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Reading Hangul: A Beginner’s Guide

(This is a reprint of an earlier article, with the “How To read Hangeul” part separated out.)

Something that will make your life here easier is to learn to read Hangul (written Korean). It’s surprisingly easy to learn, as it’s phonetically based, unlike Chinese, in which you have to memorize everything. Each letter in Hangul makes a sound, and they are put together to form syllables and words. For example, ㄱ makes a sound similar to “g” or a soft “k”, ㅣ sounds like “ee” and ㅁ sounds like “m”. Put them together, and you have 김, or “kim”.

The easiest way to practice is to write out the Hangul alphabet (or print out the chart below) with the equivalent English sounds, and then go to McDonalds to read the menu. It’s easy to puzzle out the phonetics when you know what the word is supposed to sound like. For example, 함버거 is ham baw gaw (hamburger).

Knowing how to read, even if you don’t know what all the words mean, will be endlessly helpful. You’ll feel more confident getting around, and it will even help you be a better teacher. By knowing how Korean and English sounds don’t match up, you can address your kids’ pronunciation difficulties more easily.

Korean is one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn (only Chinese and Japanese are harder), but if you put in a little effort, you can learn enough to get by. These days, many Koreans speak a little English, at least in the bigger cities, but as with traveling anywhere, making an effort to speak their language will help people be more receptive to assisting you.

Consonant sounds

ㅂ- a soft “b/p” sound like a cross between “bubble” and “puppy”

ㅃ – “P” pronounced strongly

ㅈ – “j” as in “jump”

ㅉ – “tch” as in “watch”

ㄷ- “d” as in “delicious”

ㄸ – “D” pronounced strongly

ㄱ – a hard“g” or soft “k” as in “gum”

ㄲ – a hard “K” sound

ㅅ – “s” as in “sand”, sometimes “sh” (when next to ㅣ)

ㅆ – “ss” as in “hiss”

ㅁ- “m” as in “mom”

ㄴ- “n” as in “no”

ㅇ- “ng” as in “song”, unless before a vowel (see below). Then it’s silent.

ㄹ – “l/r” – almost impossible to pronounce properly in English. It has more of an “r” or “l” sound depending on where it is in the word, and is the cause of the students’ confusion with “l” and “r” sounds. And it’s kind of rolled in the back of the mouth like with the Spanish or Scottish “r”.

ㅎ – “h” like in “hat”

ㅋ – “K” as in “Kite”

ㅌ – “t” as in “top”

ㅊ – “ch” as in “church”

ㅍ – “p” as in “pop”

Some of the cosonant sounds change if they are placed at the end of a word. As a general rule, certain consonants never end a word, which is why you’ll hear sandwich pronounced “sandwichy” or “nice” pronounced “nice-uh”. But the general pronunciation rules above will give you a sound start.

Vowel sounds

When a vowel starts the word, is used as a placeholder. So, you’ll see them written as “    ”, etc. They’re still pronounced as follows.

ㅓ – “aw” as in “awful” (anglicized as eo, like Mugeodong – “moo gaw dong”)

ㅕ- “yaw” as in “yawn” (anglicized as yeo)

ㅏ – “ah” as in “apple” (anglicized as a)

ㅑ- “yah” as in “yah, I like pie!) (anglicized as ya)

ㅐ- “ay” as in “day” (anglicized as ae)

ㅒ – “yay” as in “yay!” (anglicized as yae)

ㅔ- “eh” as in “I know, eh?” (anglicized as e)

ㅖ- “yeh” as in “yet” (anglicized as ye)

ㅣ- between the “ee” and short “i” sound (anglicized as i)

ㅗ – “oh” as in “oh my goodness” (anglicized as o)

ㅛ – “yoh” as in “yo, dawg, wassup!” (anglicized as yo)

ㅜ – “oo” as in a long “u” sound – “fruit” “tune” (anglicized as u)

ㅠ – “yoo” as in “you” (anglicized as yu)

ㅡ – “euh”, more like the short “u” sound, like “under” (anglicized as eu)

When you combine vowels, you get the “w” sound:

ㅘ – “wa” as in “water”

ㅙ – “wae” as in “way”

ㅚ – “we” as in “we”

ㅝ – “wah” as in “wander”

ㅞ – “weh” as in “wet”

ㅟ – “ wi” as in “will”

ㅢ – “ooih” as in “wit” *

Some of the sounds are so similar, that it’s difficult for non-native speakers to hear the difference.

So, can you read this?

울산 언라인

(hint, it’s the website you’re on)

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