One of the things that discourages people, especially English-speakers, from learning Korean is the alphabet. As an alphabet that is fundamentally different and completely foreign to speakers of the English language (or any other Romance language), it may look terrifying to those who are only just coming into contact with the Korean language. However, Hangul is not as difficult as it seems - one of the main reasons why Korean is easier than Mandarin Chinese to learn is because Mandarin Chinese has its own unique characters for every word, while Korean still has an alphabet and uses it to form sounds and characters, so the pronunciation can be obtained from its written character, while this is not the case for Mandarin Chinese. In today’s post, I’ll be explaining a little more about the origins of Hangul and how to read, write, and formulate it.
HISTORY OF HANGUL
Before Hangul was invented, the Koreans used the Mandarin Chinese system of writing. However, due to the complicated Chinese writing system and the sheer number of characters, there was a high number of peasants who were still illiterate. As such, King Sejeong the Great created Hangul, the Korean alphabet, in 1444, stating that the two languages were too different to continue using the Mandarin Chinese writing system.
HANGUL - THE BASIC ALPHABET
Firstly, F, R, V and Z sounds don’t exist in the Korean language. As such, the Koreans normally use the closest-sounding alphabets when they pronounce English words in Korean - this is the reason why some Koreans have said they had difficulty pronouncing English sometimes, because these sounds simply don’t exist in their language.
Next, there is a very important bit in the formation of individual characters, which is the character ㅇ. Even though this is read as “ng” when placed at the back of an individual character, it is also considered an “invisible” placeholder when at the beginning of a word.
이 → This is read as ‘i’, or ‘ee’. The ㅇ is not read as it is in the beginning of the word.
Lastly, it is important to remember that in certain special cases (for which there are no special rules), there will be more than one alphabet on the bottom of one character, and the placeholder at the beginning of the next. This means that the sound of the last alphabet on the bottom of the first character is carried over to the next. There’s no way around this - just practice until you’ve got it!
In conclusion, I’ll leave with some tips to get used to writing Korean alphabets: it can be a little hard to read in the beginning, but the more you read it the more you’ll get used to it and the speed of reading will increase! Also, when met with any difficulties, be sure to plug it into Google Translate and ask Siri to pronounce it for you. Good luck!