The Korean alphabet has been called “brilliant” by linguists who study how the alphabet relates to the spoken language. Indeed, the alphabet, which is called hangul, is purposely simple in design.
Hangul was first developed during the reign of King Sejong and was intended for use by everyone from the elite class to the common people. Before then Chinese script, or hanja, had been used in all Korean writing. However Hanja was so complex that only the very wealthy elite were able to understand and write it. Most people in Korea were illiterate. When the Korean alphabet was introduced it quickly became popular and was used by everyone.
The name hangul can be directly translated to mean “great script” or “Korean script.” Hangul is used in North and South Korea, but in North Korea it is called chosongul. There are 24 letters in the Korean alphabet: 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Korean writing is different from most western writing in that letters are grouped into blocks, which create a syllable, and these blocks are then placed left to right to form Korean words. The writing is then read left to right, similar to western writing.
When students first begin learning the alphabet it is helpful to remember that all consonants are designed to represent the shape the mouth will make as you pronounce it, and all vowels are designed using horizontal or vertical strokes. Learning the alphabet will become the basis of all further Korean lessons the student chooses to undertake, so it’s important to have a clear understanding before you move on to other lessons.
Though the alphabet may seem difficult to learn at first, students should keep in mind that it was designed to be learned by all Koreans and there is nothing elitist about it. If a student does find themselves feeling intimidated or becoming frustrated with the learning process, a Korean podcast can help them overcome any feelings of stress. Koreanpod 101 offers podcasts that can help students further their studies of the Korean language and get them to a point where they are comfortable conversing in the language with anyone.
Learning Korean letters can actually be one of the simplest portions of your lessons. Because of its inherent design the alphabet might not be so easy even a baby can learn it, but it does come close. Once you take the time to learn the alphabet, the rest of the Korean language should follow easily.