Hangul – the Korean Alphabet

Hangul (hangeul, 한글), or the Korean alphabet, is the writing system used in Korea. To someone not that used to Asian cultures, hangul might look similar to the characters used in China or Japan, but it is in fact much more simple to learn in comparison. Being able to read hangul will make a visitor’s daily life in Korea easier to handle, and open up a whole new exciting culture and language.

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Hangul Day is coming up this month on October 9th, in celebration of the invention and proclamation of the Korean alphabet in the 15th century. It is a public holiday, which means a day off from uni lectures. Why not go and celebrate the occasion by taking the subway to Gwanghwamun Plaza (광화문광장) to see the statue of King Sejong, whose court took the initiative to create hangul as an easier way to read and write (as opposed to learning thousands of Chinese letters that were used back then).

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Another place to check out is the National Hangul Museum in Yongsan for those who want to find out more about the history and value of the Korean language. Koreans are very proud of their writing system, so knowing about it and showing interest will give foreigners bonus points in their eyes!

But what is hangul like, and is it easy to learn? Though it looks complicated, the Korean alphabet has only 24 consonants and vowel letters that are arranged into symmetrical blocks that come together to create a syllable. Therefore, even though a word like 한양, Hanyang, might seem complicated, it is actually comprised of two syllables 한 han, and 양 yang, with three letters in each syllable. The alphabet also includes 27 digraphs just to make a foreigner more confused… I know I still am a little bit. The more you read, the easier it gets though. I managed to pass the hangul test in my Korean class after about three weeks of bi-weekly classes!

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Even for someone as new to the country and the language as myself, knowing how to read hangul has been a lifesaver in day-to-day activities. Many restaurants, for example, don’t write their menus using the western (Roman/Latin) alphabet, let alone with English translations. If you know how to read hangul, however, it is sometimes possible to identify main ingredients like pork or cheese in the dish. Map reading is also considerably easier, as well as identifying place names in general when you are able to read.

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One major advantage of learning hangul is also being able to read your Korean classmates’ names. I had a big problem in the beginning when I forgot someone’s name and couldn’t just go and check it out from our group chat. So embarrassing… But now, after learning to read I don’t have to worry about that anymore, thankfully!

I would recommend for all foreign students, and visitors in general, to try and learn a few phrases of Korean, and at least the basics of the Korean alphabet. Hangul will open up a whole new level of understanding and appreciating the Korean language and culture, making your time here that much more enjoyable. Hanyang University offers really good Korean classes in Survival and Intensive levels, so definitely take advantage of the opportunity.

 

Article by Miia from the U.K.

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  1. […] of accuracy. The only catch about this app? It’s all in Korean, so if you aren’t comfortable reading Hangul, you’ll be better off using […]

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