Thursday, June 07, 2007

Korean Language Series – Writing and Reading

WARNING: You should be able to see typed Korean language in order to fully read this post. If you are a Windows user, you can go to Microsoft's website and download the "East Asian Language Support". Ask your local computer nerd. Entice him with a woman and it will be easy.

-EDIT 14 June 2007 11:52 a.m.- If you would prefer a more interactive guide, try this link: Thank you, J. David Eisenberg!

Dear Korean,

I'm interested in learning Korean although nobody encouraged me to do so! I wonder if you can help me explain Korean pronunciation, I've bought 2 different "teach yourself Korean" books but I can't seem to understand the pronunciation sections.


Dear Amna,

The Korean must warn everyone that he had never received formal education as to how to teach Korean to non-Korean speakers. Therefore, all the technical terminology that the Korean uses in this post (as well as in other Korean Language Series) are made up by the Korean. Additionally, the Korean will often be wrong about things. But hey, that’s the price you pay if you try to learn a foreign language from an amateur off a blog.

Korean alphabet, called Hanguel, was created by King Sejong and his scholars in the 15th Century, and it is extremely innovative. The entire alphabet has 40 characters, with 19 consonants and 21 vowels. (Technically it is 14 simple consonants, 5 compound consonants, 10 simple vowels, and 11 compound vowels.) First, let’s go over the basics of how a Korean letter is written. It sounds odd that you are learning to write before you can read, but it will make sense in the end.

Characters v. Letters

It’s important to distinguish between “characters” and “letters.” Each character alone cannot stand independently, because each character is either a single consonant or a single vowel. Instead, either two or three characters combine to form a pronounceable block, i.e. a “letter.”

So this is how a letter is formed: it is other “consonant + vowel”, or “consonant + vowel + consonant”. (Some of the letters are actually “consonant + vowel + consonant + consonant” in relatively rare cases. They are dealt in Advanced Stuff section.)

It sounds complicated written out like that, but the idea is simple. Think back to Sesame Street and how two shadowy people form a word. “H” plus “a” is “Ha”. “H” plus “a” plus “t” would be “Hat”. (The “A”s in the two words are pronounced differently in the two words, but you get the picture anyway. The Korean can’t help the fact that English alphabet is a screwed up one.)

The table of characters is linked later in the post. But hold your horses, and finish reading the post first.

“Okay, how do I write a letter?”

In order to form a letter out of the characters, pay attention to whether the vowel position is vertical, horizontal, or combined. It is really simple to do actually – vertical vowels stand tall, horizontal vowels are flat, and combined are vertical + horizontal vowels.

Step 1. Imagine filling up a square block. Write the consonant is the left half if the vowel is vertical; write the consonant on the top half if the vowel is horizontal. Write the consonant in the top left quarter if the vowel is combined.

Step 2. Write in the vowel.

Step 3. If there is a consonant following the vowel, that consonant goes on the bottom of the “consonant + vowel” combination that you just formed.

Let’s take a Korean word like “미국” (“America”). 미국 is made up of two letters, each letter making up one syllable. The letter is made up of the consonant and the vowel . You can see that is vertical, so write in the left half the imaginary box, and put next to it to form . The next one is trickier – it involves a second consonant. Since the vowel is , you can see that it’s shaped flat and therefore has a horizontal position. So write the consonant on top, put the vowel on the bottom. Then put the last consonant underneath the vowel. And there you have it, your first Korean word – God bless America!!

As an aside, notice that in Korean, there is never a free-standing consonant without a vowel attached to it. That’s why Korean people have such a hard time pronouncing such words like “school”. “s” in “school” does not have a vowel attached to it – “school” is one syllable in English. But Korean person trying to pronounce that word cannot process a consonant that does not have a vowel. So usually the best the Korean person can do is to pronounce it like “seu-kool”, in two syllables.

“Now I can write some exotic stuff I can’t read. Thanks, genius.”

Alright, we are finally ready to read. The chart of characters has pronunciation attached to it, but read this first. We are going to try reading 미국. First letter first: consonant sounds like “m”. Vowel sounds like “ee” as in “seek”. Therefore, is pronounced like “mee”. Then the next letter: consonant sounds like “g” as in “gate”. Vowel sounds like “oo” as in “zoo”. So the pronunciation is: g + oo + g = goog. So “America” in Korean is mee-goog. Simple, right?

One more caveat – what the Korean just wrote above is not the standard Romanization of Korean characters. The chart below includes how each character is Romanized as well. For example, the correct Romanization of 미국 is “miguk”. From this point on, all Korean words will be in standard Romanization format.

