For now, don’t even think about words or grammar or anything until you can read and pronounce Korean letters and syllables. Without being able to read Korean, it is very difficult to continue studying other parts of the language.
In the Unit 0 lessons I will provide the Romanized equivalents to the Korean alphabet. However, I highly suggest that once you know how to read the Korean alphabet, you should completely abandon the Romanizations. For example, in the future, instead of studying like this:
학교 (hak-kyo) = school
You should study like this:
학교 = school
At any rate, study these characters like crazy. Memorizing them at first is hard, but it needs to be done. Luckily, Korean has a fairly simple ‘alphabet’, although it seems strange to most English speakers at first because it is completely different than English.
The following are the first set of Korean consonants that you need to get into your brain. There is no easy way to explain them, you just need to memorize them:
ㄹ= r/l (This sound is very difficult to write in English, and is the reason why people from Korea/Japan have trouble pronouncing the R and L sound in Enrish. The sound of this letter (to me) is half way between an R and L. For example, if you were to say “I hadda good time last night” the ㄹ sound is very similar to the “dd” in the slang “hadda.” It’s not quite and R, and it’s not quite an L.)
Memorize those before you go any further.
Next are the basic vowels you will need to know. Again, do whatever you can to memorize these.
ㅓ= eo (Romanized as “eo” but it sounds closer to “uh” in English)
You should notice that the first three vowels are drawn vertically, and the bottom three are drawn horizontally. I you can’t see what I mean, look at the following picture for a more exaggerated depiction.
In that picture, it should be clear that the ones on the left are drawn vertically, and the ones on the right are drawn horizontally. The difference is very important because the way every Korean letter is written depends on if the vowel is drawn vertically or horizontally.
Let’s take a look at how it is done.
Korean is written into “blocks” that make up one syllable. One block always has exactly one syllable. The blocks are ALWAYS drawn in one of the following ways:
Important rules you need to know about these structures:
1. Number “2” is ALWAYS a vowel. Always always always always always.
2. Number “1, 3 (and sometimes 4) are ALWAYS consonants. Always.
3. Blocks containing a horizontally drawn vowel are always drawn in one of these two ways:
4. Blocks containing a vertically drawn vowel are always drawn in one of these two ways:
Now that you know those rules, it is just a matter of putting the consonants and vowels together to make blocks. For example, if I want to write “bab”:
Step 1: Determine if the vowel is horizontal or vertical. a (ㅏ) is vertical, so we will use:
Step 2: Determine if the syllable ends in a consonant. Yes, it does. So we need to fill 1, 2 and 3, so we need to use:
Step 3: Place the starting letter “b (ㅂ)”, the middle letter “a (ㅏ)” and the ending letter “b (ㅂ)” into 1, 2, and 3 respectively.
Let’s practice a few before we finish:
ㄱ = k
ㅏ = a
ㄴ = n
ㅏ is vertically aligned, so if we make a syllable we would write: 간 (kan)
ㅂ = b
ㅓ = eo
ㅂ = b
ㅓ is vertically aligned, so if we make a syllable we would write: 법 (beob)
ㅈ = j
ㅜ = u
ㅜis horizontally aligned, so if we make a syllable we would write: 주 (ju)
ㅎ = h
ㅗ = o
ㅗis horizontally aligned, so if we make a syllable we would write: 호 (ho)
The following tables show all of the letters presented in this lesson, and how they match up to create syllables.
The first table only shows syllables created without the use of a final consonant. By factoring in the use of a final consonant, many more varieties of syllables can be created, and those will be presented a little bit lower.
Click on the speaker symbol to the right of each column to hear how each syllable is pronounced. The audio files are arranged by consonant – where the vowels (ㅣ, ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅡ, ㅜ, ㅗ) are pronounced with each respective consonant. Be sure to listen to how the vowels are pronounced, as well as the syllables. Also, when listening to these sounds, try to understand where some of the ambiguity comes from when trying to represent these sounds with English (Latin) letters. I often get questions from learners who are confused whether to use “G” or “K” to represent “ㄱ.” Listen to the “ㄱ” column and tell me which letter best represents that sound in all cases. You can’t. This is why there is confusion amongst early learners of Korean in terms of the correct pronunciation of letters. The same can be said for other letters, like “B” and “P” with “ㅂ” and “R” and “L” with “ㄹ.”
However, as I said before, you should try your best to abandon all English/Latin representations of Korean words, as it just adds to confusion. It much better to only use Korean letters to represent Korean sounds, even though it may be difficult at first.
When looking at this table, it is important to note how each vowel pairs up with a consonant. I am showing you this table (and the ones that follow) to allow you to get familiar with the structure of a Korean syllable. Note that these constructions are not necessarily words, and that it usually takes more than one syllable to make a word.
The following nine tables are similar to the table presented above. However, in each table, one specific consonant is being used as the final consonant of the syllable. Again, I am showing you these tables to allow you to familiarize yourself with the variety of constructions that could be made with the letters you learned today. You should specifically look for the patterns that exist for every letter. You do not, by any means, need to memorize any of these constructions – as that will come naturally as you progress through your study of Korean.
Also note that while some of the syllables shown in the tables below are very common, some you will never find in any word in Korean. Notice that some of the syllables in the table are colored gray. You will probably never find that syllable in any Korean word, ever. The one’s in black are syllables that you will see within words. The colored/underlined syllables are actually words on their own. If you hover your mouse over these words, you will see the translation in English. I have done this only for convenience, and you do not need to memorize any of this at this point.
Final Consonant: ㅂ
Final Consonant: ㅈ
Final Consonant: ㄷ
Final Consonant: ㄱ
Final Consonant: ㅅ
Final Consonant: ㅁ
Final Consonant: ㄴ
Final Consonant: ㅎ
Final Consonant: ㄹ
That’s it for this lesson! Hopefully you aren’t too confused. If you are, feel free to ask the teachers a question using the comment section and the teachers will get back to you right away!
At this point I suggest you practice making as many blocks as possible on your own. Study everything I just taught you for a few days, and make sure you understand everything. Before we move on, you should be able to:
- Recognize the vowels and consonants that were taught in today’s lesson
- Be able to make syllables by putting together formations of vowels and consonants
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post on our Facebook page! (the comments here on the site are acting weird, sorry). Or, if you want to practice making sentences on your own, write a comment on our Facebook page and we can correct them for you right away!