Korean Alphabet - Introduction to Hangul for English Speakers

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What are the letters of the Korean alphabet? Do you know how the Korean language alphabet works? Do you know the origin of Hangul? Now we will see all about the alphabet used in the Korean language!

There are more than 70 million Korean language speakers worldwide, both in South and North Korea. Not to mention thousands of people who learn the language out of passion for Korean culture.

The Korean language is called Hangul, it is composed of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, and the rounded script consists of syllabic characters similar to the Japanese language, but very original.

The origin of the Korean language

Hangul is an alphabet invented in the dynasty of King Sejong around the 15th century (15th century), who commissioned the alphabet to university students, because until then in Korea only hanja (Chinese characters) was used as well as the Japan uses Kanji.

All this happened because the king was thinking about the frustrations of his subjects who could not read and write. Most were unable to take their grievances to the authorities through letters or written statements. This problem troubled the king, famous for being considerate and always thinking of the population.

Korean Language Introduction - Hangeul Alphabet

Thus, King Sejong organized the creation of an alphabet called “Hangul” [한글] in order to be “easy” to learn and use. In 1446, there was an announcement that the project had been completed and was ready to be applied in society.

In the preface to his edict, King Sejong stated the following words:

“Because they are of foreign origin, Chinese characters do not faithfully reproduce the distinct meanings of Korean. So many ordinary people have no way of expressing their thoughts and feelings. In solidarity with your difficulties, I created a set of 28 letters. Lyrics are very easy to learn, and I sincerely hope they improve the quality of life for all people.”

Characteristics of the Korean Hangul Alphabet

The Korean alphabet consists of a syllabary like Japanese. Despite being a syllabary, its structure is totally different from the Japanese hiragana and katakana. In Korean we have 24 pure letters with 10 vowels and 14 consonants that together form a syllable.

When looking at Korean characters, we end up thinking that all of that is a letter, but in fact, it is a syllable through the joining of letters. This is called “jamo”, blocks where letters are put together to form syllables.

Korean Language Introduction - Hangeul Alphabet

A single syllable, or “jamo”, can be made up of up to 4 letters. Characters can also change, bringing a total of 40 characters in the Korean alphabet. Syllables form words separated by spaces, unlike Japanese which does not have spaces in sentences.

In short, the Korean language is a mixture of Japanese and Chinese, where syllables are used to speak, but the ideograms are made with only 24 forms and having only 4 in each, while in Chinese and Japanese we have thousands of radicals to form ideograms.

Did you think how cool it would be if Japanese characters were simplified like Hangul? The pronunciation of Japanese is very easy, but the mixture of archaic Chinese characters still greatly delays the learning of the language.

Korean Language Introduction - Hangeul Alphabet

One scholar who helped create the Korean alphabet said the following about hangul: “The wise man can learn it in one morning, and even the fool can learn it in 10 days..”

The Hangul alphabet allowed illiteracy to be virtually eradicated from Korea.

Korean alphabet characters and letters

How to read the Korean alphabet? How to write lyrics in korean? How many letters does it have? The Korean alphabet has a total of 24 letters, with 14 consonants and 10 vowels.

First, you don't have to be scared of the 10 vowels. This is nothing but a variation of our AEIOU just like the accents we use in the Portuguese language.

The chart below is not detailed in Korean, but you can already know the main vowels and consonants:

The 14 Consonants of the Korean Alphabet

Responsive Table: Scroll the table to the side with your finger >>
(g, k)
(d, t)
(b, p)
ㅇng deaf consonant
(ch, j)

The 10 vowels of the Korean alphabet

Responsive Table: Scroll the table to the side with your finger >>

Korean alphabet pronunciation

Maybe you're not sure how to pronounce the Korean alphabet hangul. In the video below you will see how to pronounce each of the syllables in Korean:

Facts about the Korean language

Did you know that some consonants in the Korean language have their shape based on the way the sound is generated? For example: ㄱ(k) refers to the back side of the tongue covering the epiglottis. ㄴ(n) refers to the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. Not to mention that ㅅ(s) is shaped like a tooth, ㅁ(m) is shaped like a mouth and ㅇ(ng) is shaped like a throat.

The basic vowel shapes are based on the elements of nature according to Neo-Confucianism where the vertical line represents Man, the horizontal line represents the earth and the dot represents the sky.

Korean Language Introduction - Hangeul Alphabet

Hangul can be written either in vertical columns, from top to bottom, or from right to left or vice versa, from left to right. It is enough for the person to read block by block to understand the word.

Hanja (漢字) refers to the use of Chinese characters to write in Korean. It is not used today, but some still learn to read ancient documents and texts. Hanja was used until around the 90s.

Just like Japanese, when Korean is written with Latin characters, it is also called romaji (로마자) which literally means “Roman characters”.

Korean Language Introduction - Hangeul Alphabet

I hope this short article will serve as an introduction to the Korean language. If you liked the article, don't forget to share it with your friends and leave your comments.

Hangul Course - Learn Korean Alphabet

Maybe you're looking for a way to learn the Korean Alphabet quickly and easily. You can find some videos on the internet, but we also recommend some Korean courses.

Kyoto Institute has a great complete Korean course that will teach you all the basics of the language in an accessible and professional way, with a complete members area and gamification system.

We have other Korean courses, but they open classes on specific dates. When enrollment for these other courses occurs, we will notify you. We also recommend checking out some books and dictionaries about the Korean language below:

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