If you can read to the end of this post, you can learn to read Korean. Learning the basics of the Korean alphabet, Hangul, only takes about an hour. After that you can improve and practice by reading signs at H-mart or walking around your local Korea Town neighbourhood (Robson street in the West End of Vancouver has lots of Korean signs).
The vowels are all based on a horizontal or vertical bar with a notch.
- ㅗ “oh!” the notch is on top.
- ㅏ“ah!” the notch is pointing right at me!
- ㅓ“aw!” the notch is pointing away!
- ㅜ “ew!” the notch fell down. Oops! Ewps!
- ㅣ“eee!” There’s no notch to be seen?
- ㅔ and ㅐboth sound like eh? Two bars eh?
- ㅡ the bar fell over – same as the e sound in over.
The consonants, well, look different:
- ㅂ it even looks like a b
- ㅍp looks like the symbol for pi π
- ㅈ j looks like Zorro’s mark. Zorro always jumps onto his horse.
- ㅅ somebody tell Zorro the top part is missing.
- ㅊ ch Zorro changed his mark with a dot on top.
- ㄴ n when you say n, your tongue goes up just like how this symbol is bent upwards.
- ㄱ g when you say g, your tongue goes down just like how this symbol is bent downwards.
- ㅋ k same as ㄱ with a burst of air from your mouth (aspirated!)
- ㅁ mouth (well, a square mouth!)
- ㅇ looks like a big zero because it’s not pronounced!
- ㄹ l looks like an electric eel.
- ㄷ d looks like a d with the bar missing
- ㅌt looks like rotated T
Some of the consonants can be written in a doubled form, like ㅉ, ㅆ, ㅃ, ㄸ, and ㄲ. These sound roughly the same as the normal single consonants.
The batchim means floor. It is the bottom consonant that the other 2 letters are sitting on. In 밤밤, the batchim is ㅁ for both syllables. In 비빔밥, the first syllable, 비, doesn’t have a batchim; in the second syllable, 빔, the batchim is ㅁ, and in the last syllable, 밥, the batchim is ㅂ. Some of the letters change their sound when they are the batchim. ㅈ, ㅅ, ㅊ, ㄷ and ㅌ all sound like t when they are batchim. For example, 밪만, 밧만, 밫만, 받만, and 밭만 are all batman. When ㅇ is batchim, it sounds like ng in song. So 방 is pronounced like bang. Try saying 방 and 반 back and forth repeatedly.
The vowels can have a second notch added to make them have a “y” sound at the start.
- ㅑ(y + ㅏ) is pronounced yeah.
- ㅛ (y + ㅗ) is pronounced yo.
- ㅕ(y + ㅓ) is pronounced yaw.
- ㅠ (y + ㅜ) is pronounced yew.
The vowels can also be combine to make them have a “w” sound at the start.
- ㅘ (ㅗ + ㅏ) is pronounced wah.
- ㅟ (ㅜ + ㅣ) is pronounced wee.
- ㅝ (ㅜ + ㅓ) is pronounced waw.
- ㅚ, ㅙ, and ㅞ all sound like whey.
Try practicing with these English words used in Korean. Follow the link for the answer on Naver dictionary. On the Naver site, click the button for an audio sample.
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Learn how to speak Korean at talktomeinkorean.com.