01 February 2011

Learn Korean: Basic Training

I've got to admit that I've lagged behind a little bit in learning Korean.  I've gotten completely caught up in traveling and reading that I kind of forgot that it's my responsibility to learn a little bit about the native language of this country.  I haven't gotten into anything like sentence structure, but I figured I would provide a list of basic words and phrases that may prove valuable if you ever venture over to Korea.  This is basically the stuff that I think would be useful on a day to day basis.

Note: If you can't see the Korean letters, click on the View tab at the top of your web browser.  Then click on Character Encoding, click on Customize Settings and enable Korean characters.

Let's start with the most basic part of learning Korean.  The alphabet.  The idea of learning an Asian alphabet systems seems like a daunting task, but in Korean it is actually quite easy.  I was able to memorize the letters before I came over and I've been able to sound out words since I've been here.  This can prove to be very useful when looking for places that are not listed in English.  It also provides some amusement when you come across Konglish, which are Korean words that are derived from English.  Some examples include 초콜릿, which sounds like cho-kol-lit or chocolate, and 텔레비전, which sounds like tel-le-bi-jeon or television.  The alphabet is made up of only 10 basic vowels and 14 basic consonants.  Doesn't seem too difficult, right?

The Korean writing system, which is currently called Hangul, was created in 1443 during the rule of King Sejong the Great.  Prior to the invention of Hangul, Koreans had used a system called Hanja, which was made up of Chinese symbols.  Hangul has been praised as one of the most logical languages in the world.

Korean Syllables
Letters from the alphabet are then combined to make syllables.  Each block of letters is one syllable.  For example, 산 is made up of three letters and is one syllable.  Each syllable must contain at least one consonant and one vowel.  There are five possible combinations of vowels and consonants in syllables.

1. The most basic is a syllable that only contains a vowel sound, such as the word "a" in English.  This would be written as 아 in Hangul.  A vowel can not be the first letter in a syllable, so the silent consonant ㅇ must be placed before the vowel.

2. The second possibility is a vowel sound followed by a consonant, such as 안 (an).  Again, ㅇ must be placed before the vowel.

3. There can be a consonant sound followed by a vowel sound.  An example would be 고 (go).  The silent consonant is not needed because there is already a consonant in front of the vowel.

4. A consonant followed by vowel, which is followed by a consonant.  Such is the case in 담 (dam). 

5. The last possibility is a consonant followed by a vowel followed by two consonants.  This is the most complicated because the sounds of some of the consonants seem to change and I'm not sure yet about the rules for this case.  An example is 홁.

Koreans use two types of numbering systems: Native Korean numbers and Sino Korean numbers.  Native Korean numbers are used for counting and Sino Korean numbers are used for years, months, days, and money.  Since Koreans use Arabic numerals it isn't really essential to know the names of the numbers, but it can be helpful when ordering or paying.

Time and Dates

Useful Words and Phrases
This pretty much consists of stuff that have learned since I've been here or that I wish I had learned because it would have been very useful at one point or another.

That about sums up my crash course on Korean.  I just downloaded a beginner's book on Korean and I would really like to work my way through that.  My friends, coworkers, and students are all pretty eager to teach me Korean too, so I'm sure I will pick up plenty from them.  I will provide the disclaimer that I am learning this stuff as I post it, so I can't assure anyone that it is completely accurate.  Working my way through this stuff by typing it and romanizing it is probably helping me to learn Korean a lot more than it will help anyone reading this blog.


  1. Thank you so much! I'm slowly learning how to read Korean. Haha I'm enjoying it~ :D

  2. I hope you can post more. I like this better than anyone who teaches me Korean online =_=

  3. thank you so much... i really love learning their language and so as their writing...

  4. thank.you..sir..

  5. I thought yeoboseyo is "Hi" ..
    But as what I can see here yeoboseyo is "Excuse me"
    Which is which ?
    JUst want to ask :)
    THank you

  6. Thanks, this is super handy. Love the Hangeul text next to each phrase. because I prefer deciphering it as it make more sense when pronouncing each word.