A Complete Guide to Hangul – How to Learn them Fast and Easily

Hangul – Korean alphabet

Is Hangul the first thing to learn if you’re an absolute beginner to Korean? The answer is a definite yes! As the Korean alphabet, Hangul is the cornerstone for you to have a grasp on in order to build up on the more complex.

Hangul (Korean alphabet) is also pretty similar to English so it’s very easy to learn. After learning Hangul, you will be able to read anything written in Korean!

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Doesn’t that sound magical? So why still use romanization that only hinders your Korean learning? Let’s learn Hangul, which is guaranteed to be an effective, cheerful, and motivational start to your Korean learning journey!

A Brief History of Hangul

When and How was Hangul Invented

The Korean alphabet (Hangul or Hangeul) was invented by King Sejong in 1443. Before the invention of Hangul, Korean language was hugely influenced by Chinese, using classical Chinese characters (Hanja) as their main way of writing. The inconsistency between their spoken and written languages caused a high rate of illiteracy amongst Korean people. Thankfully, King Sejong’s introduction of Hangul has enabled Koreans to have the freedom to write in their own language and significantly improved the literacy rate. 

Statue of King Sejong in Seoul
Statue of King Sejong in Seoul (image source: 6gmagicalstars)

Hangul is similar to the English alphabet in the sense that words in both languages are spelled out with individual letters. With its simple visualization and the organized syllables, Korean Hangul is a scientific writing system that is easy and efficient to read and write with, which secured Korean language as one of the most popular languages to learn in the world today.

Why is Hangul Day Important

Every year on October 9, Hangul Day is observed in South Korea in order to celebrate the invention and proclamation of Hangul. Nowadays, in the minds of Korean people, Hangul Day is very important for remembering the invention and tough history of Hangul.

Hangul was once almost erased from history. During World War II, when Japan occupied Korea, Korean people were forbidden to speak Korean, and the publication of all books about Korean was hindered. However, resilient Korean people made dialects and spoke Korean in secret for long and difficult years until Korea succeeded in gaining independence.

On Hangul Day, various events are held throughout Korea to promote the history of the Korean language and traditional culture. Many people visit the King Sejong museum in Seoul to celebrate this day. 

Korean Alphabet Charts

Hangul consists of 40 letters in total: 19 consonants and 21 vowels. To form Korean characters, Hangul letters are grouped into syllabic blocks. You can learn how they are groped with LingoDeer’s hangul lesson. In this part, we will focus only on the basics of hangul: Korean consonants and vowels.

Korean Consonants

Korean Consonants Chart

The above image shows all 19 Korean consonants and how to easily remember them with English mnemonics. Note that the English letters in red are only very similar to, but not 100% the same as, the pronunciation of these Korean letters. For example, the letter ㄹ actually has no English counterpart. It sounds like but is not exactly the same as l or r in English.

In order to fully grasp the pronunciation of Korean letters, we suggest using tools like LingoDeer which has native speaker audio and pronunciation guide to learn more comprehensively. Give it a try for free here.

Korean Vowels

Korean Vowels Chart

The 21 Korean vowels are divided into two categories: simple vowels and complex vowels. Single vowels are easy to pronounce as they are produced with a single articular movement. Complex vowels are formed by 2 single vowels. The trick to complesx vowels in Korean is to glide from one single vowel to another without any breaks.

Korean Alphabet Pronunciation

Hangul

Romanization

Pronunciation

Hangul Consonants

g/k

n

d/t

r/l

m

b/p

s(/t)

ng

 

j/ch

ch(/t)

k

t

p

h

Hangul Vowels

ㅏ 

a

ㅐ 

ae

ㅑ 

ya

ㅒ 

yae

ㅓ 

eo

ㅔ 

e

ㅕ 

yeo

ㅖ 

ye

 

ㅗ 

o

ㅘ 

wa

ㅙ 

wae

ㅚ 

oe

ㅛ 

yo

ㅜ 

u

ㅝ 

wo

ㅞ 

we

ㅟ 

wi

ㅠ 

yu

ㅡ 

eu

ㅢ 

ui

ㅣ 

i

How to Learn Hangul – A Step-to-Step Guide

Now you have got an overview of hangul, let’s see how to remember them easily. In this part, we have grouped all Hangul letters into some fun categories with images.

