Wednesday, 17 August 2011

[Learning Korean] The Alphabet

Here are the 14 consonants of Korean. These consonants are later coupled with a vowel to make a block shaped syllable.

Before we get started, I'd like to tell you a little secret: Each consonant above contains a hint about how to pronounce it! When designing Hangeul, King Sejong took into consideration the shape of the mouth when making each sound. Below is an explanation of this system, as well as information on how to write each letter. It is much easier to memorize Hangeul if you practice writing the letters out for yourself. Please make note that the stroke order is quite vital to ensuring legibility, so it is recommended that you learn the proper stroke order right from the beginning to foster good habits. Luckily for us, we can make all 14 consonants by simply adding strokes to 5 consonants in pink. So let's start with those.










The first consonant in the Korean alphabet is ㄱ and is said to have the qualities of a tree according to Ohaeng, the philosophy of the 5 elements. ㄱ makes a sound that is fairly close to the sound of hard G in English. The shape of ㄱrepresents the shape your tongue makes when you pronounce it. See for yourself, try making a hard G sound and notice how your tongue draws upward and to the back, like in the drawing.








The first consonant in the Korean alphabet is ㄱ and is said to have the qualities of a tree according to Ohaeng, the philosophy of the 5 elements. ㄱ makes a sound that is fairly close to the sound of hard G in English. The shape of ㄱrepresents the shape your tongue makes when you pronounce it. See for yourself, try making a hard G sound and notice how your tongue draws upward and to the back, like in the drawing.



We have just reviewed the five main consonants. What about the remaining nine? Amazingly, the rest of the consonants are all derived from the ones we've just covered.








Just by adding a little bit of aspiration to the "G" sound of “ㄱ”, you can say “ㅋ" which is essentially a “K”! The symbol for this sound, "ㅋ" is simply a “ㄱ” with an extra line added to symbolize the need for aspiration.


Letter Letter Name* Sound (Approx. to English) Sample Vocab
Gieok G(grand)
Nieun N(none)
Degeut D (door)
Rieul Between R and L. Pretend you are making an R sound and then push the tip of your tongue
forward a tad.
라면
Mieum M (money)
Bieup B (like English B, but without voicing the sound)
Siot S (sing)
Ieung silent at beginning of syllable, NG (sing) if at ending.
Jieut Similar to J with tongue pressed up behind the teeth
Chieut CH (cheese)
Kieuk K (key)
Tieut T (try)
Pieup P (pizza)
Hieut H (high)

*Please note: These are the official names of the letter, given for your reference (Like the letter "G" is called "gee") These are not very important when beginning, you can learn them slowly over time. Instead focus on what sound each letter produces.


You might notice some words have the same consonant stuck together two times. The sound is very similar to original pronunciation, but it is simply tensed, pronounced more strongly. These sounds also require some listening practice in order to recognize the difference




The trick I use to remember which vowels make which sound is to pretend that each symbol is like an arrow, telling me which direction my breath should go.Try to remember this while you study!



Hangeul is a very scientific, logical and simple to learn alphabet. Therefore, it can be quite surprising to think that it is based very heavily on oriental philosophy. As we move on to study the Hangeul vowels, it's important to stop and learn a little bit about what notions they were based on. If you haven't yet, please take a moment and read Oriental Philosophy in Hangeul.

The theory of Cheonjiin states that the universe is made up of three things, Heaven (.), earth (ㅡ) and man (ㅣ). The symbols for each of these things are combined in various ways to create the hangeul vowels. It should be noted that the dot symbolizing heaven is now often wrote as a short horizontal line rather than a dot. These basic vowels can be put together to create combined vowels sounds (known as dipthongs). But once you know the basics vowels, its easy to understand the combined vowels.







The first vowel, "ㅏ", is a combination of man (ㅣ) and Heaven (.). "ㅏ" is pretty much equivilent to the letter "A" in English. Open your mouth wide and say "Ah.....", and you will likely be prounouncing "ㅏ" quite accurately. Take notice of how the air is being pushed outward from your mouth. Think of the symbol "ㅏ" as an arrow, telling you which direction your breath should be flowing.