Okay, you can take a look the chart now. The Korean will be waiting right here. (If your browser automatically re-sizes the image, save the image on your computer and read along.)

-EDIT- Here is the link for a pdf form of the chart. The earlier link is in a jpeg format in order to make sure that people without East Asian Language support can read it, but it does not print properly. If you wish to print the chart out, use the pdf link to print. Thank you Bonnie B. for pointing this out.




Welcome back. Your head spinning yet? Print the chart out and keep it next to you as we read on.

Let’s do one more example, the Ask A Korean! favorite – how to read 왕자. Consonant is silent before the vowel, and sounds like “ng” after the vowel. The vowel is a compound vowel, combining (“o”) and (“a”), so it sounds like “oa”, or “wa”. Consonant sounds like “j”, and sounds like “a”.

Put them all together: wa + ng / j + a = wangja, i.e. Prince Fielder’s neck tattoo.

Parting Words

The Korean would like to finish up with two points.

First, notice how fucked up English alphabet is. The Romanization of Korean is so complicated only because English alphabet is so messed up, and the Korean scholars who came up with it were trying to make Korean language to readable to English-speaking people somehow. English consonants and vowels often change sound randomly, although the letters – representation of the sound – never change. Thus we have the famous example of spelling “fish” as “ghoti” – “gh” from “tough”, “o” from “women”, and “ti” from “nation”.

Take a common Korean last name like . Under proper Romanization, it would be written as “gim”, and pronounced as such. But English speakers would pronounce it like “gym”, so Koreans had to adapt and bastardize the sound to the next closest sound, which is “kim”. The last name is even worse. It would be properly Romanized as “bak”, but English speakers would read it like “back”. So Korean people added an “r”, turning it into “bark”. Then the connotation of the word became negative, so they switched it to next closest sound, which is “park”. So in reality, there are no Kims and Parks in Korea – only Gims and Baks.

Second, appreciate how beautifully designed Hangeul is in contrast. It is the only alphabet system in the world that has been designated as UNESCO World Heritage. The Korean can write 50 pages about the genius of Hangeul, but he will just give one example here: the amazing adaptability of the compound vowels. Although currently only 11 compound vowels are used in Korean language, technically any of the 5 horizontal vowels can combine with any of the 5 vertical vowels to form a new sound – 25 new sounds created in a snap, plus 4 exceptions where a vertical vowel combines with another vertical vowel. So out of 40 possible vowel sounds that Hangeul can represent (10 simple vowels + 30 compound vowels), nearly half of them (19) are not even in the Korean language!

In other words, Hangeul vowel characters can cover almost any vowel sound made in the world. (A big exception is vowel tones in tonal languages, for example Chinese.) No other alphabet in the world has a system that enables it to record a sound that does not exist in the language it represents. If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, Hangeul would be the only reliable alphabet in the world that can consistently represent the vowel sounds that they make.

Advanced Stuff: Read Only If You Are Hardcore

Here are some more tips as to correctly pronouncing Korean characters and letters. The Korean is certain that he missed a lot of stuff, and wrong about some of the things here. Please email or comment if you notice anything.

Extremely useful tip for English speakers – whenever you read a Korean letter, pretend there is an “h” behind the vowel to get the consonant sound right. For example, if an English speaker read “sa”, she would pronounce the “s” like the “s” in “sin”, which is incorrect. (“s” in “sin” is Romanized as “ss”.) But if she tried to read “sah”, she would pronounce the “s” like the “s” in “snake”, which is the correct way. This rule applies across the board, no matter what the letters are.

Additional Romanization rule 1 – Under standard Romanization, one word in Korean is written as one word Romanized. So a sentence like 날씨가 좋습니다 (“the weather is good”) is Romanized as: “nalssiga jotseupnida”. However, if writing as one word is likely to produce a wrong pronunciation, hyphen can be added to separate the Korean letters. So the word 씨앗 (“seed”) is Romanized as “ssi-at”, since writing it as “ssiat” is likely to be pronounced wrong. Another example is the word 항아리 (“jug”), which is Romanized as “hang-ari”, since “hangari” would be pronounced like “han-ga-ri”.

Additional Romanization rule 2 – If the pronunciation is different from the way a word is spelled (following one of the “Advanced pronunciation rules” below”), the word is Romanized as it is pronounced, not as it is written.

