Friday, May 31, 2013

Day 6.141: You can read Korean too!

I've never suggested to anyone that Korean is an easy language to learn. I tried a little when I first was involved in this project and I've picked up a few words and phrases as I've gone along, but I have tried to persuade people that learning to read the script is easy. In fact Hangul was invented by a 15th century king to make reading and writing accessible to the masses.

So here is everything you need to know:

There are 24 letters which are grouped by two, three or four into syllables. Syllables always start with a consonant and have a vowel next. They may end with another consonant (or occasionally two). In general consonants at the end of syllables are not voiced so g becomes k, d becomes t and b and p become m (just a closing of the lips at the end of a sound).

Here is the alphabet:
ㄱ g; ㅋ k
ㄴ n; ㄷ d; ㅌ t ㄹ r/l
ㅁ m; ㅂ b; ㅍ p
ㅅ s; ㅈ j; ㅊ ch
ㅇ */ng; ㅎ h (* ㅇ is silent at the start of a syllable)

ㅗ o in oh!
ㅜ u in lute
ㅡ u in but* this is properly pronounced with the mouth shaped to make an ee sound
ㅏ a in ah!
ㅓ o in got - sometimes strays towards u in but, but with an open mouth.
ㅣ ee

and that's it. But wait, you say, that's only 20 - quite right, the vowels with a short stroke can gain a second to become prefixed by a 'y' sound. Also, some consonants can be doubled to make them stronger and vowels are combined in pairs, but usually just read strung together ("wah" is made like this, for example: ㅘ) the only exceptions are:
ㅐ and ㅔwhich are basically 'e' as in bed and the double stroke form that are 'yeh' 

To read, start at the top left of the syllable cluster and read left-to-right, top-to-bottom and then move on to the next cluster to the right.

Often, reading like this is all you need as many products and businesses use English names transliterated into Hangul rather than real Korean ones. Here are some examples for you to practice on:

Basics first:
Then the essentials:

And here are three from the sign in the lift at the hotel:

The last one may feature in a blog post later in the week!

See, it may take some time but: 유 칸 리드 커리은!

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