Is the Korean Alphabet Hard to Learn?

In learning Korean, you must first be familiar with the Korean alphabet before jumping to the language. Once you’ve decided to study Korean, you shouldn’t think about Korean words or grammar or anything until you learn how to read and write the Korean alphabet and syllables. If you don’t start with just studying the letters, it will be tough for you to study the language.

The Korean alphabet isn’t really tricky to learn if you have the determination, time commitment, and the right method. Even though the alphabet is completely different from other languages, you can master it in just 1-2 days. Well, of course, if you study full-time — without scrolling up and down on your favorite social media.

What is Hangul?

Hangul (or Hangeul) is the name of the Korean alphabet — “han” means “Korean” and “geul” means “letter.” Hangul is popular because it’s easy to learn how to read and write. What makes it easier is that there are many loan words in Korean that came from the English language, such as hamburger (haembeogeo), computer (keompyuteo), cake (keikeu), and bus (beoseu).

Learning Hangul is very important because once you start learning the Korean language, you will get confused or even commit mistakes in the spelling and meaning of words if you will still use the Latin or Roman script. In learning Korean, Romanization cannot help you read or even understand the words. Learning the alphabet will help you practice the correct pronunciation right from the start and will give you a better understanding of the Korean culture.

For example, when you’re eating in a Korean restaurant, which one do you think is better, knowing how to read the menu (and the ingredients) and freely deciding on your own? Or just relying upon the waiter’s food recommendation? Think about it. I bet it’s more fun to choose on your own, right? That’s just “one basic reason on why learning the Korean alphabet is better than being ignorant about it.”

Now let’s talk about the Korean Alphabet.

The Korean Alphabet

Hangul has 24 letters in total — 14 consonants and 10 vowels. This makes it easier compared to the alphabets of other languages like Russian having 33 letters, or even Khmer (Cambodian) language having 74 alphabets! And compared to the Chinese and Japanese characters that have so many strokes, Hangul is made up of simple and clear squares, circles, and straight lines. Just like doodling, you’ll surely enjoy it!

The vowels in Hangul are written based on three elements — man, earth, and heaven. Vertical line for man, the horizontal line stands for earth, and the dot is for heaven, which later on transform into a short line. The sound of some consonants varies on their placement depending on whether it’s used in the beginning, middle, or at the end of the words. The letters are formed in blocks making it easier to manage each syllable. This might sound confusing at first, but once you learn them one by one, you’ll definitely get used to the sounds in just a short period of time!

Hangul is usually written from right to left in vertical columns, but because of the effects of modernization, it is sometimes written from left to right horizontally. But the writing direction doesn’t really matter since the formed blocks are easy to distinguish once you’ve studied them. Sooner or later, you’ll just use your “photographic memory” rather than reading and analyzing those letters one by one.

Here is the complete list of the Korean alphabet. Try to focus on the similarities and difference of the letters to make it easier for you to remember. For example, ㅁ looks like a box and sounds like m while ㄴ seems like the lower left side of the box with an n sound.

Alphabet English Sound Pronunciation Example

Consonants

ㄱ g (initial) as in gold

k (final) pick

ㄴ n (initial and final) as in nun

ㄷ d (initial) as in dog

t (final) sit

ㄹ r (initial) as in rooster

l (final) pill

ㅁ m (initial and final) as in mom

ㅂ b (initial) as in boy

p (final) poster

ㅅ s (initial) as in sister

t (final) sit

ㅇ silent (initial) no sound

ng (final) as in king

ㅈ j (initial) as in jump

t (final) sit

ㅊ ch (initial) as in chest

t (final) sit

ㅋ k (initial and final) as in kick

ㅌ t (initial and final) as in tilt

ㅍ p (initial and final) as in pump

ㅎ h (initial) as in hook

t (final) sit

ㄲ gg (initial) as in good

k (final) look

ㄸ dd (initial) as in dentist

t (final) sit

ㅃ bb (initial) as in bread

pp (final) tap

ㅆ ss (initial) as in sister

t (final) sit

ㅉ jj (initial) as in juice

t (final) sit

Vowels

ㅏ a as in fat

ㅐ ae as in day

ㅑ ya as in yarn

ㅒ yae as in yeah!

ㅓ eo as in young

ㅔ e as in bed

ㅕ yeo as in young

ㅖ ye as in yes

ㅗ o as in boy

ㅘ wa as in wander

ㅙ wae as in waste

ㅚ oi as in void

ㅛ yo as in

ㅜ u as in full

ㅝ weo as in won

ㅞ we as in well

ㅟ ui as in weak

ㅠ yu as in you

ㅡ u as in food

ㅢ ui as in wisdom

ㅣ i as in fit

Easy as ABC, isn’t it? The letters turn out to be similar to each other, especially when their sounds are almost the same.

Memorizing the Korean alphabet will “definitely” be troublesome especially if you’re using the Latin or Roman script in your native language. It will really be a big change for you switching from A-B-Cs to boxes, circles, and lines. Although it might look strange, especially for English speakers; luckily, Korean has a fairly simple alphabet.

Tips in Learning the Korean Alphabet

If you’re still reading this, I’m pretty sure that you’re really interested in learning Hangul. Now that you know the importance of learning the alphabet first, I will give you the basic tips on how to master it quickly.

  1. Bottom to top.Meaning, learn the basics first. Practice the sound of the letters one by one. If you already do, then start with writing them on by one. Once you know how to write them without looking at any guides, then practice how to combine letters to form a syllable.
  1. Practice from the start.In this case, just repeat number one. (This is an important step because, at this point, you might have forgotten some letters. This will serve as your quick review.)
  2. Watch videos. You’ve probably heard this tip a hundred times. But what you’re focusing on here is the writing system. Watch some videos to understand Hangul better. Search for videos like “Top 10 common mistakes in writing Hangul,” or maybe “10 things you shouldn’t do when writing the Korean alphabet.” Believe me, you’ll thank me someday for giving you this tip.
  3. Take down notes. Write down every mistake you did — letters, sounds, and forming syllables. Make a complete list of the places where you need to focus more. This will help you balance your learning process.
  4. Have a handy application. Since you’re reading this article, I’m pretty sure that you have either a smartphone or a computer. Nowadays, there are popular language-learning platforms which are so convenient in learning the basics of a language, like Duolingo and Memrise. Both platforms will teach you the Korean alphabet first. Study at least 20 minutes a day, before going to sleep, while inside the train, or while drinking your coffee in the morning.

Once you’re finally good at the Korean alphabet, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to learn the Korean language. In learning the alphabet, all you need to do is to memorize the characters and the sounds. Writing them is so easy, even a 4-year-old kid can draw circles, lines, and squares!

What to Do After Learning the Korean Alphabet

Finally! If you think that you’ve already mastered the Korean Alphabet, it’s time to study the Korean language! It will be easier for you since you already know how to read and write Hangul. Studying the language won’t be complicated because you can easily read what you’re studying. All you need to do now is to start learning the meaning of the Korean words, and once you’re good enough, then it’s time to learn how to make a correct sentence.

However, there comes a time where you’ll think of quitting in the middle of the learning process and ask yourself, “Is Korean worth learning?” If that happens, remember again the reason why you’ve started to learn it. Think about the difficulty you’ve been through. Think about the good result you’re going to have once you’re fluent in the Korean language.

Don’t let your worries, fears, anxiety, and difficulty replace your desire for learning the language. If others can do it, why can’t you?

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