Romanization exceptions – The current standard Romanization rule was introduced in 2000; prior to that, Korea used something called McCune-Reischauer Romanization System, which involved a lot of complicated additional notations on top of regular English alphabets to faithfully represent the Korean pronunciation. But outside of governmental and scholarly papers, McCune-Reischauer system was never popular in Korea because it was so complicated. Regular Korean people and Korean businesses Romanized their names more or less arbitrarily. Therefore, people’s names, if Romanized before 2000, stayed the same. Also, people may Romanize their name in any way they please.

For example, former president/dictator 박정희 would be written as “Bak Jeonghui” under the current Romanization system. But since he was born long before 2000, the Romanization of his name is “Park Chung-hee”. This rule also applies to well-established names of locations, like 서울 (which should be “Seo-ul” to prevent it from being pronounced like “soul”, but written as “Seoul”, merrily carrying on the mispronunciation.)

How to pronounce difficult sounds – let’s go over them one by one.

– deceptively hard, because it’s neither L or R. Try pronouncing “Lola” very carefully. You will notice that you are actually sounding out “lol-la”, adding an extra consonant. Remember that is Romanized with “r” in the first position and it’s easier to pronounce.

and – you have to realize that English “s” makes two different sounds. is like “s” in “snake”. is like “s” in “soon”.

, , , , and – if you know how to pronounce Spanish correctly, these should come pretty easily. As you can tell from their shapes, they are related to , , , , and respectively. Let’s try with first. Try sounding (da) very carefully. Say it like da-da-da-da… and notice your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth. Now, stiffen your tongue a little harder when it touches the roof, and hold it for half a second longer, and “burst” the sound out. It should be . and can be sounded out in a similar way. is different because the sound only involves your lips, but same mechanism. Say ba-ba-ba-ba… and stiffen your lips a little harder as they come together, hold it a bit longer, then burst out the sound.

– this vowel sound is most easily made by the following way: clench your teeth and make a guttural noise. It’s not the right sound, but it’s pretty close. Alternatively, pull your lips out as if you are smiling, and make the sound that’s least difficult to make.

Advanced pronunciation rule 1 – The Korean said some Korean letters are “consonant + vowel + consonant + consonant”. Here is an example: . How do you read this? The rule is: Ignore the last consonant, and only pronounce the first bottom consonant (called “batchim” in Korean, meaning “bottom piece”). So the letter , standing alone, would be pronounced like , i.e. b + ue + l = buel. But letters of this kind rarely stand alone, and the second batchim usually affects the sound of the next following consonant. Read below.

Advanced pronunciation rule 1.1 – Take the word 넓다 (“broad”). Now we know the first letter is read as n + eo + l = neol, ignoring the last consonant . But the last consonant doesn’t stand pat. Instead, it changes the sound of the next following consonant into the “stronger” sound, if possible. changes into ; into ; into ; into , and; into . All other consonants’ sounds stay the same. So the word 넓다 is pronounced like 널따, i.e., n + eo + l / dd + a = neoldda. Make sure you follow this rule, because the same word without this rule would sound like 널다, which is a different word whose meaning is “to hang clothes to dry.” Conceptually, this rule is similar to the “batchim slide-over rule” described in Rule 2. Read on.

Advanced pronunciation rule 1.2 – There is one exception to this rule, and it’s when the last consonant is . Instead of getting a “stronger” sound, the following consonant becomes “harsher” if possible. turns into ; into ; into , and ; into . So the word 많다 (“many”, “much”) is pronounced like 만타, which is m + a + n / t + a = manta.

Advanced pronunciation rule 2 – Remember consonant was silent in the first position? So take a look at this word: 놀이 (“game” or “play”). Based on what you learned so far, it would be pronounced: n + o + l / i = nol-i. But that is incorrect. What happens is the batchim of the first letter slides over to the second letter, and takes over the empty space created by . So the actual pronunciation of the word 놀이 is exactly the same as that of the word 노리, i.e. n + o / r + i = nori.

The rule: If the first character of a word has a second consonant after the vowel (batchim), and if the first character of the second letter in a word is , the batchim slides over to the second letter and pronounced as if it is attached to the vowel of the second letter.

Advanced pronunciation rule 2.1 – Take a look at the chart, and you will realize that some of the consonants have different sounds depending on the position. For example, is “ch” in the first position and “t” in the second position. So what happens if the sound-changing type of consonant slides over? Answer: That consonant recovers its first position sound.

