Learning to Read

Just like English assigns a sound to each letter, so too does Hangeul. Even better, the Korean alphabet doesn’t have silent letters, consonant pairs, or long and short vowels.

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Mouth Letters

Why does Hangul look like Hangul? It is said that each letter reflects the shape of your mouth when pronouncing them. Your tongue latches to the top of your mouth when pronouncing ㄱ (g sound). The ㅗ (o sound) letter mimics how your tongue curls and leaves space between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

Any non-Korean speaker can look at the Korean alphabet- 24 letters in the phonetic chart and learn to read in an afternoon. (Understanding the meanings of the words is a whole other thing.)

Let’s take a look the Korean alphabet:

The phonetic Hangul chart showing consonants in the columns and vowels in the rows.

Learning Hangul is like math. Like a times table, trace finger across the chart until they meet. Then, combine the vowels with the consonants.

  • ㄱ (g sound) + ㅏ (a sound) = 가 (ga sound)
  • ㄷ (d sound) + ㅗ (o sound) = 도 (do sound).
  • ㅎ (h sound) + ㅛ (yeo sound) = 혀 (hyeo sound)

There are strange vowel combinations (돼, ㅔ, ㅒ, ㅖ) and double consonants (ㅃ, ㅉ, ㄸ, ㄲ, ㅆ) that add more stress. Also, ㅇ makes no sound when in front of a vowel, as in 야 (ya). And, ㅇ makes a ng sound when ending a letter, as in 동 (dong).

Other than that, the letter you see equals the sound you make. It’s so easy. College backpackers or remote villages five-hundred years ago could pick up the Hangul chart and learn to read and write in no time.