Korean Learning Tips #2: Focus on learning Hangul first
Ok this one might seem a bit obvious and only really applies to new learners but bear with me. Many starting out Korean learners, particularly self-taught learners, may decide to start trying to learn Korean without first learning Hangul. I’m here today to tell you why that may be a bad idea. Hangul (한글), in case you don’t know, is the Korean writing system. It is almost completely phonetic and is one of the only, if not the only, written language systems in the world which has a date of creation. It was created in the 1400s by a group of scholars under King Sejong the Great as a script designed specifically for the Korean language which would be much easier for every citizen to learn than the previously used, elitist Hanja (adopted Chinese characters) which was so complex it was only known properly by a select group of aristocrats and scholars. Koreans are very proud of this writing system and it even has it’s own day, imaginatively titled Hangul Day, on October 9th.
To the uninitiated, Hangul may look confusing and difficult to master however if anything it is the opposite and by far the easiest part of learning the language. In fact, a famous quote in the Hunminjeongeum Haerye (훈민정음 해례), a book which describes the uses of Hangul, says that ‘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’.
Why should I learn Hangul first?
It helps pronunciation. Although it might seem easier to begin with the more familiar romanised versions of words and then go back and learn the written language later, this is not the best idea. Because Hangul is nearly completely phonetic it helps new learners to learn correct pronunciation straight away, romanisations on the other hand encourage English speakers to learn inaccurate pronunciations by using the sounds they associate with English rather than the proper Korean ones.
Romanisations are confusing. Korean has many more vowels that the 5 in our alphabet and so many are represented by more than one letter which is confusing when there are multiple consonants used in a row an it can be difficult to decipher which vowels are being used.
It makes understanding the structure of the language easier. A lot of the meaning of phrases and sentences in Korean come from the use of many different particles added on to the end of words. Unlike the roman alphabet, Hangul represents each consonant with a single character which is made of a block of between two and four jamo(자모), which act more like letters in English signifying a specific sound. This style of writing makes it much easier to recognise the different particles being used which makes understanding the grammar much easier.
It gives you a goal which you can achieve. Learning something as difficult and complex as a foreign language is daunting and it is easy to become demotivated and feel like you have achieved nothing. Learning Hangul is a great first step to prove to yourself that you are able to learn the language and gives you a sense of achievement. Setting goals and targets when learning anything are a great way to stay motivated when doing any long-term difficult task.
It looks cool. Let’s face it, Hangul is a really unique and beautiful written language and many people will be impressed and intrigued if you are able to write it.
How can I learn it?
There are lots of great resources you can use all over the internet to learn hangul:
This is without a doubt the best site around for Korean self-study and is particularly good for learners of all levels for understanding new pieces of grammar as well as idioms and slang. They have a great series of videos teaching you step by step how Hangul works.
This is a great in-depth guide to every aspect of Hangul with audio clips that you can listen to over and over until you get the pronuncuation just write. It also includes quizzes and flashcards to help you practice.
There are hundreds of videos all over YouTube which offer lessons on how to learn to write in Korean. Naturally some are better than others but most have something to offer.
This is a great little tool for practising with. It allows you to put consonants and vowels together in any combination and then listen to what they should sound like and practice writing them.
If you have a smartphone, particularly an Android, there are lots of great little games and quizzes which you can download onto your phone, most of which are free, which are great for practising your Hangul on the go.
All in all I would say that learning Hangul is an easy and quite fun way to start learning Korean and to get to grips with the language. I would recommend it to anyone interested in Korean culture at all, even it’s just so you can learn how to pronounce the name of your favourite K-pop and K-drama stars properly! I hope I’ve inspired a few of you to start learning today.