This image (listed as public domain ) pretty much sums up how to read Korean. Click on it for the full-sized version.

Hangul is composed of 24 letters.

  • 14 consonants: ㄱ, ㄴ, ㄷ, ㄹ, ㅁ, ㅂ, ㅅ, ㅇ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, ㅎ
  • 10 vowels: ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, ㅡ, ㅣ

Hangul is written in blocks, where each block essentially represents a single syllable. Within each syllable, the initial and final letters will always be consonants and the medial letters will always be vowels.

The simplest Korean syllables will contain an initial consonant plus a medial vowel. In this case, the vowels ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, and ㅣ will always be written to the right of the consonant, and the vowels ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, and ㅡ will always be written below the consonant.

Examples: 마 = ma (sounds like "mama"); 무 = mu (as in cows go "moo")
Keep the Initial+Medial rules in mind. When adding a final consonant to an initial plus medial, the final simply goes at the bottom.

Examples: 만 = man; 문 = mun (sounds more like "moon")
Combination Vowels
Vowels maybe combined for sounds other than the base 10. In general, reading left to right will get you relatively close to the correct pronunciation. For example, "ㅘ" is a combination of "ㅗ" (sounds like "oh") + "ㅏ" (sounds like "ah"). If you say "oh" + "ah" really quickly, it sounds like "wa". However, I am not sure how to explain the "ㅐ". For that one, I just need to remember that it sounds like "ae".
What about 한글?
So, why isn't 한글 written as "hangeul"? You got me there. It has to do with how Korean is romanized. Before I was introduced to the Revised Romanization of Korean, I spelled it out as it best sounded to me. I can only assume that the "Hangul" romanizataion of the word became fairly standard before the Revised Romanization took root. In any case, both "Hangul" and "Hangeul" seem to be understood.

If you feel up to it, try testing your knowledge by taking a quiz.

Hangul Chart

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