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How to read Korean

If you're anything like me, you've probably wondered how to pronounce all those Korean symbols. Whether it's for identifying which Starcraft player is playing, or looking up songs, learning how to read the Korean language writing system, Hangul, is very useful. Being a non-Korean myself, I found it quite easy to pick up how to read the language, as it breaks down into learning a few rules and memorizing a small set of symbols. I'm going to try to explain it as clearly as possible, but also very simplistically to keep it short.

Ok, so here goes:

The Korean writing system is very similar to the English one, meaning there are consonants and vowels that make up a syllable. Each Korean character represents one syllable, and groups of these characters make up a word.


Here I've compiled a list of all the consonants and their romanizations that you may encounter. A few things to note:
  • Symbols with 2 sounds (ones with a slash) means that if the consonant is located in the beginning of a character, use the first one, if it is located at the end, use the second one.
  • -is an exception in that it is a placeholder, and that when it is in the beginning of a character, there is no sound (though commonly romanized as giving the "l" sound). However, if it is placed at the end, it acts as the "ng" sound.
  • Aspirated means that the sounds are pronounced more harshly, and an extra puff of air comes out when you say it. It is generally indicated on the symbol by an extra horizontal line compared to its normal version.
  • Glottalized has no puff of air, but your throat tightens up when you say it. For example, pp is the same sound as the p in spin. It is indicated by the doubling of the symbol's normal version.
This is a list of the basic vowels and their pronunciation (for use as reference later):

Vowels (1)

The only difference between the vowels in the first set and the second set is that: 
  • When an extra horizontal dash is added to the vowels in the first set (making it two dashes), add a "y" sound in front of what the first set of vowels would sound like.
Diphthongs are another set of vowels that exists, but the sounds are created by adding the combined sound of the symbols within them. For example, since wi is a combination of u and i , the end sound would be the result of quickly saying "oo" and "ee", making "wi".Technically you do not have to memorize this chart as long as you remember the first one, but to get more fluent it is recommended.

Now that we know all the possible symbols in the Korean alphabet, we can combine them to make characters. Korean characters are organized in boxes, either vertically like mok (mok), horizontally like na (na), or a combination of the two like gam (gam). Here are some things to remember:
  • When written vertically, read the symbols from top to bottom.
  • When written horizonatlly, read the symbols from left to right.
  • When written as a combination of both, read the symbols on the top from left to right, and then the bottom from left to right.
I'll go through one example:
Lets say we're trying to decode this name: 이제동

The first character, , can be broken down into -+ i.
Since - is a placeholder, there is no sound (with proper romanization however, there is an "l" sound), and we are left with just i , which is pronounced "ee". By putting the two together, we get "Lee".
The second character, , is essentially ch+ e.
chis a "j" sound, and  e is an "e" sound (pronounced more like "ae"), the combination of the two is "Jae".
The last character, , is written vertically, and is comprised of t+ o+ -.
Starting with the top symbol, t is pronounced as "d", and moving down, o is pronounced as "o". Having -in the end means that there is an "ng" sound, and when we combine all of the sounds, it becomes "Dong".
Finally, with all the syllables put together the finish product is Lee Jaedong, meaning legend killer*. 
That's basically all there is to it.

As long as you have the first column of the consonants chart, the first vowels chart, and all the rules (the ones in point-form) memorized, as well as how the diphthongs work, you should be set in decoding Hangul. 

I've compressed all the essentials here so you guys can hopefully pick up on it quickly, but if you do want a more detailed guide (with more examples and tests), then I suggest you go to LangIntro for more info.

All the information supplied in this guide were a combination of my own knowledge and the guide on LangIntro, so I would like to give much credit to the site for helping me through.

Thank you all for reading, please post if you have any questions, concerns, or if you want to share your success.

*Lee Jaedong does not actually mean legend killer, it's the guy's nickname >>.


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