Introduction to Korean

First, let’s learn the Korean alphabet!

First make sure your browser can read Korean characters. Make sure your browser encoding is set to Unicode, or UTF-8. If you can see this character (한국), then you are fine.

The Korean alphabet is called ‘Hangeul’, and it is constructed the same way English is constructed, with consonants and vowels! That means you only have to memorize 40 characters, compared to 26 in English.

Each Korean word starts with a consonant, followed by a vowel, either positioned to the right of it, or below it. Korean words are formed by 2-4 characters as one syllable.

A word like 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.

Does this make sense to you? If so, continue on to the next part!

Basic Korean Vowels and Consonants

Ok, let’s learn the basic Korean vowels! There’s 8 of them, with the english equivalent pronunciation guide.

1. ㅏ – this vowel sounds like ‘ah’, or the ‘a’ in ‘father’.

2. ㅓ – this vowel sounds like ‘aww’, or the ‘Au’ in ‘Australia’.

3. ㅗ – this vowel sounds like ‘oh’, or the ‘o’ in ‘so’.

4. ㅜ – this vowel sounds like ‘ooh’ or the ‘ue’ in ‘sue’.

5. ㅡ – this vowel sounds like ‘uhh’ or the ‘oo’ in ‘good’.

6. ㅣ – this vowel sounds like ‘ee’ or the ‘ee’ in ‘see’.

7. ㅔ – this vowel sounds like ‘eh’ or the ‘e’ in ‘bed’.

8. ㅐ – this vowel sounds like ‘ay’ or the ‘ay’ in ‘lay’.

That’s the basic 8 Korean vowels. Now let’s move on to consonants!

Ok, let’s learn the basic Korean consonants! There’s 10 of them, with the english equivalent pronunciation guide. These are a bit more tricky since their pronunciation changes depending on where in the word it is located.

Note that when I say ‘almost silent if it’s at the end’, it’s almost like mouthing the letter with your mouth but not actually completely saying it. This is one of the hardest parts of pronouncing Korean.

1. ㅂ – this consonant sounds like a soft ‘p’ when it’s the first consonant in a korean word, like ‘b’ if it’s in the middle of the word, and almost silent if it’s at the end.

2. ㅈ – this consonant sounds like a soft ‘ch’ when it’s the first consonant in a korean word, like ‘j’ if it’s in the middle of the word, and almost silent if it’s at the end.

3. ㄷ – this consonant sounds like a soft ‘t’ when it’s the first consonant in a korean word, like ‘d’ if it’s in the middle of the word, and almost silent if it’s at the end.

4. ㄱ – this consonant sounds like a soft ‘k’ when it’s the first consonant in a korean word, like ‘g’ if it’s in the middle of the word, and almost silent if it’s at the end.

5. ㅅ – this consonant sounds like a soft ‘s’ when it’s the first consonant in a korean word, like ‘sh’ if it’s followed by ‘ㅣ’, and almost silent if it’s at the end of a word.

6. ㅁ – this consonant sounds like ‘m’ no matter where its placed in a word.

7. ㄴ – this consonant sounds like ‘n’ no matter where its placed in a word.

8. ㅇ – this consonant is silent if it’s at the beginning or middle of a Korean word, and like ‘ng’ (like in ‘running’) when placed at the end of a Korean word.

9. ㄹ – this consonant sounds like ‘l’ no matter where its placed in a Korean word.

10. ㅎ – this consonant sounds like ‘h’ at the beginning or middle of a Korean word, and is almost silent if it’s at the end of a word.

That’s the basic 10 Korean consonants. Now let’s move on to advanced vowels!

Advanced Korean Vowels and Consonants

Ok, you’ve learned 18 Korean characters. Now let’s learn the 13 advanced Korean vowels, which are similar to the ones you’ve learned already.

1. ㅑ – this vowel sounds like ‘yah’.

2. ㅕ – this vowel sounds like ‘yaww’.

3. ㅛ – this vowel sounds like ‘yo’.

4. ㅠ – this vowel sounds like ‘yew’.

5. ㅖ – this vowel sounds like ‘yeh’.

6. ㅒ – this vowel sounds like ‘yay’.

7. ㅝ – this vowel sounds like ‘waww’.

8. ㅘ – this vowel sounds like ‘wah’.

9. ㅚ – this vowel sounds like ‘weh’.

10. ㅞ – this vowel also sounds like ‘weh’.

11. ㅙ – this vowel sounds like ‘way’.

12. ㅟ – this vowel sounds like ‘wee’.

13. ㅢ – this vowel sounds like ‘uh-ee’.

That’s the advanced 13 Korean vowels. Now let’s move on to advanced consonants!

Ok, these 9 advanced consonants should be the final parts of the Korean alphabet! These consonants are similar to the ones you’ve learned already. After this, you should be able to pronounce (almost) any Korean word by adding up the sounds together!

All of these consonants are almost silent when they appear at the end of a Korean word. Almost silent – meaning you should still mouth the pronunciation but not completely say it.

1. ㅃ – this consonant sounds like ‘b’ but with a stronger downward tone.

2. ㅉ – this consonant sounds like ‘j’ but with a stronger downward tone.

3. ㄸ – this consonant sounds like ‘d’ but with a stronger downward tone.

4. ㄲ – this consonant sounds like ‘g’ but with a stronger downward tone.

5. ㅆ – this consonant sounds like ‘s’ but with a stronger downward tone.

6. ㅋ – this consonant sounds like a strong ‘k’.

7. ㅌ – this consonant sounds like a strong ‘t’.

8. ㅊ – this consonant sounds like a strong ‘ch’.

9. ㅍ – this consonant sounds like a strong ‘p’.

That’s all the Korean characters! Now let’s review some Korean pronunciations!