Every one of us speaks a different language, literally. There is a different language and way of writing for every country that there is. This helps make us unique in our own way. Although we do have the universal language, which is the English language, we still have our own unique ways of writing and speaking in our different countries and areas. This is what we call the Mother Tongue. Popular examples of this are US English, UK English, Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish, Filipino, and Korean.
The Hangul, also known as the Great Script, is the official alphabetic system and way of writing in Korea. The people in South Korea call it Hangul, Han’gul or Hangeul. On the other hand, the people in North Korea call it Choson muntcha or Choson’gul. There is a certain characteristic that makes this alphabet very unique. All the letters in this alphabet are written the same way as the articulator’s shape or phonetic features when they are pronounced.
This is the official writing system of both North and South Korea. However, it is not only limited to use in the Korean peninsula. It is also used as a co-official writing system for both the Changbai Korean Autonomous County and Yanbian Korean Autonomous County in Jilin Province of China. It can also be used to write the CIa-Cia language that is used by the people near Baubau, Indonesia. A Taiwanese linguist also used Hangul and incorporated it into their own writing system for the spoken language Taiwanese Hokkien and called it Taiwanese Hangul.
History of Hangul
A lot of us have been familiar with Hangul, especially those who are big fans of Korean dramas and famous Korean personalities. But how and when did it start?
The Korean alphabet, also known as Hangul, was created by Sejong the Great, who was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. History states that he created it with the help of a team of scholars, which made it the most significant creation in the Korean history. These specially selected scholars are called Hall of Worthies and their most well-known accomplishment was the Hunmin Jeongeum, which is translated as “the correct/proper sounds for the instruction of the people ”. This brand new Korean alphabet was later on known as Hangul. South Korea now celebrates Hangul Day every October 9, as it is the day when Hunmin Jeongeum was published in 1446. It is considered as one of the most efficient alphabets in the world and has gathered a lot of praise from language experts because of its scientific design and excellence.
Why is Hangul created in the first place?
King Sejong was wise enough to think that the Korean people needed a new alphabet as the Korean language was fundamentally different from Chinese. During this time, all Korean was written in Chinese characters known as Hanja, which gave common people a hard time reading and writing. In fact, the majority of Koreans were considered illiterate before Hangul was invented.
In order to promote literacy among the common people, King Sejong carefully created a new alphabet. It was then designed so that people who don’t have the privilege of attaining higher education, could somehow learn to read and write. Though it had caused quite a stir to the literary elite as many scholars and aristocrats believed that Hanja was the only legitimate writing system and considered Hangul as a threat to their status. Hangul is so easy to learn and use for spreading information that Yeonsangun, their tenth king, decided to ban everything related to Hangul during his reign. It was revived during the last 16th century. An increase in Korean nationalism also happened in the 19th century that led to an increased use of Hangul. Even though its increase in popularity, the Korean alphabet still faced issues before it was made as the official writing system in North Korea during 1949, while banning the use of Hanja completely. On the other hand, Hangul remains the official writing system in South Korea but still uses Hanja characters in some cases.
Alphabet System and Letters
The Korean alphabet is composed of consonants, vowels, and a combination of both. Here are some basic tips you can use to learn hangul.
Like some of the English consonants, Korean consonants have names that don’t correspond exactly to how they are pronounced. Names of consonants and their actual sounds are as follows:
● ㄱ (giyeok) sounds like “g” (hard “g” sound)
● ㄴ (nieun) sounds like “n”
● ㄷ (digeut) sounds like “d”
● ㄹ (rieul) sounds like “l” or “r”
● ㅁ (mieum) sounds like “m”
● ㅂ (bieup) sounds like “b” or “p”
● ㅅ (shiot) sounds like “s” or “sh”
● ㅈ (jieut) sounds like “j”
● ㅎ (hieut) sounds like “h”
Note that sound explanations written above are only approximations and letters could produce different sounds depending on the word it is used with.
