Monday, August 27, 2012

Learning Korean #3 - The Alphabet (Hangeul Part 2 of 4)

The Korean Alphabet was invented in around 1443 during the Joseon Dynasty and the reign of King Sejeon. Before that they used the Chinese system for writing and as it is difficult language it meant that the rate of literacy in Korea was very low - only the rich and most often men could learn to read. The alphabet was invented with ease of learning in mind and as was intended so commoners could learn to read and write.
The basic alphabet consists of 24 consonants and vowels, there are 14 consonants and 10 vowels. there are also some double consonants and compound vowels that round out the script. The letters are then arranged into syllable blocks to form words.
In this post I am going to talk about the vowels in the Korean alphabet.
There are six basic vowels
ᅡ   ᅥ   ᅩ   ᅮ   ᅳ   ᅵ
and four [y] vowels (these take the sounds from the vowels above and add a y sound to the start)
ᅣ    ᅧ    ᅭ    ᅲ
This makes up the 10 vowels in the alphabet.
To make the sounds of these vowels:
ᅡ    [a]  - ah         ᅣ   [ya] - yah
ᅥ    [eo] - eo        ᅧ   [yeo] - yoh
ᅩ    [o] - o            ᅭ   [yo] - yo
ᅮ    [u] - uu          ᅲ   [yu] - yuu
ᅳ    [eu] - eu
ᅵ    [i] - ee

You can see how the vowels with the double strokes are similar to the ones with the single, basically if it has the second stroke you just add a 'y' sound to the beginning.  So a good way to learn them is by rhyming them ah - yah and so on.

To give you more of an idea of the correct sounds, here are some English words that have the sound we are tying to make for the six basic vowels:

ᅡ [a] - as in the a in father  
ᅥ [eo] - as in the u in jug
ᅩ [o] - as in the o of oh!
ᅮ [oo or u] - as in the oo of moon
ᅳ [eu] - mix between oo and ee, similar to the u in mure (no equivalent in English)
ᅵ [i] - as in the ee in meet

(you can use some of the links below to find websites that have the sounds of these letters, the best way to learn is by hearing them) 

That is all for this lesson, if you are trying to learn the Korean script then I think this is the best place to start - you can try and memorize the 10 vowels.  Once you have done that you will be ready to move onto the consonants.

The way I learned these was by writing them out many many times and saying the sound as I wrote it.  You could also make some flash cards if you want to test yourself, really it is just about sitting down and going over them until they stick in your head. When you are out and about don't forget to use the signs to test yourself - see if you can identify some of the new letters your have learned.

Some references for leaning Hangeul:

Yes! You Can Learn KOREAN Language Structure in 40 Min. by Tong-Ku Lee
Korean made easy (Starter) - by Seung-eun Oh


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