Learn The Korean Alphabet
The first step to learning the Korean language is to learn the Korean alphabet. Luckily it is relatively easy to learn Hangul (한글), which is the name of the Korean alphabet, and many people can learn it in as little as 24 hours.
You can learn the Korean alphabet with this free and complete guide to how to read Korean. If you prefer to learn the Korean alphabet with a physical book, check out our post on the best books to learn the Korean alphabet.
Learn Korean Basic Consonants
To learn the Korean alphabet, the first step is to learn basic consonants. There are 14 basic consonants in the Korean alphabet. These are ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ,ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ,ㅎ. Let’s learn the sounds of each of these Korean consonants one by one. Look at the pictures and try to remember the consonant sounds. Then click on the audio to hear a Korean native speaker pronounce these Korean consonants.
Learn Korean Basic Vowels
In the Korean alphabet, there are single basic vowels and compound vowels. First, let’s learn the 10 basic vowels which areㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, ㅡ, ㅣ. Let’s learn how to pronounce each vowel one by one. Look at the Korean vowels below and read the instructions on how to pronounce them. Then, click on the audio to hear a native Korean speaker pronounce these vowel sounds.
Learn 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. To learn how to pronounce these combined vowels, read the instructions below, and try to pronounce these vowels. Then, click on the audio to listen to a native Korean speaker pronounce these combined vowels.
Learn 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 that 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 that 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 read them out loud. If you’re not sure what a particular letter should sound like, scroll up the page to review that letter sound. After reading each word, play the audio to check if you were right.
Learn 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. Watch the video to listen to the difference between single and double consonant sounds in Korean.
Learn 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.
Final Consonants ㅌ, ㄷ , ㅅ,ㅎ, ㅆ, ㅈ, ㅊ
These 7 consonants are all pronounced the same when in the final consonant (받침) position. So, to learn how to pronounce these consonants as a batchim, we just need to learn one. Let’s look at how to pronounce ㅌ as a final consonant. 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 consonants ㅌ, ㄷ, ㅅ, ㅎ, ㅆ, ㅈ, and ㅊ all make this sound when in the final consonant (받침) position. Listen to the example words below to hear how these letters sound as a batchim (받침).
Final Consonants ㄱ, ㅋ, and ㄲ
Next let’s look at the final 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 more 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. Listen to the example words below to hear how these letters sound as a batchim (받침).
Final Consonants ㅂ and ㅍ
As a batchim, both ㅂ and ㅍ make a ‘b‘ sound. Again, there is no expulsion of air when you say these sounds. Listen to the examples below.
Final Consonants ㄴ, ㄹ, ㅁ, and ㅇ
The last final consonants to learn are the easiest to learn because they don’t change their sound when they are in the final consonant position. These are ㄴ, ㄹ, ㅁ, and ㅇ. Listen to the example words below to hear how these letters sound as a batchim (받침).
You have now learned everything you need to know to start reading the Korean alphabet and to begin reading Korean words. Don’t worry if you cannot read Korean words very fast yet. As you learn more and more Korean reading in Korean will become second nature. Now that you can read Korean, why not check out our free Korean lessons to start learning some useful Korean phrases, Korean vocabulary and Korean grammar.