The first step to learning the Korean language is to learn the Korean alphabet. Luckily Hangul (한글), which is the name of the Korean alphabet, is very easy to learn and many people can learn it in as little as 24 hours.
On this page we will teach you how to read the Korean alphabet and how to read Korean words. First you will learn the 14 basic Korean consonants.
Next you will learn the basic vowels followed by the combined vowels. Then, you will learn how to read simple Korean words.
And finally you will learn about double consonants and the sounds of final consonants that are known as batchim (받침).
First let’s learn how to read the 14 basic consonants of the Korean alphabet.
Korean Basic Consonants
These are the 14 basic consonants that we will learn first:
ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ,ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ
Let’s learn each consonant individually.Try to remember the shape and sound of each letter.
Korean Basic Vowels
In Korean there are basic, single vowels and compound vowels. First let’s learn the 10 basic vowel sounds in Korean. These are:
ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, ㅡ, ㅣ
Let’s learn each vowel individually. Try to remember the shape of the vowel and its sound.
Korean Combined Vowels
Next, let’s take a look at combined vowels. These are made up by combining two simple vowels. The combined vowels you will learn are:
ㅐ, ㅒ, ㅔ, ㅖ, ㅘ, ㅙ, ㅚ, ㅝ, ㅞ, ㅟ, ㅢ
Let’s learn each combined vowel one by one.
The combined vowel ㅢ is a little difficult to pronounce as it requires a unique mouth position. Check out this great video from Korean Arah to see how to pronounce ㅢ like a native Korean speaker.
How To Read Korean Words
Now that you have learned the basic Korean letters, it’s time to learn how to read some Korean words. Korean, just like English, is read left to right and top to bottom.
Korean words are made up of ‘syllable blocks’ and each syllable block has a minimum of 2 letters and a maximum of 4 letters. See the below examples.
In Korean, syllables must always start with a consonant. For this reason Korean words which start with a vowel sound must include a silent consonant before the vowel. This silent consonant is ㅇ.
As we learned earlier, ㅇ sounds like the ‘ng‘ in the word ring. However, when ㅇ is the first letter in a syllable block it is always silent. See the picture below.
In the above picture the first syllable block is 안 (an). You’ll notice that the first Korean letter is ㅇ. In this position it is always silent. Because all syllables must start with a consonant, when writing words which start with a vowel sound, we must start the syllable with the silent consonant ㅇ.
The second syllable block in the picture above is 녕 (nyeong). As you can see ㅇ is the final consonant in that syllable block. In this position ㅇ is pronounced as ‘ng’.
Let’s try to read some simple Korean words. Look at the words below and try to say them. Then click on the audio file to check if you were right.
Korean Double Consonants
Next let’s learn how to pronounce Korean double consonants. Korean double consonants are a little difficult to pronounce if you are new to studying the Korean alphabet. But with a little practice you will be saying Korean double consonants in no time. The Korean double consonants we will learn are:
ㅃ, ㅉ, ㄸ, ㄲ, ㅆ
If they look familiar it’s because these double consonants are just a single Korean consonant twice. Double consonants are pronounced the same as single consonants but are stressed with more emphasis.
Click on the audio files below to listen to the difference between single and double Korean consonants.
Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce these properly straight away. It will take some time and practice to master Korean double consonants.
Korean Batchim (Final Consonant)
The last thing to learn about the Korean alphabet is the ‘Batchim’ (받침) or final consonant. Consonants in the final syllable position make a different sound to normal.
To help illustrate this let’s first look at the consonant ㅌ (t). As we learned earlier ㅌ sounds like the ‘t’ in ‘teeth’. However, when ㅌ is in the final position in the syllable it is pronounced slightly differently.
To help you understand how to pronounce ㅌ as a batchim, first I want you to place your hand in front of your mouth and say the word ‘bat’ as you normally would in English. When you pronounce the ‘t’ sound you will notice there is a small expulsion of air.
Now, say ‘bat’ again but this time stop yourself from making this expulsion of air when you say the ‘t’ sound. This second way of saying ‘t’ without the expulsion of air is how you pronounce ㅌ when it is in the final syllable consonant position.
The following 7 consonants are all pronounced in the exact same way when in the batchim (final consonant) position. Listen to these example words and focus on the final sound of the word.
Next let’s look at the consonants ㄱ, ㅋ, and ㄲ. As we learned earlier, ㄱ sounds like the ‘g’ in gun, ㅋ sounds like the ‘k’ in key, and ㄲ sounds like ㄱ but with stress / emphasis.
However, as a final syllable consonant, ㄱ, ㅋ and ㄲ all sound the same. To understand how these are pronounced, again place your hand in front of your mouth and say the word ‘dog’ as you would normally in English. When you say the ‘g’ sound you’ll notice a puff of air is expelled.
Now say ‘dog’ again but this time do not let any air out when you say ‘g’. This is the sound of ㄱ, ㅋ, and ㄲ when they are in the batchim position. Try to read the examples below and then click on the audio to hear how it should sound.
Next, ㅂ and ㅍ. As a batchim both ㅂ and ㅍ make make a ㅂ sound. Again, there is no expulsion of air when you say these sounds. Listen to the examples below.
And the last batchims to learn are the easiest to remember. They don’t change their sound when they are in the final consonant position.
You have have now learned everything you need to know to start reading the Korean alphabet. Click the button below to check out our free Korean lessons to start learning useful Korean phrases, expressions and grammar.