Learning to read Hangeul – 한글 – Korean

When I first saw the Korean language in print, I thought it was similar to Chinese – lots of different symbols that must take years to learn.

A couple of years ago I heard a Toastmasters speech from a Korean man who showed how easy it is to write Korean.  I learnt that the writing system is called Hangeul.

Recently I started a new hobby of learning to cook Korean food. I thought it would be  a good mental exercise to learn to read Korean so I can read food packages, write my shopping list in Korean as well as learning some basic conversation.

Look at the text of this newspaper headline – it looks complicated doesn’t it?

At first glance, Korean looks overwhelming.  But look at English text – strings of letters with thousands  of different combinations of 26 letters.

Korean writing, known as Hangeul (한글)  consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels – somewhat similar to English with 5 vowels and 21 consonants.  Here are all the symbols – click the image to view full size.

Although there are English equivalents written underneath, the sounds aren’t exactly the same.  That’s why it is important to learn these letters and pronunciations to truly understand the sound of language.

Instead of arranging letters in a line as in English, Hangeul is written in blocks of 2 to 5 letters to make syllables.   Each syllable block begins with a consonant then followed by a vowel.  The letter shapes can be stretched to make a square looking shape. Look at the newspaper heading above and you will see how the letters have been arranged, squashed and stretched to make blocks of syllables.

Some the characters that look complicated at first glance can be broken down into individual letters. For example here is the word for Kim chi (vegetables pickled with chilli and garlic – Yum!):

The first syllable is made of K, I and M and the second block is CH and I.

My Learning Challenge

I decided to set myself the challenge of learning the 24 characters and their pronunciation in order to read Hangeul.  My main interest is in learning the names of Korean food and ingredients as well as learning some basic Korean conversational phrases.  I have started exploring Korean cuisine and being able to read Hangeul as well as speak a small amount of Korean helps me buy ingredients at the local Korean supermarket.

My goal is to build a vocabulary of “food words” and be able to read food labels.  A secondary goal is to learn some conversation, but I am not trying to become fluent in the language as I don’t have a strong need at the moment. If I were to travel to Korea I would spend more time learning conversation.

How to Learn Hangeul

There are plenty of resources on the Web and the ones I used can be explored by browsing my collection of bookmarks.

I discovered a really fun resource – SweetandtastyTV.com where a Korean American lady plays various characters in video lessons. Her “Professor Oh” character explains the Korean writing system.

In my next article I will show you how easy it is to type Hangeul on a Windows computer using the Korean language option.

Here is the rest of the newspaper article – browse the symbols and see if it now makes more sense. Click on the image to view full size.

How to type Korean text in Microsoft Windows

Now read the article on how to type Korean text in Windows.


Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

7 thoughts on “Learning to read Hangeul – 한글 – Korean”

  1. Hello, charles!
    I am soohan, and I am native Korean speaker. Your post is very clear in describing hangeul and I really think the video would be helpful to those starting to learn Korean. Thank you for sharing it!

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