Korean Romanization is the spelling out of Korean words using the English alphabet. Here are three reasons why I don’t like Korean Romanization:
1). There are too many Korean Romanization systems.
Wikipedia lists six widely used Korean Romanization systems! I recently purchased a Korean/English dictionary which was not satisfied with any of them, and made up yet another system of its own. They are all different, and you can’t always tell which one you are looking at when you view a Romanized word. This is a real problem in online searches, and in trying to look up Korean words you have heard but not seen. Most importantly…
2). The systems are arbitrary and unintuitive.
Take the Korean vowelㅓ, for example. Several systems Romanize it as eo. Eo is a vowel combination that doesn’t occur all that often in English, and when it does, it may represent two separate one-vowel syllables (as in stereo). However, in Korean, it is a one-syllable sound, pronounced aw (as in lawyer) or uh (as in huh?). Do you get that from “eo”? Of course not!
Another example: the word 피 (blood) is pronounced like the English word “pee,” but is usually Romanized as “pi,” despite the fact that pi is an actual English word which is pronounced “pie,” not “pee.” So you can see how Romanization is problematic, even with sounds that can be accurately represented in English. But that’s not the only problem…
3). Some Korean sounds just don’t translate.
Korean includes a number of sounds that are halfway between two English letters, such as ㄹ(l/r), ㄴ(sometimes n, sometimes d), and ㅁ(m/b). Hangul (also Romanized as “Hangeul”) is an easy to learn and perfectly good alphabet to represent Korean sounds, being as how it was created to do just that. Romanization can actually impede students of the language by forcing a convoluted process of running Korean words through the English alphabet in your brain before (mis)pronouncing them.
Now I do understand that not everyone wants to learn Korean. Off-the-cuff phonetic spelling of a word you have heard is a natural and reasonable way of trying to identify it. Most of the time, people who are fluent in Korean (and English) will be able to figure out what you mean.
However, if you have the remotest interest in learning Korean, free yourself of Romanization as soon as you can. Print out a Hangul alphabet chart, and play some online flashcard games to learn the Hangul alphabet. It only has 24 letters – you can do it! Enable Hangul on your computer so that you can see and type Hangul characters. When you use Korean words in posts and emails, type them in Korean instead of Romanization.
If you have access to Korean TV, watch the 뉴스 (news) and practice sounding out the ticker tape one-liners. You won’t know what the words mean at first, but it will improve your reading speed. Koreans love to splash comments across the screen on game and talk shows, so you may want to record these types of programs so you can pause and translate. Also, many music programs caption song lyrics in Hangul. Seeing the Hangul flashing on the screen as you hear the words sung is a great way to forge new associations between Korean sounds and Korean letters in your brain.