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The Korean Alphabet - Learning Hangul

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.

Hangul Charts & Tables
Other Hangul Resources

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.

  • Audio!
  • 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.

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21 comments to The Korean Alphabet – Learning Hangul

  • Neriza B. Dela Cruz

    i wanna learn korean language i’m from the Philippine
    country…

  • Lianne

    Kdrama & Kpop is popular in the Philippines. I still havent tried your site but I hope it helps me a lot in learning hanguel.

    • Mihansa

      I hope so too! Learning the alphabet is actually pretty easy, and painless, since there are lots of different games to do it. If you need something I haven’t listed, please let me know. I have a lot of links for other language tools that I haven’t had time to post yet.

  • Any app that I can learn korea ? I wanna easy way to leran korean …

  • Hey everyone,
    If you want a cool Korean alphabet chart with full audio, this one is great! I’ve been using it, and I think I can now pronounce all the Korean vowel/consonant combinations.

    http://www.speakoutlanguages.com/korean-chart/

    Cheers!

    Ryan

    • Mihansa

      Thanks for posting this, Ryan. No need to be shy – you can say it’s your blog :)

      It’s very helpful, especially for diphthongs. Much simpler to listen than to try and decipher contradicting Romanization systems. I also appreciated hearing the diphthong/consonant combinations.

      Will you be continuing to work on cross-browser compatibility so non-Chrome users don’t have to install another browser to use it? My readers are international, and don’t always have access to the most current technology, so that’s something I’m always looking for.

      In my tests, clicking a letter in the chart crashed FireFox in Windows XP (repeatedly), and simply didn’t work in older versions of Internet Explorer, or in FireFox running on Windows 7. I was able to run it in Internet Explorer 10 after authorizing a Windows Media Player plugin.

      BTW, the credit link to the Korean Wiki Project on your stroke order page is broken.

  • Ha ha…thanks!

    Yeah, I’m going to fix the audio on that chart. I’m not so much worried about older Explorer browsers, but I really want it to work better on mobile devices and all the different new browsers. Unfortunately, that’s beyond my technical ability, (I’ve done my best already) so I’m going to have to hire someone to do it.

    Ryan

    • Mihansa

      Yeah, cross-browser compatibility can be challenging, especially where audio and video are concerned. IE8 may be outdated for most U.S. users, but I have a lot of international readers, many of whom are still running Windows XP. IE8 is the highest version of Internet Explorer that can be used with Windows XP, which is probably why Microsoft continues to release security updates for it.

  • jhem

    . .hi!! i really want to learn korean language,,,:)

    • Mihansa

      You have come to the right place! On this page, you will find a lot of links to websites to help you learn Hangeul (the Korean alphabet). Visit my Games to Learn Korean page and my Korean Word & Phrase List pages, too. I don’t like to work too hard, so I try to find study tools that are fun :)

      The best thing you can do to help you learn is find a native Korean speaker. Even if you can’t meet with that person, but can only email each other, you will get a lot of practice, and good feedback on your mistakes if you have a Korean friend to help you. Happy studying!

  • Hey, love the website! Thanks a lot for the great list of resources, it’s one of the best I’ve seen.

    I just checked out the link for YahooInfantZone and the link is broken. Just wanted to let you know.

    Also (this is my website, full disclosure), at 90 Day Korean, we put together a full guide that uses psychological associations to help learners memorize all the Korean characters. I thought it might be a valuable addition to your page!

    For readers that want to give it a try,download the 90 Minute Challenge and try out this method. It works well for visual learners! I am curious what you think.

    Anyway, keep up the great work with the blog. Cheers!

    • Mihansa

      Thank for the heads-up about the broken link. I did check out your download and I think it’s a simple, clear and innovative approach to learning the Hangeul alphabet (though I might’ve gone with gum rather than gun). I like that it avoids all the complications of Romanization. I think we are of one mind about that :)

      What do you have planned for the other 89 days?

      • Thanks a lot for the positive feedback! I am glad you like, we are redoing it now to match the look of our other, more updated materials so we’ll take your feedback and go with it! :)

        To answer you: we actually have a full curriculum, leading up to the point where students are able to maintain a 3 minute conversation with a local. A lot of the ideas are written about in one our team member’s new posts on our blog: http://www.90daykorean.com/learn-korean-90-days/

        Let’s chat more in the future, I am always happy to talk languages and I want our students to learn more on their own through dramas and music. So many of them love it! Thanks again or your great site and list of resources.

        • Mihansa

          Definitely keep us posted. Many (perhaps most) of my readers may not have access to Korean speakers for practice, which really slows us down, I think. Motivation and memory are both stronger when I can use what I’ve learned.

          I noticed you are starting with loan words from English. Personally, I find the loan words more difficult to pronounce correctly in Korean because I keep wanting to pronounce them the way I do in English. When I approach an entirely unfamiliar word in Korean, I have no preconceptions about how it will sound, so it is easier to remember the correct pronunciation.

          Probably every Kpop fan in the world already knew this, but I recently discovered that I remember words much better when I hear them in a musical context. I would guess this is partly because I listen to a song I like over and over again, and partly because music creates stronger emotional associations that help me remember the words. It’s not that helpful for making sentences, since song lyrics are often more poetical than everyday speech, but it does help with vocabulary building. I’m not sure how you’d work that into a language curriculum, but I thought I’d put it out there.

          • Thats a very good point. We are trying to solve that issue for our members as well right now, and trying to have a list of Meetup groups that are easy for members to attend or adding in Skype practice. Using the language is definitely most important.

            Also, it’s a very good idea about lyrics and we have talked about ideas relating to music. We hope to put out more free video series out in the future and reccomend songs for students to listen to.

            Thanks again for your great ideas.

          • Mihansa

            Do you happen to know of a good site to find a native Korean penpal with intermediate level English fluency who is interested in language exchange? I had the good fortune to meet with a visiting student for several months. His English was very limited (and my Korean was nearly non-existent) so it was difficult to teach each other. However, we communicated by email between meetings, and that was how I made the most progress. I could study how to say a particular thing as the need arose, and received immediate feedback when I got something wrong. It took an hour to write each email, but it was an hour well spent. I was able to remember and build upon my knowledge from week to week.

            I have registered with several penpal sites, hoping for a similar weekly email exchange, but they didn’t turn out to be quite what I was looking for.

  • That’s a great question. Speaking with some non-native speakers on our team, they have said the best way they learned was through chatting on Kakao Talk in the beginning. When they saw something new, they could get feedback from other Korean friends and quickly learn how real natives spoke. Your idea is quite similar with email exchange. I have yet to come across a good service but you’ve given us a few ideas that we will be on the look out for. Thanks!

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