Read Korean in 10 Minutes

by Jason -- June 24, 2010

While learning Korean grammar and vocabulary can be a difficult task, it’s an incredibly simple language to learn to read. A lot of people think that Korean has thousands of characters, like Chinese, but in fact it’s a simple, logical alphabet made up of only 24 letters. In this post, I’ll explain a little bit about the Korean alphabet, teach some of the basics, and by the end of this post, you’ll be able to read a little Korean.

A primary goal of our 1-year trip to Asia was to learn to speak another language. After very little debate, we decided on Korean. Sharon’s 75% Korean and doesn’t speak the language while her parents both do, so it was a pretty easy decision.

Lesson 1 - Some Basics

Just like in the English language, Korean letters are split by consonants and vowels.  Each Korean character consists of two, three or four letters, clumped together to create a box-like character.

Here’s some Korean if you’ve never seen it before:


The word means “hello”. The word is made up of 5 characters- here’s the first character:

However, this character is simply made up of 3 letters:

The first letter, “ㅇ” is silent (when it is placed at the beginning of the character), the second, “ㅏ” is pronounced “ah”, as in father. The last letter, “ㄴ” is pronounced with an “n” sound. So this, “안” is “ahn”.

The thing I love about Korean is how consistent it is. Now that you know “ㅏ” is an “ah” sound, you can pronounce that letter in every word. For example, the 3rd character in “안녕하세요” is:

It’s made up of two letters:

ㅎ   ㅏ

The first character, “ㅎ” is an “h” sound and we already know the second character, “ㅏ” is an “ah” sound. So, “하” is “hah”.

Lesson 2 - The Letters

So, now that you’ve got the basics, here are 6 of the Korean vowels:

I’m going to add 4 additional vowels to that set. If there are 2 small lines coming off of a letter, instead of just 1, you add a “y” sound.

Finally, here’s a subset of the consonants. This isn’t all of them, there are a few missing.

Lesson 3 - Pronouncing Hello

Let’s finish up pronouncing “hello” in Korean, here it is again:


First character: 안
ㅇ- silent
ㅏ- “ah”
ㄴ- “n”

Second character: 녕
ㄴ- “n”
ㅕ- “yahw”
ㅇ- “ng” (not silent, because it’s the last letter)

Third character: 하
ㅎ- “h”
ㅏ- “ah”

Fourth character: 세
ㅅ- “s”
ㅔ- I didn’t introduce this vowel, but it’s pronounced “eh” as in “set”

Fifth character: 요
ㅇ- silent
ㅛ- “yo”

The Test

So why bother to learn to read if you can’t understand what you’re reading?

The answer, in Korean, many words are simply English words that are spelled out phonetically using Korean characters. Here’s your test and some examples. All of these are real “Korean” words:






Image credit: Pragmagraphr

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8 Responses to “Read Korean in 10 Minutes”

  1. I love this post! more free korean lessons!!!! Is the first one banana? I can’t seem teo figureout …. that last 3…yet!!! Good post! I love it! Itook korean school when I was younger…. needles to say, I got an award for best caligraphy…. but nothing else. haha

  2. Facinating! People had tried many times in the last hundred or so years to create a spelling system for Chinese, but we always get stuck on tones and multiple charactors with the same pronounciation.

  3. I’m visiting this site everyday as your huge fan. I happened to know your site through Google. I live Seoul now, and my hometown is Daegu where sharon’s parents were born. (Actually I’ve read all of your articles without permission, Sorry..)
    I’ve been studying English for a few years. Besides I’ve traveled around the world with my husband. this site is so facinating.
    Thank you… Have nice days in Korea.

  4. Holly - Glad you enjoyed it! And yes, the first one is banana. The second: News, 3rd: Heater, 4th: Juice, 5th: Bus.

    Vivian - I’ve heard that young Chinese people are forgetting how to write many of the characters since they just type them now and there are so many. It’d be interesting if Chinese was simplified into an alphabet like Korean, but you make a good point on the tones, no clue how that would work.

    Jane - Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you’re enjoying the site! Go Red Devils!

  5. [...] words are simply English words spelled out phonetically using Korean characters. Korean can be learned in a couple hours, making it a fun thing to try and learn on the airplane ride [...]

  6. [...] really no way of thanking them for their generosity. So, we ate it all and gave them a big “Com-sah-hamida” as we [...]

  7. Wow this is so amazing. So banana, news, heater, juice, and bus are actually the same words in English and Korean? About how many Korean words are there like this?

  8. Hi Tiffani — Thanks for the comment and stopping by. And yes, exactly. There are hundreds of words like this. There are even times where a Korean word will exist, but they’ll use the English word instead because it “sounds better”. It’s interesting and still something I don’t completely understand.

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