Vowel Sound Pronunciation Tips (similar sounds in American English) Sample Vocab
a announcer, father 아이 (child)
ya yacht 야구 (baseball)
eo the o in dog/frog, lawn 언제 (when)
yeo yonder 영국 (England)
o home 오늘 (today)
yo yo-yo 요리 (cooking)
u too, shoe, moon 우유 (milk)
yu you 육수 (broth)
eu good (keep mouth relaxed) 금요일 (Friday)
e meet 입 (mouth





The combining of vowels is very common in most languages. Take the word “Ice” for example. When we say the vowel sound, it sounds more like “ah-ee”. In Korean, these combined vowels are accomplished by literally combining the basic vowels.

The vowel ㅐ is simply a combination of ㅏ and l. And ㅔ is a combination of ㅓ and l. Although long ago, they made a different sound, now they are pronounced the same. If you say those very fast, you simply get a sound like “aye”

ㅒ (ㅑ+ ㅣ) and ㅖ(ㅕ+ㅣ) also have the same sound, simply ㅐor ㅔ with a “Y” sound added to make “yae”

ㅚ (ㅗ+ㅣ)and ㅙ(ㅗ and ㅐ) also have come to be pronounced the same way, “Wae”.

ㅝ (ㅜ+ㅓ) is a ㅜ sound and an ㅓ sound blended together. “Wo”

ㅢ (ㅡ+ㅣ) is pronounced by keeping your mouth flat and relaxed and saying “ㅡ”and then adding “ㅣ”on the end. If you say it quickly it’ll be like “gooey”



It is once again important to talk about oriental philosophy in this section. Yin and Yang is all about harmony. If one letter exists all on its own, it goes against the rules of Yin and Yang. It is no problem if we want to make a syllable starting with a consonant and a vowel, because they balance eachother out. But what if the sylable is just a vowel sound, all by itself?

You learned in the consonant section that the letter "ㅇ" sometimes makes the sound "ng" and sometimes is silent. "ㅇ" is silent when it is ahead of a vowel serving as a place marker.

Let me give you an example: the word "child" in Korean sounds roughly like "ah-ee", both sylables start with vowels. So how would we write it? The vowel that makes the "A" sound is "ㅏ", while the "E" sound is represented by the letter "ㅣ" . We must combine each vowel with the silent "ㅇ" in order to create balanced syllables and thus a balanced word. 아이, child.

Another example is the word "cucumber" which sounds like "oh-ee" in Korean. For this we would need "ㅗ" and "ㅣ" and if we make sylables and combine them into a word, we have 오이, Cucumber.

It is because of this rule, letters are never alone. They are always accompanied by a consonant, even if the syllable contains only a vowel sound. The consonant serves as Yin and the vowel serves as Yang, creating harmony.




As you know, consonants and vowels must be combined in order to make a sound unit. The consonant and vowel are pronounced as one sound. One consonant and one vowel can make up a syllable, as in the examples below.


Up to two consonants can also be added at the bottom of the syllable, and they have a special name "받침" (bachim). However, it is most common for there to be only one 받침.



Here are some examples of words that have two 받침:





There is another interesting point related to Yin and Yang that appears in the Korean language. For those who go on to advanced Korean studies, knowing this will surely help you. It was thought that vowels have either positive or negative values. The vowels that point up or to the right were seen as bright and positive (ㅏ,ㅗ), and the ones that point down or to the left were seen as dark and negative (ㅓ,ㅜ).

This comes out quite often in colors. It's not just the color that is described, but the feeling that one gets when in contact with that color. For example:

‘파랗고 노란’ is used to express light blue and light yellow. Notice how "ㅏ" and "ㅗ" are used.
‘퍼렇고 누런’ is used to express dark blue and dark yellow and uses "ㅓ, ㅜ).

This concept can also be found in the words 밝다’(bright) and ‘어둡다’(dark).

Knowing this will make it easier for students of Korean to understand why words that sound so much the same could have such different connotations.


Source: Official KTO





4 comments:

  1. love this site! i hope you can post more of korean language so we can learning easily ^^

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glad it could help you guys learning.
    Waiting to see you type something in Hangul, your name maybe?
    Mine is 인다

    ReplyDelete