Example: Take the word 볶음 (“stir fry”). The batchim is pronounced identical to as a batchim. But when it slides over, the word is pronounced like 보끔, i.e. b + o / kk + eu +m = bokkeum. This is important because the word 복음, pronounced like 보금, i.e. b + o / g + eu + m = bogeum, means “gospel”. Try not to order the gospel of chicken at a Korean restaurant.

Advanced pronunciation rule 2.2 – What about those pesky double batchim letters? Answer: only the last batchim slides over to the next word. So the word 넓이 (“breadth” or “width”) is pronounced like 널비, n + eo + l / b + i = neolbi.

Advanced pronunciation rule 3 – if a batchim is followed by , the batchim is pronounced “harsher”. turns into ; and into , and ; into . (Technically, the “harsher” sound for is , but it turns into in this situation only.) So the word 닫힌 (“closed”) is not pronounced like dat’hin, but like dachin, as if reading 다친.

Advanced pronunciation rule 4 – This rule is super-advanced, and Koreans themselves often get it wrong. The rule is: If two words combine to form a single new word, the first consonant of the second original word is pronounced “stronger” if possible (in order to signal that it is a compound word.) So again, changes into ; into ; into ; into , and; into .

Example: the word 김밥 (Korean seaweed roll, variation of Japanese sushi roll) is made up of two words, (“laver”, a type of seaweed) and (“steamed rice”). But the word 김밥 is not pronounced as “gim-bap”. Since it is a compound word made up of two words, it is properly pronounced “gim-bbap”. (Although many Koreans, including the Korean Father, pronounces is as gim-bap, forgetting the compound word rule.) Another example is the word 물병 (“water bottle”). It is not pronounced as “mul-byeong”; since the word is made up of the words (“water”) and (“bottle”), it is pronounced “mul-bbyeong”.

What if the stronger sound is not available for the following consonant? Then the following consonant is pronounced the same way. Thus, 물항아리 (“water jug”), although it is made up of the words and 항아리, is pronounced as mul-hang-ari.

Last last words – The Korean has to warn you just one more time that he is just an amateur! If you see something wrong or missing, please tell him so that he can correct it.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. shoot, I knew I missed one...

    Advanced pronunciation rule 5 - when batchim is ㄴ and the following consonant is ㄹ, the batchim is pronounced as ㄹ. Thus 신라 is pronounced as silla, not sinra.

  2. Wow, that's a great explanation of the elegance of (most of) Hangul, The Korean! And the inelegant part, batchim, is something I never really understood, so that was good to read, too.

  3. "the korean: Advanced pronunciation rule 5 - when batchim is ㄴ and the following consonant is ㄹ, the batchim is pronounced as ㄹ. Thus 신라 is pronounced as silla, not sinra."

    Would you please provide a URL to a thorough explanation of these types of rules?

  4. "In other words, Hangeul vowel characters can cover almost any vowel sound made in the world. (A big exception is vowel tones in tonal languages, for example Chinese.) No other alphabet in the world has a system that enables it to record a sound that does not exist in the language it represents. If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, Hangeul would be the only reliable alphabet in the world that can consistently represent the vowel sounds that they make.

    It is good that you limited that statement to vowels because the Korean alphabet would not be well suited to representing the sounds of an alien language rich in consonant clusters.

    The basic Latin Alphabet used to represent the sounds of so many languages is actually more flexible than its application to English suggests. Korean has six vowels represented by one letter (/i/ ㅣ, /a/ ㅏ, /o/ ㅗ, /u/ ㅜ, /ʌ/ ㅓ, /ɯ/ ㅡ, ) and two more monothongs using a combination of two letters ( /e/ ㅔ, /ɛ/ ㅐ,/ø/ ㅚ ) The Latin alphabet has five vowels and two glides, /y/ and /w/. With one less basic vowel letter, the Latin alphabet has fewer possible combinations than Korea, but it is quite versatile and superior to Korean in representing consonants, for the Latin alphabet has 21 compared to 14 in Korean and because the Latin alphabet's linear form is ideal for clusters like /str/.

    While Korean is very phonetic, it has more rules to learn than Spanish or Malay/Indonesian, both of which use a version of the Latin alphabet.

  5. Nice post. Learning Korean has been one of my most fascinating/frustrating experiences to date (difficulties compounded by learning in Busan where most people speak like they've got a sock stuck in the back of their throat).
    Not to be a nit-picker but on your pronunciation guide, in the note on consonants I believe 'verb' should be switched to 'vowel'.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. OK, try again.