Basic Korean Vowels (ㅏ, ㅓ, ㅗ, ㅜ, ㅡ, ㅣ)
Korean vowels, on the other hand, don’t have names apart from their sound. They are just called according to how they are pronounced.
● ㅏ (a) sounds like “ah”
● ㅓ (eo) sounds like something between “oh” and “uh”
● ㅗ (o) sounds like “oh,” but more rounded
● ㅜ (u) sounds like “oo”
● ㅡ (eu) sounds like “euh”
● ㅣ (i) sounds like “ee”
Since these are just written from a horizontal and vertical line, it appears to be a bit easier to remember than the consonants.
Basic Korean Consonant + Vowel Combinations
After you have learned a few basic Korean consonants and vowels, forming Korean letters with a combination of both may feel a bit easier for you
1. Vowels with a long vertical line like ㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, or ㅣ
The consonant is found on the left side, while the vowel is on the right. It could be written like these:
● ㅇ + ㅏ = 아 [a]
● ㄱ + ㅓ = 거 [geo]
● ㅂ + ㅣ = 비 [bi]
2. Vowels with a long horizontal line like ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, or ㅡ
The consonant is found on the upper half, while the vowel is on the lower half. It could be written like these:
● ㅇ + ㅗ = 오 [o]
● ㅈ + ㅜ = 주 [ju]
● ㅋ + ㅠ = 큐 [kyu]
3. Combining a consonant and a vowel, if there is another consonant attached at the end
The consonant is placed at the very bottom of the already existing square, while the other parts are then squeezed a little towards the top to create the entire shape of a square again. The final consonant is called 받침 (batchim). Some examples are as follows:
● 아 + ㄴ = 안 [an]
● 조 + ㅇ = 종 [jong]
● 부 + ㄹ = 불 [bul]
The Importance of Hangul
If you want to study the Korean culture, trying to understand their language is an initial effort you can do. Learning first the Korean writing system can give you a greater understanding of their culture, as well as their history. In addition, having knowledge about the hangul characters can teach you the Korean basics that you might need in order to speak, write and read most of the Korean words. If your aim is to become fluent in the language of Korea, it is important to learn hangul first. It may take time and be hard in the beginning, but it will become easier over time with passion and perseverance.
Tips to Help you Learn Hangul Easily
● Prepare easy hangul writing practice sheets that show all the characters at once. These are available and downloadable online for easy access.
● Be familiar and memorize the basic consonants and vowels. Creating combinations will be easier after you undergo this process.
● Practice, practice, practice. Keep on practicing the combinations and see how they sound. Try combining hangul consonants and vowels to make a letter, and challenge yourself to read it aloud.
● Get acquainted with the stroke order. Just keep on filling yourself with knowledge. You can do it!
● Keep on writing. It doesn’t matter if you have to write it over and over again. Learning how to properly write hangul characters requires constant practice.
● Enhance your vocabulary. As you master Hangul, your vocabulary is now expanding. Find words that you might find interest in like numbers, days of the week, some conversational phrases, Korean food, and a lot more. These may help expand your knowledge and skills about the Korean alphabet.
● Know the advantage of loanwords and Konglish words. Korea has a lot of Korean-style English words that could help you recognize some Korean words easily. They are easy to remember as they sound like English, but through a Korean accent. Some examples are:
– 컵 (keop) = cup
– 카페 (ka-pe) = cafe
– 초콜릿 (cho-kol-lit) = chocolate
– 카메라 (ka-me-ra) = camera
– 택시 (taek-si) = taxi
– 인터넷 (in-teo-net) = internet
Take note that other konglish words can sound like English words, but have a different meaning.
● Surround yourself with Korean. Find time to apply some Korean words in a part of your day. Familiarizing yourself can help you gain a certain level of expertise when it comes to Hangul. Trying to talk to a Korean friend, if you have any, can be handy as well.