From Basic to Brilliance: Learning to Read Hangul

Bodhi Ramos9 min
Created: Dec 27, 2023Last updated: Dec 27, 2023
How to Read Korean

Of course, anyone who wants to master a new language should start from the basics. And one of the first things you need to pay attention to is the alphabet – the backbone of the ability to read, speak, and listen. The Korean alphabet is called Hangul, and mastering it is not as difficult as you might think. In today’s article, we’ll dive into the rudimentary steps of the language and try to do our best to help you learn how to read Korean words and phrases.

Hangul History and Structure: In a Nutshell

Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was created during the 15th century under the reign of King Sejong the Great. His vision was to develop a writing system that could be easily learned and used by all, irrespective of their social status or education level. The motivation behind Hangul’s creation was to promote literacy and improve communication among the Korean people. 

Hangul is celebrated for its scientific and systematic design. As you can see, each character represents a specific sound, and they are combined to create syllables. The construction of syllables follows a block-like structure, where the letters are organized to form cohesive sound units.

Reading Hangul: All You Need to Know

At first glance, it seems like the Korean alphabet contains thousands of letters, like Japanese or Chinese. But it’s not true! In fact, there are only 24 initial letters (14 consonants and 10 vowels) and some double consonants and diphthongs. It means that memorizing them all should not be a problem! And to help you get started, let’s explore the basics of Hangul.

Consonants and Vowels

Hangul’s consonants were designed to mimic the shape of the vocal organs when producing the sounds, resulting in a visual representation of these sounds. They are categorized based on their sounds and shapes, making them easier to learn and remember. Here’s the table of Korean consonants to help you learn how to read Hangul.

ConsonantRomanizationInitial PronunciationFinal pronunciation
giyokg as in “get”k as in “took”
nieunn as in “no”-
digeutd as in “doll”t as in “cat”
rieulr as in “row”r as in “love”
mieumm as in “mama”-
bieupb as in “boy”p as in “clap”
siots as in “see”t as in “let”
ieung-ng as in “young”
jieutj as in “jaw”t as in “bet”
chieutch as in “chair”-
kieukk as in “kite”k
tieutT as in “tent”t
pieupp as in “pole”p
hieuth as in “hat”-

Similarly, vowels were crafted to reflect the mouth’s shape when pronouncing these sounds. They are distinct and straightforward, allowing learners to grasp their pronunciation and usage quickly. Here’s the table of vowels to help you learn how to read Korean.

VowelRomanizationPronunciation
aa as in “father”
yaya as in “yawn”
eou as in “sun”
yeoyeo as in “yes”
ooh as in “so”
yoyo as in “yogurt”
uoo as in “stood”
yuyu as in “you”
euNo equivalent
iee as in “see”

This is the initial letter you need to know to understand how Korean is read. But, of course, that’s not all. In addition to 24 original letters, there are some compound consonants and diphthongs, each making its unique sound. Let’s talk about this language feature below.

Diphthongs and Double Consonants

The concept of combined sounds is familiar to English speakers because English language has them as well. But, of course, it is not the same as in the Korean language. Such sounds are a full part of the Hangul alphabet, and learning them is essential for clear understanding and communication. So, for starters, let’s explore the table of Korean double consonants.

ConsonantName
ssanggiyok
ssangdigeut
ssangbieup
ssangsiot
ssangjieut

These consonants have harder pronunciations than their initial versions, and this is their main difference. 

Diphthongs, or complex Korean vowels, are another part of the Hangul alphabet. They all create unique sounds, and the only way to learn them is to memorize them. Here is the table of Korean diphthongs.

DiphthongRomanizationPronunciation
aeae as in “bat”
yaeyae as in “yeah”
ee as in “met”
yeye as in “yes”
ㅚ oesimilar to “we”
wiwi as in “we”
waewae as in “wet”
ㅞ wewe as in “wet”
wawa as in “water”
wowo as in “word”
ㅢ uino equivalent

These are the basics of the alphabet you need to know how to read in Korean. After memorizing all the sounds and letters, it will be much easier to understand the next part – syllable blocks. They might be quite difficult for English speakers, but don’t worry! We’ve got you covered.

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Learn to Read Hangul: The Mystery of Korean Syllables

Korean syllables in Hangul are constructed systematically, blending consonants and vowels into cohesive blocks. To understand how to read them, keep in mind these simple rules.

  1. A syllable block typically starts with a consonant, also known as the initial consonant.
  2. Every syllable in Korean must contain a vowel, which forms its nucleus.
  3. Syllables can end with a consonant, termed the final consonant. However, it is not mandatory; not all syllables end with it.

To help you comprehend it better, here are some examples of Korean syllables:

  • 가 (ga):

Initial consonant: ㄱ (g);

Vowel: ㅏ (a);

No final consonants.

  • 한 (han):

Initial consonant: ㅎ (h);

Vowel: ㅏ (a);

Final consonant: ㄴ (n).

  • 학 (hak):

Initial consonant: ㅎ (h);

Vowel: ㅏ (a);

Final consonant: ㄱ (k).

And, of course, we won’t just stop there! Here’s a breakdown of a few words consisting of several syllables.

