Travel, Teach, Live in Korea

How to Learn Korean Letters
By:Barbara Kellam-Scott

Although written Korean, or Hangul, appears very similar to Chinese pictograms or Japanese Kanji, it uses a phonetic alphabet, just as European languages do. What makes it appear otherwise is that its 21 vowels (eight of them also referred to as diphthongs) and 19 consonants are written combined into a single letter space for each syllable. A single syllable block may contain as many as four characters in specific positions. If the syllable begins with a vowel sound, the written form will have a special, silent letter in the space for the initial consonant. Learning to recognize Hangul characters and syllable blocks is easier than learning to combine them properly.

Review the 40 characters of Hangul in isolation. Each of the 10 basic vowels includes a circle and one or more straight lines, but circles also appear in two consonants. Each of the 11 complex vowels, or diphthongs, looks similar to a basic vowel but has an extra line, often parallel to the first.

Find a one-syllable word in the dictionary that starts with each of the consonants. If you're using an English-Korean dictionary, some words to start with are ear, date, months, word, outside, mountain, front, house, seven, nose, chin, eight and older brother.

Take apart each of your words to identify the other characters it contains. The vowel may appear to the right of the syllable block if it has one or more long vertical lines, or in a stack with the beginning and ending consonants if the vowel is basically horizontal. There are 13 two-consonant endings to Hangul syllables; they will be squeezed together at the bottom of the block.

Apply your learning to additional syllable blocks until you can recognize the letters reliably.






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