    Your blog is a useful resource, citable in other instances as you might notice on the MH. However, I'm going to take issue with this statement

    "If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, Hangeul would be the only reliable alphabet in the world that can consistently represent the vowel sounds that they make."

    Following on from dogwood tree, I make it 8 monophthongs in Korean/Hangeul like 아 etc, plus one diphthong 의, plus 11 semi-vowels like 야 and 왜. That's a total of 20, or 9 without the semi-vowels. In RP (English) I think there are 12 monophthongs, 8 diphthongs and about 40 semi-vowels, so a total of 60 or so, or 20 without the semi-vowels. So already more vowels in English!

    In the International Phonetic Alphabet, IPA, there are something like 28 monophthongs. You could surely combine those into some large number of diphthongs and semi-vowels, for a very large number of human-made vowels, in the hundreds.

    Possibly an alien could combine 7 different vowel heights (the height of the tongue in the mouth) with 5 different degrees of vowel backness (tongue in the front or back of mouth) for a total of 35 monophthongs. And that's just being rather restricted to the human mouth.

  8. Eujin,

    The Korean knows but the most basic linguistics. So if you are better educated than him, he is all ears.

    But allow the Korean to raise a defense within his own knowledge. The Korean's emphasis on that sentence was on "consistently". What you pointed out, if the Korean is reading correctly, is that there are more vowel sounds in English. That may be true. But all those sounds are marked inconsistently in English.

    In other words, one letter "o" could be used to mark two different sounds such as "potato" or "women". One letter "a" could be used to two different sounds such as "grape" or "apple". On the other hand, two different letters can be used to make the same sound in English, e.g. "birth" and "berth".

    This type of phenomenon almost never happens in Korean. One vowel symbol consistently represents one sound, except perhaps ㅢ which may be pronounced in two ways in very limited circumstances.

    On a separate note, if there were a need to mark a new vowel sound that does not exist in the language, how could English alphabet handle it? The best way would be to write some approximation, and make people memorize the sound. (e.g. the "eu" sound in Romanized Korean, which is nothing like the ㅡ, but people are forced to memorize it that way. Pinyin Chinese would be another example.)

    But technically, hangeul leaves a possibility of coming up with a new mark, consistently within its system, for a vowel sound that does not exist in Korean. That part, the Korean thinks, is pure genius.

  9. Now I'm confused as to what you are saying. You seemed to be saying that Korean has a symbol for every vowel sound that can be made, which is obviously untrue as it doesn't even have enough symbols for all the vowel sounds in English. Now you seem to be saying that Korean can have a symbol for every vowel sound possible, if only you add more symbols, which is obviously true, but is also true of just about any other writing system, even binary.0101000011010101010100 ;-)

    It's certainly true that English is very inconsistent with its spelling, as the example of "ghoti" shows if you know that one. But that is more a function of English than of the Latin writing script. If you are familiar with Spanish you'll know that Spanish is much more consistent than English. Italian likewise.

    As far as I know Esperanto is as close to an exact phonemic orthography as is possible (with the Latin script). Every sound is uniquely represented by the same symbol and no symbol represents more than one sound (at least in theory).

    If you feel that the Latin script cannot add symbols to denote new vowel sounds, just think of Danish (æ, ø, å), German (ä,ö,ü) and French (ê,é,è). Probably the way that the speech of aliens would initially be analysed is using the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is based on the Latin script. Most sounds that humans make are given a unique symbol in IPA. IPA can certainly represent all the sounds of English and Korean consistently - at the same time.

    If you tried to write an alien's language in the Latin script it might confuse an English speaker, but would confuse an Italian speaker no more than it would confuse a Korean speaker by writing it in Hangeul.

    By the way, if you think that Hangeul does not use two characters to represent the same sound you might like to think about 네 and 내. A lot of younger Korean speakers don't make any distinction in the way they are pronounced, even if they think they do because they are written differently. Most people I know don't make any distinction, especially if caught unawares. You don't need to take my word for it either, you can ask Iksop Lee who wrote "The Korean Language"

    I'm not an expert in phonology either. In fact, it's one of the things I'm notoriously poor at (like singing). When I hear people saying 헐, it doesn't sound to me like the same vowel as in the first syllable of 서울. But maybe it's just me.

    Wikipedia assures me that the munwhao (North Korean) for Canada is 카나다, which I prefer to the South Korean 캐나다, but again that might be me. Not exactly consistent though, is it? Even if it is a result of trying to replicate the inconsistencies in other languages.

  10. Eujin,

    The Korean will cover minor points first, then the major points.

