctly.
As you read, try to write down some of the words you read. Memorize a few and try to write them down from memorization. When you learn more vocabulary and grammar, try writing out sentences. With daily reading and writing practice, you will have hangul down in no time. The hardest part of hangul is memorization. The more activities you do to memorize the letters, the faster you will get them down.
Tools to Help You Learn the Korean Alphabet
To start learning the Korean alphabet, I recommend that you download some vocabulary apps to start memorizing the spelling and formation of words. Some of my favorite apps include Memrise and Drops. They are easy to use and effective in teaching vocabulary. Quizlet is also a great app to use as flashcards.
After learning some vocabulary, move on to basic grammar so that you can write and read simple sentences. The Konju app is a great way to begin learning Korean grammar and conjugations.
Once you’ve mastered the Korean alphabet and are prepared to advance into learning Korean verbs, adjectives and their conjugations, check out the Konju app! Konju is the first mobile app with a focus on mastering Korean conjugations which are the most important aspect of mastering the Korean language. Konju makes learning fun with short practice quizzes and a beautiful design that makes learning Korean fun!
You have now learned the whole Korean alphabet and ways to practice it. To review, the Korean alphabet is easy to learn, but it does require regular practice to get it down. Practice all the consonants and vowels above by reading and writing in Korean. Also, try learning some vocabulary and simple grammar. Try out the Konju app to learn Korean grammar in an easy and fun way. Good job on making it to the end of this lesson! We’ll see you on our other blogs!