Hangul (or Hangeul), the Korean alphabet, has phonetic letters just like English. It’s easy to learn. Different sources may give different English spellings for the sound of each Hangul letter, but don’t let this confuse you. Even among native speakers, pronunciation varies: Seoul, in particular, has noticeably different pronunciation from other parts of Korea, especially of the O vowel.
Don’t stress about this – it won’t matter for long. Hangul sounds are different from English sounds, and as you become more familiar with the jamo (letters), you will stop using English as a reference point. If you are a Korean drama lover, you will find that the dialogue in dramas provides an extremely helpful reality check on how things are actually pronounced in conversation.
Regional variations aside, Korean vowels are much more consistent in their sound than English vowels. That is, Korean doesn’t have 6 or 8 different possible sounds for a vowel, as we have in English.
However, pronunciation of Korean consonants can vary dramatically depending on neighboring consonants, and the position of the consonant in the syllable (Korean letters are formed into blocks, each block of letters representing one syllable of a word). You may want to print out one or more of the charts below as a reference.
To hear Hangul, check out my Games to Learn Korean page – I have noted where games include audio. Games are the best way to learn the letters. Why suffer when learning can be fun!? There are also some audio resources on my Korean Words & Phrase Lists page, especially under the Word of the Day heading.
Hangul Charts and Tables ^
If you have trouble viewing Korean letters in these sources, visit the Keyboarding in Korean page for instructions on installing the language packs on your computer.
zkorean.com – This page has everything.
- Succinct & easy to read
- Doesn’t use obscure linguistic terms
- Includes diphthongs (vowel pairs)
- Provides different sounds for different positions
- Includes the names of the letters as well as their sound
On their Romanization page, they provide compact, printable tables with romanized pronunciation for consonants, vowels, and the transformations that occur when certain consonants appear in a word back-to-back (this happens a lot in Korean).
korean-arts.com – Another handy table, good for printing. Highlight the chart with your mouse, and print the selection.
linguanaut.com – More details on pronunciation. Chart format is too extended to be very printer-friendly, and some of the terminology is a little technical, but still a good resource to check if you are having trouble with a particular letter. Provides example of the letter in a Hangul word (but no audio).
joop.in – page down a bit for a three-page printable chart of various vowel/consonant combinations. I’m not sure how useful this is, since vowel/consonant combinations are pretty much what you’d expect from combining the two sounds (unlike consonant-consonant combinations, which are a different story), but it’s in color and very pretty. Page two, which covers the diphthongs, is probably the most helpful.
Other Hangul Resources ^
asiafinest.com – Long forum thread on numerous aspects of Hangul and spoken Korean, including tongue positioning for best pronunciation, honorifics (polite vs. informal), how to address those of various ages and genders, Romanization, constructing syllables, counting, colors and body parts, and a lot of sample words & phrases.
Korean Wiki Project – Full-fledged Hangul curriculum, with everything you ever wanted to know about Hangul. Might be a little too in depth for people who just want to get on with it.
wikitravel Korean Phrasebook – First 1/3 of the page includes a summary of Korean grammar characteristics (compared to English) and a pronunciation guide. The rest of it is practical words and phrases for tourists.
learnlangs.com – This site introduces Hangul letters a few at a time, and gives you English words spelled in Hangul to figure out. I loved this, and found it an extremely fun and effective way to memorize the letters. It also gives you a feeling for how English words are Koreanized to fit Hangeul letters. The only drawback is that the final lesson isn’t completed yet, so you’ll have to go elsewhere to learn the diphthongs and double letters.