I’m so excited that Mike and my mom are coming to visit me! In preparation for their trip, I’d like give them and you some lessons in the Korean alphabet.
Contrary to popular belief in the Western world, Korean is very different from Chinese and Japanese. Unlike Chinese, which is made of characters, Korean has an alphabet. Words can be sounded out, and writing it is infinitely easier (thanks to the genius of King Saejeon, who invented the alphabet in the 15th century). There are just 24 characters – 6 vowels, 4 vowel diphthongs, and 14 consonants. They have, for the most part, only one (sometimes 2) sounds per character, unlike our own highly complex, rule-breaking English letters. Plus, the shapes of the letters are delightfully sensible. They are shaped to resemble the form your mouth makes while saying the sounds.
If you want to, you could learn this alphabet in 4 short sittings. And then, voila, you’ll be able to read an Asian language!
Today, I’ll introduce 2 vowels and 4 consonants.
ㅣ- this simple guy is the long “ee” sound, as in “me,” “tree,” or “KorEan,”
ㅏ- add a notch to the right of “ee”, and you’ve got “ah” as in “water,” “father,” or simply a lightbulb moment: “ah-ha!”
Easy enough? Let’s move on to some consonants.
ㅁ – this square is the “m” sound. Notice that when you say, “mmmm,” your mouth is tightly closed, like a box. Hence, the shape. Try saying 미 –> me. Now, what would this be: 마 ? (if you made a sound like the first syllable in “molecule,” you’re right!)
ㅂ – this bugger resembles its counterpart in the English alphabet: b. Do you see how it’s shaped like an open box? That’s because, when you say “buh,” your mouth closes like the ㅁ sound, but then opens to release the ending. Try 비 and 바. Say them 5 times to a funky rhythm, and you’ve got a beat box going. “Be, bah, bah, Be, bah…”
ㄱ – this is the first letter in the Korean alphabet. You can remember it because it’s the sound we use when we say, “Korean” : K. Actually, sometimes it sounds like “k,” and sometimes like “g.” Say both sounds softly, and notice how similar they are at the back of your throat? This sound isn’t as sharp as the English “K,” nor as guttural as our “G.” It’s a savory balance of the two. Try saying “Great,” but make the first sound slightly k-ish. Great. Now try 기 and 가. Put them together, and it sounds strangely Hunger Games-esque: “Keegah” (nothing personal, Katniss and Peetah, but your names are kind of ridiculous).
ㅅ- Our final spotlighted consonant is looking quite stylish, don’t you think? That’s because she’s the beautiful “s” sound (the most alluring sound, in my opinion). Thinking about the shape of the letter, as it relates to the shape of your mouth, notice how all your air is trained at the top of your mouth. So, the Korean “s” shape consists of two lines meeting together at the top. Let’s say 시 – 사. Sound like a playground fixture from your childhood days? You’ve got it right! “See – sah”
So there you have it! In just 5 minutes, you’ve already mastered a quarter of the Korean alphabet! Here are a few real words. See any familiar characters?
밥 – bahb – rice
삼 – sahm – 3
미각 – mekahk – taste
감사합니다 – gam-sa-ham-ni-da – thank you (Don’t worry, there’s a good reason why the ㅂ sounds like an “m” ).
Thanks for taking a few minutes to learn the Korean alphabet. I hope you appreciate its simplicity and beauty as much as I do! Post any questions or comments you have ~
Until next time,
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw that the light was good,
and He separated the light from the darkness.