January 18, 2020

My last post addressed the basic 24 characters in the Korean alphabet called Hangul.  In this post, I will continue with the rest of the characters.  

As a review, here are the basic 14 consonants and 10 vowels:

Consonants:  ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ  ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ  ㅍ ㅎ

Vowels:  ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ  ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ  ㅣ

Assuming that you have been practicing the first 24 characters, we will now move on to the double consonants and compound vowels, which make up additional 16 characters (5 consonants and 11 vowels).

Double Consonants

Before we go over the following consonants, I need to let you know that the Korean consonants are divided into three types of sounds:  plain, aspirated, and tense

I will be explaining that further in a later post, but for now, I just want you to be aware that the double consonants have tense sounds.

Consonant

Romanization

Notes

gg

Similar sound as the “k” in the word “sky” or “c” in the word “ricochet.”  Also, the sound of the “q” in Spanish “que.”

dd

Similar sound as the “t” in the word “store,” or the sound that “t” and “d” make together in “hotdog.”

bb

Similar sound as the “p” in the word “spa,” or the sound of the “p” in Spanish “¿qué pasa?”

sc

Similar sound as the “s” in the word “sit,” the “c” in “cent,” and “sc” in “science.”  Many English words with “s,” “c,” or “sc” all have similar tense pronunciation.  The “ㅆ" is much easier for English speakers to pronounce than the single consonant “ㅅ.”

jj

I cannot think of any single English word that has this sound.  This is a sound that “t” at the end of a word and “j” at the beginning of the next word would make together, like “hot June” or “get juice.”

Whew!  The proper pronunciation would be so much easier to show you in person!  I hope you get the general idea. Don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged, because everyone struggles with the pronunciation.  You will get better as you practice.  It may feel silly, but keep trying to vocalize the sounds out loud.  No one will make fun of you!

Now, let’s move on to the rest of the vowels.

Complex and Compound Vowels

Vowel

Romanization

Notes

ae

Sounds like “a” in “cat”

eh

Sounds like “e” in “pet,” but in conversation, there is not much distinction between words with “ㅐ" and words with “ㅔ.”

yea

Sounds like “a” in “yak.”  Remember that the two smaller lines indicate “y” sound.

ye

Sounds like “e” in “yes.”  Again, not much distinction between “ㅒ” and “ㅖ.”

wah

ㅗ [oh] + ㅏ [ah] = ㅘ [wah]

weh

ㅗ [oh] + ㅣ[ee] = ㅚ [oi]? 

No… it is actually pronounced [weh].  This is the only diphthong that does not make logical sense.

wae

ㅗ [oh] + ㅐ [ae] = ㅙ [wea]

wuh

ㅜ [ooh] + ㅓ [uh] = ㅝ [wuh]

weh

ㅜ [ooh] + ㅔ [eh] = ㅞ [weh]

wee

ㅜ [ooh] + ㅣ [ee] = ㅟ [wee]

eui

ㅡ [eu] + ㅣ [ee] = ㅢ [eui]

That is it!  Now you have been introduced to the entire Hangul alphabet.

Syllable Blocks

Keeping in mind that we are learning a language that is so different from the languages that use the Roman alphabet, we have to talk about how the characters physically come together to make words. 

Rather than writing the characters in a linear chain, the Hangul characters are grouped together by syllable. Hangul is phonetically written, and each syllable gets assigned a block. We call this a syllable block.  A syllable block is made up of two or more characters to make one syllable. And every word is made up of one or more syllable blocks.  

There are a total of 9 different types of syllable blocks: (Please don’t get overwhelmed---we will only cover three of them today.  I assure you, it looks more complicated than it actually is.)

  • Consonant + Vertical Vowel
  • Consonant + Horizontal Vowel
  • Consonant + Compound Vowel
  • Consonant + Vertical Vowel + Final Consonant
  • Consonant + Horizontal Vowel + Final Consonant
  • Consonant + Compound Vowel + Final Consonant
  • Consonant + Vertical Vowel + (Final Consonant + Final Consonant)
  • Consonant + Horizontal Vowel + (Final Consonant + Final Consonant)
  • Consonant + Compound Vowel + (Final Consonant + Final Consonant)

Let’s take a look at the first three types of syllable blocks:

Notice that the shape and size of the consonant changes depending on what vowel is used.  The reason for this is to keep the size of each syllable block uniform. The consonant is elongated vertically with the vertical vowel, is elongated horizontally with a horizontal vowel, and becomes smaller when used with a compound vowel.  

Once you’ve had practice under your belt with writing the Korean words, this pattern will become second nature to you.  Of course, if your writing is mainly on the keyboard or on your mobile device, the adjustments are automatically made for you.  Isn’t technology great?

Word Practice

We still have to cover the other syllable blocks; but already, you can write so many words with what we have learned so far.  You can begin to build your vocabulary starting today!! 

Keep in mind that the romanization is just for reference and may not be the exact pronunciation of the words.  After you have memorized all the sounds in the Hangul alphabet, you should get used to reading Hangul without the romanization.  

As we progress further into our learning, you can use an online resource, such as the Naver Korean Dictionary to hear how the words should sound.  

Let’s now look at some words:

Sample Korean Vocabulary: People

Word

Romanization

Definition

아빠

ap-pa

Dad

오빠

oap-pa

Brother (to a female)

누나

nuh-na

Sister (to a male)

이모

ee-mo

Aunt (maternal)

고모

go-mo

Aunt (paternal)

의사

eui-sa

Doctor

가수

gah-soo

Singer


Sample Korean Vocabulary: Body parts

Word

Romanization

Definition

koe

Nose

다리

dah-rhee
(sounds like American pronunciation of “dotty”)

Leg

머리

muh-ree 

(sounds like American pronunciation of “muddy”)

Head

gui

Ear

Food

Word

Romanization

Definition

고기

go-ghee

Meat

소고기

so-go-ghee

소 (Cow) + 고기 (Meat)  = 소고기 (Beef)

돼지고기

dweh-ji-go-ghee

돼지 (Pig) + 고기 (Meat) = 돼지고기 (Pork)

포도

poh-doh

Grapes

사과

sah-gua

Apple

오이

oh-ee

Cucumber

두부

doo-booh

Tofu

치즈

chee-jeu

Cheese

cha

Tea

커피

kuh-pee

Coffee

우유

ooh-yu

Milk

과자

gua-ja

Cookie(s)

Now that you know the first three types of syllable blocks, you can practice writing the above words on your own.  Remember, do your best to adjust the size of the characters to make all the syllable blocks as uniform as possible!

Conclusion

In my next post, I will be explaining the final consonant.  That will lead us into the remaining types of syllable blocks.  Then we will finally be ready to start learning some grammar and be on our way to writing simple sentences! 

In the meantime, please leave a comment below if you have any questions about anything I have covered in this post!

About the author 

Linda McKenna

Linda was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the U.S. as a teen. She previously taught at a Korean language school. She is a language enthusiast and loves learning about different languages and cultures

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