CONTRIBUTED BY CHRISTINE BRUNS
When we moved here from the states, I knew a total of two Korean phrases (hastily memorized during the chaos of packing and moving): “annyeong haseyo” (hello) and “kamsa hamnida” (thank you).
Once we had gotten settled and were ready to explore, I was not too keen on relying on the kindness of strangers, my lack of Korean vocabulary, and the hope of an English sign to navigate my way around Seoul (especially with a four year old in tow). I was pretty sure I would never become a master at conversing in Korean (and I still feel that way!), but I decided that I would at least learn to read Hangul, the Korean alphabet.
Hangul was created during the Joseon Dynasty in 1443, under the rule of King Sejong the Great, to allow all Korean citizens the ability to read (prior to that time, and even for some time after, Chinese characters were primarily used). Hangul consists of 24 consonants and vowels, organized into blocks that each contain one syllable of a word. Easy!
After some searching on the internet and using available resources on post, I learned to read Hangul relatively quickly, and it has made the day-to-day in Korea just a bit easier.
Here is my quick ten minute lesson for you. I recommend doing what I did: break the list of consonants and vowels down into smaller groups, and memorize them through repeated practice (saying and writing them over and over…and over). There is no easier way – you just have to memorize them.
(Note: the letter “o”, which normally sounds like “ng”, is always used as a written placeholder before a syllable that starts with a vowel sound; in those cases, “o”is silent.)
(Note 1: half of the vowels are written vertically, the other half horizontally.)
(Note 2: each single vowel has an equivalent vowel sound that starts with “y”.)
How is it written? Each syllable of a word gets its own block of letters, organized into groups of two or three.
Using the charts, the above is “a n – n yeo ng – h a – s ae – yo”
(annyeonghaseyo = hello).
After you’ve mastered the 24 basic letters, there are a few more to consider:
Double consonants – they are almost the same as the single form, but are said with a harder pronunciation:
Combined vowels – these are simply the possible combinations of two vowels in a row:
So there you have it – Hangul in a nut shell. Give it a go and conquer those subway signs, coffee shop menus, and store names.
Want more information and practice?
1) There is a free online lesson at: http://www.howtostudykorean.com
(Start with Lesson 0 – it’s what I used!)
2) Visit your on-post community services building or activities center for their offered programs. (I also took the free class to learn some basic phrases and vocab).