  • The word 사랑 (sarang), meaning love, consists of two syllables – 사 (sa) and 랑 (rang). In the first one, the initial consonant is ㅅ (s), the vowel is ㅏ (a), and there is no final consonant. The second syllable consists of the initial consonant ㄹ (r/l), the vowel ㅏ (a) again, and the final consonant here is ㄴ (n).
  • The word 감사합니다 (gamsahamnida), which is the formal phrase meaning “Thank you,” consists of five syllables! Here’s their short breakdown:

감 (gam): initial consonant – ㄱ (g), vowel – ㅏ (a), final consonant – ㅁ (m);

사 (sa): initial consonant – ㅅ (s), vowel – ㅏ (a), no final consonant;

합 (ham): initial consonant – ㅎ (h), vowel – ㅏ (a), final consonant – ㅂ (b);

니 (ni): initial consonant – ㄴ (n), vowel –ㅣ (i), no final consonant;

다 (da): initial consonant – ㄷ (d), vowel –ㅏ (a), no final consonant.

Phew! That was not as hard as you expected, right? Once you memorize the letters and understand the structure of syllables, it becomes much easier to read Korean words. Of course, it will definitely take some time to comprehend this information. But you need to remember that mastering the structure of Korean syllables in Hangul is fundamental for language learners, facilitating accurate pronunciation, reading comprehension, and effective written communication.

Korean Reading Practice: Tips and Tricks

Congratulations! The first step into reading in Korean is almost over! Once you’ve managed to learn all the letters and understand how the syllables work, you need to start reading as much as possible. We believe that practice makes perfect, so the more you practice, the sooner you will see the results. To help you a bit more, we’ve created a list of useful tips and pieces of advice that can be handy when you’re just learning the letters and when you already practice reading them.

  1. To easily memorize Korean letters, try to associate them with familiar objects. For example, the consonant ㅎ(h) looks exactly like someone’s head with a hat on it. Both words, head and hat, start with the same sound – keep this association in mind, and you will easily memorize the sound. The exact thing can work for any letter – just imagine pictures that work for you, and you are ready to go!
  2. After mastering the Hangul script, start learning some basic vocabulary. Memorize rudimentary words and phrases to be able to introduce yourself, ask for help, etc.
  3. Practice every moment you can. Implement learning Korean into everyday life in every possible way – read brand names, scroll through social media posts, listen to K-pop music and learn lyrics, watch Korean dramas with subtitles, and so on. 

These simple tips will help you learn the basics of the language. However, always be mindful of your mental state and overall well-being. Don’t try to learn everything in a week – not only is it impossible, but it can also be too overwhelming, leading to emotional burnout and complete inner resistance to studying. Conquer the language at your own pace, remember to take breaks, and always believe in yourself!

How to Read Korean Words: Find Out with Promova

Sometimes, to master a new language, you might need to seek help from additional resources. Although there are numerous options available, finding the perfect one for yourself can be quite a challenge. But you don’t have to worry about it! Today, we will introduce you to Promova – your one-stop solution for reaching proficiency in foreign languages. The Promova application provides you with numerous benefits. 

  1. Personalized learning paths. The app assesses the user’s proficiency level and learning pace to create a personalized course. This customization ensures that learners receive content tailored to their specific needs, allowing them to progress at a comfortable speed.
  2. Multi-layered approach. The app combines lessons on grammar and vocabulary with real-life scenarios, cultural insights, and practical conversation exercises. This holistic approach fosters a more profound understanding of the language beyond just its structural aspects.
  3. The app’s accessibility on both iOS and Android devices enables learners to study anytime, anywhere. Additionally, its flexibility accommodates diverse schedules, allowing users to learn at their convenience.
  4. Promova offers a diverse range of interactive modules that cater to various learning styles. From visual aids to audio exercises and interactive games, learners engage in comprehensive lessons designed by language professionals to enhance vocabulary, grammar, listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills.

With Promova, you can learn Korean, German, Spanish, French, and other languages. It is a great opportunity to try different options and find the one you’re actually interested in. Install the Promova application today, and enjoy convenient and engaging learning experiences!

Conclusion

Although Korean is considered quite hard to master, learning to read this language is not as difficult as it looks. The alphabet only contains 24 letters, and the syllables become much easier when you know how they work. We hope that with the help of today’s guide, you will be able to master Hangul and learn to read very soon.

FAQ

Is Hangul the first writing system used by Koreans?

No, surprisingly, it is not the first. Before the creation of Hangul, Koreans primarily used Chinese characters, known as Hanja, for writing. Hanja was introduced to Korea around the 2nd century BC and remained the dominant writing system for several centuries. However, this system posed significant challenges for the Korean language due to its complex characters and differences in grammar and pronunciation. The need for a more accessible writing system specifically tailored to the Korean language led to the development of Hangul.

What are some potential challenges learners can face when learning to read Hangul?

Some learners might find it challenging to differentiate between similar-looking characters or to grasp the nuances of certain sounds. Pronunciation, especially for non-native speakers, can also pose a challenge initially. 

What is the main mistake to avoid when learning Hangul?

The main mistake to avoid is relying excessively on Romanization. While it can serve as a helpful bridge initially, it’s crucial to transition to reading Hangul characters as soon as possible. Relying solely on Romanization can hinder the development of reading skills and create a dependency that slows progress in learning to read and understand Korean.

How much time does it take to learn how to read in Korean?

The time varies from person to person. Many learners can grasp the basics of Hangul within a few weeks of consistent practice. However, achieving fluency and comfortably reading Korean texts might take several months of dedicated learning, regular practice, and exposure to the language. The key to success is consistent effort and practice.

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