Hangeul, or the Korean alphabet, is one of the simplest parts of learning Korean, but it is the necessary foundation upon which all other skills are built. I started learning Korean nearly 6 years ago, and I decided it is high time that I talk about this incredibly important topic! In today’s post, I will be sharing my favorite resources and tips for learning and becoming proficient in reading and writing hangeul.
Hangeul, like I mentioned, is the Korean alphabet, invented by King Sejong the Great in the 15th century. It is made up of consonants and vowels and are combined to form a wide variety of syllable blocks. It is not like Japanese kana which are pre-determined syllables, nor is it like Chinese hanzi, which is made up of characters that have a word or meaning attached.
Hangeul is actually more similar to the English alphabet, where each letter on its own represents a phonetic sound and they have no meaning on their own. But one big difference is that hangeul pronunciation is actually much more straightforward than English pronunciation, where a single vowel can represent seemingly dozens of sounds, and some spellings defy reason. Hangeul pronunciation, on the other hand, is much more logical, which makes learning it that much easier. Of course, the more advanced vocabulary you learn, the more often you will encounter special pronunciation rules. But learning the basics of hangeul is a famously quick and easy process.
As a beginner, their are tons of resources available online or in your local bookstore, so choosing the right one can seem daunting or even confusing. Below I want to recommend some of my favorite resources that I used when I started learning Korean. All of these combined helped me to get a good grasp on hangeul, but you can choose to just use the ones that appeal to your personality/learning style.
1. Hello Korean 1
This is the first book in a series and I picked this book based on a recommendation by Shanna at HangukDrama. Overall, it’s a great textbook for beginners, and I love that they feature Lee Joon Gi in the recordings. But we are here to talk about hangeul! The introductory chapter of this book is a very in-depth lesson on hangeul. They cover vowels, consonants, double consonants, combining vowels and consonants to form syllables, provide articulation charts, example words, space for writing practice, and recordings of native speakers that you can repeat after. Overall, it’s a very comprehensive introduction to hangeul that I can’t recommend highly enough.
2. Cyber University of Korea – “Quick Korean” Course Series
Quick Korean is a completely free online video course available to anyone with an internet connection, which is put on by the Cyber University of Korea. The Quick Korean series has video culture lessons, short 3 minute Korean lessons, as well as four levels of a full Korean language curriculum. Every lesson comprises a video and corresponding PDF available for download, and at the end of each level there is a test you can take to assess your learning and move on to the next level.
Already it sounds like a great resource, but in terms of hangeul, I think they offer some great video lessons in level 1 that effectively teach the basics to beginners. The teacher in the video is a native speaker who is also fluent in English so you can get full explanations of each letter as well as exposure to native pronunciation. The teacher is very encouraging, and you can always pause and rewind sections of the video that you want to review. Another great point is that you can watch the stroke order as each letter is written (yes, hangeul does have a proper stroke order) and then practice writing yourself on the PDF.
There are two approximately 1 hour-long video lessons that cover vowels, consonants, double consonants, dipthongs, final consonants, and a bit of history about the development of the Korean writing system. And, all of the lessons are available in other languages besides English: Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish.
Access these free lessons here!
3. Korean Letters App
The Korean Letters app has to be my favorite resource among the three I am introducing to you today. This app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices, teaches hangeul in a really unique and intuitive way. Each letter is slowly introduced and you use your memory and intuition to learn how to pronounce each one. It is a very immersive experience and builds your confidence as you add each letter to your arsenal. It’s a bit difficult to explain how to actually use the app, so please check out the tutorial I made in the video below.
In this video I cover all of the topics in this blog post, plus a video tutorial for Korean Letters!
There are two main drawbacks to this app. First, you do have to pay to unlock the full version. The lite version provides access to the first 5 lessons, and it’s a good way to see if you want to invest in the full version. Thank fully, it’s only a couple dollars so it’s not expensive, but it is up to you to decide if it is worth it or not. Second, I don’t believe this app covers dipthongs (combining vowels) which can actually be a pretty tricky affair when you are just starting out learning hangeul. If you choose to use the Korean Letters app, make sure you round out your education by utilizing another resource that does go into dipthongs. You do not want to move on from hangeul before learning about this topic.
While the three resources I introduced above will certainly go a long way in teaching you most of what you need to know about hangeul, it is important to also take your learning into your own hands in order to see fast and noticeable improvement. Check out these tips to step up your game!
- Repeat, repeat, repeat! As you learn hangeul you will constantly encounter recordings and audio clips. These are invaluable resources! Always take the opportunity to repeat after them several times to get your mouth used to producing new shapes and sounds. You can also repeat lines from whatever Korean dramas or tv shows you are watching (this is especially helpful if you can look at a transcription or Korean subtitles at the same time). Listening over and over will also help tune your ear to the language and help your listening comprehension later on. The more listening exposure and speaking practice that you get from the start, the better.
- Don’t neglect stroke order! If you don’t write according to the proper stroke order, it is honestly not the end of the world. Even native Koreans like to use creative shortcuts for writing certain Korean letters, just as English speakers eventually learn to link certain letters and develop a personal style. But this is something that develops after spending an entire childhood learning and employing the proper stroke order. Using the proper stroke order will help you to draw the letters as they were intended to look. If you start getting creative before you learn the basics, you might develop bad habits that cause your writing to be an illegible mess! Once you are confident in the stroke order, you can observe how native Koreans write and experiment with their shortcuts and stylistic preferences.
- Read EVERYTHING. Even when you are just starting out with hangeul, start trying to read everything and anything that comes before your eyes. Whether that be street signs, a book or pamphlet, webtoons, video titles, people’s names, et cetera, try your best to read it aloud. You obviously do not need to understand a single bit of what you see. You might even be wrong sometimes or feel stumped by a tricky vowel combo, but just keep trying. You will eventually build confidence and your reading speed will gradually increase. If you’re brave you can try singing karaoke to some of your favorite Korean songs. You won’t have a choice but to keep up with the lyrics on the screen! It’s one of my favorite ways to practice reading quickly.
I hope these tips and resources will help you start the process of learning hangeul! As I said before, the process will be simpler than you think, but don’t let that fool you. Learning hangeul in all of its forms (how to read it, how to write it and spell words, how to pronounce it, recognizing sounds) is absolutely vital to the rest of your Korean language learning journey. As you progress in the language, you will eventually encounter some new and interesting pronunciation rules, but I believe the resources and tips above will help you build a solid beginner’s foundation. Good luck! And thanks for reading.