한국어 알아보기 – Learn Korean

2013-04-20 16.53.49They say the best way to learn is to teach and since I’ve decided it’s finally time to learn to speak some Korean this post is going to give a brief introduction to 한국어, (Hangul) the Korean language and 한국말 (hanguk-mal), spoken Korean.

First, a brief history lesson.

It was created during the Joseon Dynasty in 1443 and is credited to King Sejong the Great. A book was found which explained that it was designed to be easy to learn. Before this Chinese characters were used and only high society could read and write fluently. The book says how easy it is to learn the characters of the alphabet, “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.”. So no pressure.

Now the history is done let’s get down to business. The written language is made up of 24 letters and these are formed into blocks or ‘squares’ which produce single syllables. For example 책 is made up of three letters and when spoken it is one syllable, in this case ‘check’ which means book. Syllables always start with a consonant. Then a vowel. The syllable could stop here, or there could be another vowel, or consonant, or both.

Consonants

Each syllable square must contain a vowel and a consonant (though one consonant is silent so you can have single vowel syllables if you need them). King Sejong developed the consonants quite ingeniously. Many of the letter’s shapes are made to illustrate the position your tongue or mouth should be in to make them. For example, the letter ㄴ sounds like ‘n’. Make an ‘n’ sound and you’ll notice the tip of your tongue raises to touch the top of your mouth. Clever isn’t it. The basic consonants and their sounds are here:

 korean_consonants

And the compound consonants are:

 korean_consonants_2

Vowels

Vowels were made a little differently. King Sejong used three symbols to make them. Firstly, he made (__) which symbolises ‘land’. Then he made (|) which symbolises ‘man’ and finally (.) which symbolises ‘Heaven/Sky’. These three elements are used in different ways to form different vowel sounds. I found vowels to be a little tricky as lots of them sounds similar. In fact, three of them sound exactly the same (more about that in a second). When looking at vowels I’ll be using the consonant ‘O’ (-ng or null (silent)) because all syllable squares must start with a consonant, and when used as the first consonant this letter is (very helpfully) silent. The basic syllables are:

korean_vowels

 And the compound vowels are :

korean_vowels-2

The one that always gets me is ㅓ which sounds like ‘eo’ in “surgeon”. It’s an odd sound and I always seem to mess it up. Most annoyingly there are a few letters which have identical sounds. The vowels ㅐand ㅔonce had different sounds but over time the sounds got closer and closer until they reached the point where their indistinguishable. I’m told this can be quite confusing when writing down something someone is saying to you and you have to check which letter they mean.

So that’s the alphabet. Now you’ve had a look let’s see if we can make a few words and have a little practice. To make these letters into syllable squares and words you start with a consonant, we’ll use ㅂ. This is followed by a vowel, like ㅏ. The position of the vowel depends on whether its horizontal or vertical. If its horizontal it goes under the consonant, if its vertical it goes on the right. Some syllable squares have two letters but they can have up to four. Most seem to have three. Our two characters, as far as I can tell, don’t have any meaning, we need one more letter, ㄹ. This goes at the bottom. All together that gives us 발 (bal), which means foot.

A quick test. See if you can work out how to pronounce the following words. The answers are at the bottom of this page. Use the alphabet guide below.

애인

거북이

images

Well done if you got any of those right. Now it’s time for the final test. See if you can work out how to say this word. (Remember: If ‘O’ is the last symbol in the syllable then it’s pronounced ‘–ng’).

안녕하세요?

Did you get it right? This is something I say about 20 times a day.

And that’s the end of the lesson.

2013-04-20 18.51.18

In an attempt to improve my Korean I’ve now bought a text book, which has short units with useful expressions and vocab. I’ve also got a special notebook used by elementary school students. It’s broken down into squares and each square is quartered. It’s designed to teach you the spacing between letters. Finally, I have a language exchange partner to work with. I meet her twice a week and we spend a total of about four hours going over units from the book or homework we’ve been set each other. Half the time is spent working on my Korean and half the time is spent working on her English. It’s good to have someone to tell you when you’re saying stuff wrong and teach you new things. If I keep up with the lessons I should hopefully be able to learn pretty quickly.

That’s all for today. Sorry this post took so long, as the weather gets nicer I find I’m spending much less time writing and much more time outside. Which can only be a good thing.

James Vs World

Answers:

네  (Ne – Yes)

애인 (Aein – Sweetheart)

거북이 (Geobugi – Turtle)

안녕하세요?   (Annyong haseyo? – Hello/Good morning/afternoon)

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