Step 1: Getting to Know Some Basic Vowels in Hangul

The first step is to get to know some basic vowels in Korean. They will be introduced in groups, according to their appearance or sound for better memorization. 

Group 1: A stick with one twig

The first group has four vowels, and each one looks like a wooden stick with a twig. The only difference between them is the direction they face. This group includes the basic single vowels in Korean. 

ㅏ a

ㅓ eo

ㅗ o

ㅜ u

Illustration of a wooden stick with one twig
image source: pngitem.com

Group 2: A stick with two twigs 

Remember the sounds of the four sticks in Group one? Well, the vowels in Group 2 look very similar to the first four, but they appear as wooden sticks with two twigs. The extra twig adds a y /j/ sound before the four original single vowels. Do you get it?

ㅑ ya

ㅕ yeo

ㅛ yo

ㅠ yu

Group 3: A straight stick 

There are also two straight wooden sticks in the Korean alphabet: one vertical and one horizontal. They are also basic single vowels. 

ㅣ i

ㅡ eu

Group 4: Burgers….and with extra ingredients 

The first two of this group look like two types of burgers rotated for 180 degrees – /ae/ with cheese and /e/ with an olive on top. The latter two are upgraded versions of the first two. The extra ingredients have the same function as the extra twig in Group 2 does – adding the sound y /j/ before the basic vowels. 

ㅐ ae

ㅔ e

ㅒ yae

ㅖ ye

 

Step 2: Getting to Know the Consonants in Hangul

Group 5: Start with some easy ones

Consonants in this group are not related to one another, but they are tough, independent individuals who contribute nasals and liquids to the Korean language.

**Nasals are consonants produced by releasing air through the nose instead of the mouth. On the other hand, liquids are consonants in which air is released through the mouth, but involves more tongue movement and positioning. 

ㄴ n

ㅁ m

ㄹ r/l

ㅎ h

Group 6: Three brothers in the same family but with different tempers 

Consonants in this group have family relations. Almost each family has three brothers. The elder brothers in each family are the strongest, they are produced intensely with an expulsion of air. The middle brothers require no aspiration, but are still intense sounds. Lastly, the little brothers are the weakest: they are not tense, nor are they produced with aspiration. 

Elder brother/Aspirated

Middle brother/Tense

Little brother/Plain

ㅋk

ㄲkk

ㄱk/g

ㅍp

ㅃpp

ㅂp/b

ㅌt

ㄸtt

ㄷd/t

ㅊch

ㅉjj

ㅈj

N/A

ㅆss

ㅅs

Illustration of three brothers
image from pvabca.com with modification

 

Step 3: Getting to Know Complex Vowels in Hangul

Group 8: /w/ + simple vowel 

Vowels in this group are all made up of two vowels introduced in Step 1. These complex vowels all start with a /w/ sound. 

ㅘ wa

ㅚ oe

ㅙ wae

ㅝ wo

ㅟ wi

ㅞ we

Group 9: A versatile one 

This vowel forms a group on its own because it is very versatile and plays different roles depending on the occasion. When it is by itself, it is pronounced as /ui/. When it functions as a possessive marker, it is pronounced as /e/. When there is a consonant, it is pronounced as /i/. 

ㅢ ui

You can also find audio practice and more tips on how to learn Hangul here in Lingodeer’s free course.

Step 4: Building Syllable Blocks with Two Bricks of Hangul (Minimum)

From Step 4, we will start building syllable blocks, also known as Korean characters. The smallest syllable consists of two bricks: a consonant and a vowel. 

Left + right 

The two bricks can be placed in a left + right structure, with the consonant on the left and the vowel on the right. 

ㅇ + ㅓ = 어

ㅂ + ㅏ = 바

 

ㅎ + ㅣ = 히

 

how to learn hangul: 가

 

Up + down 

The two bricks can also be placed in an up+down structure, with the consonant on the top and the vowel at the bottom. 