    1. One thing the Korean is good at is distinguishing fine sounds. That ability was instrumental in learning to speak English at a late age. So he gets annoyed when what ought to be two different sounds are mangled.

    In that vein, pronouncing 내 and 네 the same way is just incorrect. Generally Korean reading, spelling, and grammar have been declining in the younger generation, and the Korean really hates it.

    2. As to 카나다 versus 캐나다, the Korean agrees that it probably was an effort to Romanize different accents. For example, "job" could be correctly transcribed as 잡 or 좁, depending on which side of the Atlantic you stand.

    3. Now, the major point--

    The Korean will clarify the position he was taking in the post. You are focusing too much on that one sentence you quoted, but here is the whole context:

    ... the amazing adaptability of the compound vowels. Although currently only 11 compound vowels are used in Korean language, technically any of the 5 horizontal vowels can combine with any of the 5 vertical vowels to form a new sound – 25 new sounds created in a snap, plus 4 exceptions where a vertical vowel combines with another vertical vowel. So out of 40 possible vowel sounds that Hangeul can represent (10 simple vowels + 30 compound vowels), nearly half of them (19) are not even in the Korean language! In other words, Hangeul vowel characters can cover almost any vowel sound made in the world. ... No other alphabet in the world has a system that enables it to record a sound that does not exist in the language it represents. If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, Hangeul would be the only reliable alphabet in the world that can consistently represent the vowel sounds that they make.

    In writing this, the Korean makes the following claims:

    A. There are 25 possible combinations of compound vowels in hangeul.

    B. Of the 25 compound vowels, Korean language only uses only 11.

    C. Implicit in this is that hangeul left place holders for sounds that do not exist in Korean language within its own system.

    (C) is the genius part. Like you said, any language can transcribe sound by adding more symbols. But the genius of hangeul is there is no necessity for that.

    Here is an example. Currently, a compound vowel of ㅗㅓ is not used in Korean language. But the great thing is, you could use it! Coming up with that new compound vowel is conceptually easy. The pronunciation of that would be fairly intuitive. (The Korean would imagine it would be like "au" in "audio".)

    This system is superior to Latin script because the sound demarcation comes within the system, not by adding a foreign element like tilde or umlaut. Dogwood Tree's post already talked about the fact that there are less number of possible combinations in Latin script as well.

    Now, at this point you can argue: "What's the difference between making a new symbol within the system or outside of the system? At the end of the day, you are still making it up anew."

    That's a fair point, and from strictly result-oriented perspective it may be true. But what the Korean is doing is to appreciate the beauty of hangeul from its maker's perspective. Sejong could have simply figured out all the sounds that show up in Korean language, and make a character for each one. (Similar to, say, Cherokee syllabary.)

    Instead, Sejong came up with a very simple vowel system that elegantly combines to make various sounds in the Korean language, and leaves room to denote completely new and foreign sounds using the same script.

    This is the part by which the Korean can't help but be fascinated and amazed. What a foresight! Sure, any alphabet can simply add more characters. But what kind of alphabet systematically leaves room for the sound that does not exist in its own language?

    Now, the Korean will make this concession: he did not know too much about IPA, and he would agree that would be the alphabet of choice for analyzing alien language. Upon examination, it is obviously superior to hangeul in representing vowel sound, especially with its ability to represent tonal and clicking sounds. But hopefully, this will clarify the Korean's position enough so that we can talk about it in an intelligent way.

  11. Korean is a complex language to learn, but what has been stumping me the last...year I've been trying to learn this is: when one is writing, in what situation would you be using ㅐ or ㅔ? They both sound the same, but everytime I think one is right it's the other.

  12. Here's an extremely useful site if you want to learn Korean!
    It's an online course from the language education institute at Seoul National University, you will have the possibility to hear pronounciation etc.

  13. i dunno if u mentioned this cuz my eyes got tired {미안합니다} but also there are no "LEE"s in korea, they are all "EE"s. right?
    i'm from Romania but now in American and learning Korean cuz i like F.T. Island, feel free to correct anything i say. i enjoy ur blog btw, (which i just stumbled upon today) =]

  14. The Korean, I love your blog but all the "letter" part is so wrong!! 미국 is not composed of two letters but of 5! There are ㅁ ㅣ ㄱ ㅜ and ㄱ again. What you're calling "letters" are syllabs!! When you're writing english is the word "america" composed of the letters "a" "me" "ri" and "ca"?? Hell no!!! The rest is Ok.
    Frenchman studying korean for 4 years. Love your blog.

