Last modified on 15 October 2013, at 11:14

Korean/RWP/Lesson 1

Learn Korean (Introduction)

Read, write, pronounce Korean:
CourseLesson 1Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Lesson 5Lesson 6Summary
OrthographyEssential Pronunciation RulesAdvanced Pronunciation Rules
GrammarConversation

Congratulations on your decision to start learning Hangeul, the Korean script! You will see that being able to read Korean will baffle your friends and enrich your life. Also, you will no longer be completely illiterate when travelling to Korea.

Even though Korean may look similar to Chinese or Japanese to the uninitiated, it is actually much easier because the characters are a combination of just 24 letters (jamo) and a few simple variations, rather than thousands of drawings to memorize. So even going at a relaxed pace of 4 letters per lesson, you will have learned everything you need to read Korean after just a few lessons, compared with the years of training required to master the Japanese or Chinese scripts!

First lettersEdit

First we will learn the Korean letters (jamo) for "A" and "B".

BEdit

ㅂ (bieup) stroke order.png
ㅂ (bieup) stroke order
Sound sample of ㅂ (bieup) (help·info)
Letter (jamo):
Pronunciation: [b] or [p]

The letter ㅂ (called bieup) is pronounced somewhat like the English b sound. It can also sound like the English p sound but it is not aspirated. It is said without a burst of air. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, put a hand or a lit candle in front of your mouth and say "pin" ([pʰɪn]) and then "spin" ([spɪn]). You should either feel a puff of air or see a flicker of the candle flame with "pin" that doesn't appear with "spin".

So, ㅂ sounds like the b in in the English word "bin" or like the p in the English word "spin".

AEdit

ㅏ (a) stroke order.png
ㅏ (a) stroke order
Sound sample of ㅏ (a) (help·info)
Letter (jamo):
Pronunciation: [a]

The letter ㅏ (a) is pronounced somewhere between the "a" in "map" and the "a" in "father".

Combining lettersEdit

To combine them into a complete Korean character, fit them into an imaginary little square box:

Letter (jamo): =>
Romanization: b a ba
Pronunciation: [p] [a] [pa]

ExerciseEdit

The character 바 is the actual spelling of a Korean word. Can you guess what it means? Click "▼" below to see the answer.

Guess the meaning of this Korean word:

바 (ba) is the Korean word for "bar" (that is, a pub or a saloon). Easy, isn't it?

There is a standard way to represent Korean words in the Latin alphabet (the alphabet used to write English), called the Revised Romanization of Korean. In that system, 바 is represented as "ba". When there is a difference between the standard romanization and the usual pronunciation of a Korean word, this course shows the standard romanization of Korean characters and words in italics (like ba for the standard romanization of 바) and the pronunciation in square brackets (like [pa] for the pronunciation of 바).

NEdit

ㄴ (nieun) stroke order.png
ㄴ (nieun) stroke order
Sound sample of ㄴ (nieun) (help·info)

Now, the next important letter to learn is ㄴ (nieun):

Letter (jamo):
Pronunciation: [n]

The letter ㄴ (nieun) represents the n sound.

Notice how the letter ㄴ (n) combines with the letter ㅏ (a) to make the character 나 (na):

Letter (jamo): =>
Pronunciation: [n] [a] [na]

ExerciseEdit

Try to read and understand the following word:

Korean: 바나나

English: ba-na-na (transliteration), "banana" — Look it up here: 바나나 actually means "banana"!

When you think you know the answer, click "▼" above and to the right to see whether you are right.

Initial consonant placeholderEdit

ㅇ (ieung) stroke order
In initial position, ㅇ (ieung) is silent.

Every Korean character represents one syllable, and each starts with a space for a consonant. But some syllables start with a vowel, such as the beginning of the Korean greeting "annyeong haseyo". Those syllables use the placeholder ㅇ (called ieung) for the initial consonant. It's easy to remember the placeholder because it has zero pronunciation and is written like the number zero (0):

Letter (jamo):
Pronunciation: (silent)

To make a syllable that starts with a vowel, write the placeholder ㅇ followed by that vowel:

Letter (jamo): =>
Pronunciation: (silent) [a] [a]

So, the initial consonant placeholder ㅇ (ieung) combines with ㅏ (a) to make the word (a, meaning "ah" or "oh").

ExerciseEdit

Try to read the following Korean words:

Korean: 아바 (hint: the name of a popular band)

English: a-ba (transliteration), "Abba"

Korean: 아바나 (hint: the capital of Cuba)

English: a-ba-na (transliteration), "Havana". It sounds like the Spanish name for the city: La Habana.

When you think you know the answer, click "▼" above and to the right to see whether you are right.

Syllables with a final consonantEdit

Some syllables end in a consonant, especially when a word has a cluster of two consonants in the middle: one consonant then forms the end of one syllable and the other forms the beginning of the next syllable. Fitting two consonants and a vowel into a little square box is a little trickier. First write the initial consonant and the vowel next to each other as before, then put the final consonant below them. For example:

Letter (jamo): =>
Romanization: b a
n
ban
Pronunciation: [ p a n ] [pan]

ExerciseEdit

Can you read the following?

Korean: 안나 (hint: It's a name.)

English: an-na (transliteration), "Anna"

When you think you know the answer, click "▼" above and to the right to see whether you are right.

Did you manage to read that? If so, you will soon be able to read Korean fluently.

End of lesson 1Edit

This was in fact the hardest lesson of all, because you didn't have any previous knowledge. The next lessons will build on what you learned here and you will find them easier, also because you will be able to practice reading much more once you know a few more letters. If you don't feel overwhelmed right now, you can already continue with the next lesson, where you will learn a few more letters and many more words. Otherwise, please come back to it later.

Jamo learned so far:

Consonant jamo
Basic
예사소리
Letter (jamo)
Romanization
Pronunciation
n
[n]
b or p
[b] or [p]
- (initial)
silent
Vowel jamo
Letter (jamo)
Romanization
Pronunciation
a
[a]
Learn Korean (Introduction)

Read, write, pronounce Korean:
CourseLesson 1Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Lesson 5Lesson 6Summary
OrthographyEssential Pronunciation RulesAdvanced Pronunciation Rules
GrammarConversation