  15. I have to second what Benoit Di Pascale said. You got the terms "letter" and "character" backwards. Characters are the squares formed by combinations of letters.

    It's ironic that you'd say Hangeul cannot represent tonal languages like Chinese. In fact, Korean was a tonal language like Chinese when Hangeul was invented.

    All you have to do is number the tones from one to whatever, subtract one (so that the first tone become zero, the second tone one, etc) and write that number of dots in a vertical strip to the left of the character.

    And I'll just let the thing about Korean vowels and alien languages pass without comment.

  16. The Korean must warn everyone that he had never received formal education as to how to teach Korean to non-Korean speakers. Therefore, all the technical terminology that the Korean uses in this post (as well as in other Korean Language Series) are made up by the Korean.

    But the Korean is always willing to learn, and learning about the tonal representation was definitely helpful.

  17. ㅗㅓ as the au in audio? I dunno man, I'd go with it being the same thing as ㅓ with a w in front of it, similar to ㅘ being a ㅏ with a w.

    I understand your argument, but I think Hangul has limitations, especially when it comes to W.

    No transliteration of existing Hangul can write the difference between Woo! and Ooh!

    How would you write the "wo" sound in the English word woe?

    How about compound consonants? The word "wren"? 오렌? No, that's Oren. 으렌 perhaps?

    That said, it has far fewer limitations than other alphabets.

  18. I understand that you did not study the Korean language, language education or linguistics formally, and usually your posts are great, but I really question the usefulness of this post. For someone seriously interested in learning Korean, a lot of this information is not as accurate as it could be, and there are a lot more organised resources out there for teaching Korean. (But as you said, it is what the asker gets for asking here in the first place.)

    I may know how to drive a car, but I'm no mechanic, and I'm not going to give others instructions for how to fix their cars.

  19. I may not be a mechanic, but I can explain how to put gas in the car.

    I thought I'd explain something I'd learned recently relevant to this discussion:

    신라 is properly transliterated as 'sin-ra', but is pronounced 'shil-la'.

    Let's think about this for a second. Imagine you're a fast talker. Say the word 'shin-la'. You'll move your jaw and tongue to make these two sounds. Now, pretend you can contract the sound. Say the word 'shil-la'. That’s probably a lot easier to say than 'shin-la' was. It's the same reason you say don't, not do not. It's just easier to say.

    Nice post Korean, especially the Advanced Rules section.

  20. l found it. Cuz of korean internet news. it is very detailed information. so 놀랍고도 기쁩니다.^^

  21. @The Seoul Searcher
    No transliteration of existing Hangul can write the difference between Woo! and Ooh!

    How would you write the "wo" sound in the English word woe?

    How about compound consonants? The word "wren"? 오렌? No, that's Oren. 으렌 perhaps?

    I think the Korean has covered about this when he was talking about the Korean system made a room for new syllabs though it's not used in Korean system.

    So, if you wanted to sound out woo and ooh, you just have to add more symbols.
    Woo :으+우 Ooh : 오ㅜ
    Wren : 르+엔

    Yes, it does not look pretty.
    I wanted to put woo and wren in one character but hangul program doesn't support it because that compound vowel are not used in the Korean language.

    The point is, you can make up vowels and consonants to form a character and make people pronounce the character as close as you intended to using Hangul, than other systems.

    Being my English as a second language this is as far as I can go. And thank you, the Korean.

  22. For pronunciation... what about words with a consonant+ㅏ+ㄹ combo? 말 is romanized "mal" but has always sounded more like "ma-ihl" to me.

  23. hI GUYS,

    i am newbie,
    how do we write the word osang st in hangul?
    do we need to include vowel 'e' like osange st? Can you see the different here osang st and osange st?

    I still not clear why in english/roman they call/write osang st byt in documentation(hangul version) they write as osange st?

    Please i need wise answer?

  24. The English alphabet is "messed up?" Can you qualify this statement?

    By whose standards is it more or less messed up than any other alphabet?

    By the way, you could just add a new letter to ANY alphabet to make a new sound. Why is Hangul so special in this regard?

  25. Although I've already learned a lot about pronunciation, I still enjoyed your post immensely. I'm a regular visitor of this blog, but somehow this is the first time I actually felt like I have something relevant to add to the topic. To tell the truth, I, too, agree on a certain level that English alphabet isn't exactly the best possible option to romanize Hangeul (yes, this was clearly a euphemism).
    What made me the most excited about learning Korean (and which, by the way, totally surprised me) is the vast number of grammatical similarities between Korean and Hungarian (my mother tongue). Also, we have every vowel that is needed to pronunce Korean vowels. If I'm not mistaken, both languages are called agglutinative (I might be wrong). That's why it is so difficult to learn Korean via Internet. Hungarian and Korean have many similar sentence structures, we also have different politeness levels, object marking particles (which is a very new concept for those who speak only English) conjugation of verbs, etc., yet I have to listen to the silliest, most complicated explanations written for English speaking people, just to realize later that it is actually the same as in my language.
    I could continue to draw a parallel between the two languages, it's not my intention. I just thought it would be an interesting addition to your post, and maybe something new you haven't heard before. ;)
    I also felt a sudden urge to express how much I love Korean language and that it really is very logical and fun to learn. I enjoyed every second I spent with learning it. (Even though it's quite difficult, but, well, after Hungarian, the learning process doesn't seem too bad.)
    Thanks for running this blog. It's really informative and surprisingly sophisticated (most online sources aren't). I'll keep coming back for sure.

  26. @ chanel90 4/19/2011 9:52 AM post:

    Generally speaking, meaning for my soapbox when telling people to spend a day learning Hangeul... Your post is a fine argument for proponents of insisting people learn Hangeul [over relying on Romanization].

  27. Logically, you should be able to represent the sounds of any foreign language in hangeul using combinations of existing hangeul symbols. You could, if the Korean is correct, as he may well be, use the vowel symbols invented by King Sejong, and you might have to invent certain new symbols for consonants that don't exist in Korean - 'z' and 'th' come to mind (and isn't it a shame, by the way, that the two Anglo-Saxon symbols used for hard and soft 'th' fell out of use?).

    Anyway, you should be able to represent any word, however alien to Korean. Let's take the English word 'strength', for example. This has an initial consonant cluster (no such thing exists in Korean) and an alien final consonant cluster all in a single-syllable word. I would write it as 'ㅆ ㅌ ㄹ ㅐ ㅇ th' (with some made up hangeul symbol representing the 'th'). I want to put all these symbols together in one block to show it's one syllable, but, of course, the word processor won't let me.

    Koreans, of course, will not hangeulize the word 'strength' in the way I've described: instead, they'll write '쓰트랭쓰' or some such. That's probably wrong since I'm usually wrong about how they hangeulize English words, but the important point is it turns into four syllables. Why? Because the structure of Korean phonology makes it difficult for them to pronounce many monosyllabic English words as monosyllables.

    Now, there's nothing wrong with that. When English speakers look at Polish words with their (to us) impossible consonant combinations of 'ptkzx' and the like, they have no idea how to pronounce them, so it makes sense to spell foreign words intelligibly, if you expect them to be widely read.

    My point is this: it is often claimed that hangeul is a very scientific system, and so it may be. But is it not possible to adapt the rules of orthography in order to more faithfully represent the phonology - and not just the phonemes - of the target language? I suppose if a nation chose to adopt hangeul they would make any necessary adjustments to it for themselves, as was done by many nations adopting the Roman alphabet; and perhaps people have experimented with hangeul in the way I've described. But I've never seen it done, and, until it's done, we will continue to see ridiculous results such as monosyllabic words represented in 4 syllables.

  28. I agree with the Korean that they should put dashes into Romanizations of Korean words to indicate breaks between syllables. I guess it's the problem I described in reverse...

  29. what about the rule regarding "b" as a batchim followed by "n"? As in 감사합니다. "B" becomes "m." Any other weird ones like that?

  30. I can't even tell a difference between the "s" in "sin" and the "s" in "snake". D: It's easier to tell the difference between "snake" and "soon" but only a little bit. This is going to be difficult. Time to start my rote memorization! :)

  31. I think the Korean should stop talking about himself in the 3rd person. He sounds like an arrogant idiot when he does it.

  32. When I was living in Seoul in the mid 70s, there was a radio commercial for a Meadow Gold product that I could not believe. I won't repeat what I heard for fear of attracting trolls to this post. But, when I explain what happened you will figure it out for yourself. All of it was in Korean, except for the product name. When I told my American friends what I was hearing, they all (including my husband) said I was nuts. One day, I saw an ice cream truck pass by with Meadow Gold written on the side, and 피너스 bar underneath it. Since there is no (v) sound in Hangeul the (p) sound was used instead. It was supposed to be Venus bar. I really wasn't nuts. I was really hearing it. Oh, how funny language transliteration can be.

  33. Excellent post, TK. Thank you so much for the chart.


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