ㄷ + ㅗ = 도

ㅋ + ㅜ = 쿠

 

ㅈ + ㅛ = 죠

 

how to learn hangul: 구

 

Left + right (complex) 

In a left + right structure, if the vowel is a complex vowel, then the consonant only takes the upper left quarter of the syllable block. 

ㅈ + ㅟ = 쥐

  

ㅅ + ㅚ = 쇠

how to learn hangul: 귀

 

Step 5: Building syllable blocks with three bricks of Hangul

A fancier syllable block is built with three bricks: it has a foundation now. 

Left + right + bottom 

Left + right structure in Step 4 can be built on top of a final consonant at the bottom. 

ㅂ + ㅏ + ㄴ = 반

 

how to learn hangul: 간

 

Up + down + bottom 

Similarly, the up + down structure can also be built on top of a final consonant. 

ㅂ + ㅗ + ㄴ = 본

how to learn hangul: 군

Left + right (complex) + bottom

What if the vowel on the right is a complex vowel? The final consonant does not interfere with the part above it at all. 

ㄱ + ㅟ + ㄴ = 귄 

how to learn hangul: 귄

A member we almost missed! ㅇ with a cloak of invisibility

We almost missed a consonant member, because this naughty little one carries a cloak of invisibility! When it serves as the initial in building a syllable block, it remains absolutely silent. When it serves as the final in building a syllable block, it’s pronounced as the nasal /ng/. 

ㅇ + ㅔ = 에 e

  

ㅁ + ㅏ + ㅇ = 망 mang

  

Step 6: Building Syllable Blocks with Four Bricks of Hangul (Maximum)

Level up! Now we are trying to build syllable blocks with four bricks, the maximum number of letters a syllable block can accommodate. 

Left + right + left bottom + right bottom 

One step forward: building the foundation with two final consonants. 

ㅁ + ㅏ + ㄴ + ㅎ =

 

how to learn hangul: 많

Notice

Not any possible combination of two consonants can serve as the final consonants, and there are only 7 possible pronunciations for the 27 possible final consonants. 

Actual pronunciations Finals 
ㄱ,ㅋ,ㄲ,ㄳ,ㄺ
ㄴ,ㄵ,ㄶ
ㄷ,ㅆ,ㅅ,ㅈ,ㅊ,ㅌ,ㅎ
ㄹ,ㄼ,ㄽ,ㄾ,ㅀ,ㄺ
ㅁ,ㄻ
ㅂ,ㅍ,ㅄ,ㄿ,ㄼ

Step 7: Trying to Read Hangul

After becoming familiar with the letters and the construction of syllable blocks, now we can try to read Korean words and phrases. The rule is: in a word or phrase, read character by character, and one character at a time. Within one character, read from left to right, from top to bottom. The following image illustrates how to read 안녕하세요 letter by letter. It’s the most common greeting phrase in Korean and I bet you’ve heard of it.

 order of strokes in hangul

Step 8: Trying to Write/Type Hangul

The next step, after being able to read, is to attempt to write or type Korean characters. If you try to write a Korean character, you need to know the correct sequence of letters and strokes. The rule on the character level is the same as in reading: from left to right, from top to bottom. When we zoom in on the letters, you also need to know how many strokes each letter consists of and the order to write the strokes. For example, ㄱ is written with only one stroke as shown in the following picture.

how to write a stroke

The following image illustrates the stroke order to write all the basic vowels and consonants.

how to write Hangul consonants and vowels
image source: jreidy17

If you try to type out Korean on your computer or phone, knowing the Korean keyboard layout is indispensable. After getting familiar with the Korean keyboard layout, you can try to type out letters just in the order just like how you would write them.

 Korean keyboard layout
image source: Desalas

Step 9: Practice Makes Perfect

You might take one or two more weeks to memorize the entire set of Hangul. During this period, we have a few tips for you.

First, stop relying on Romanization! It might be slow to try to read things directly in Hangul, but do not take the easy way or you will never learn.

Second, use flashcards to strengthen your memory and test yourself the ones which are especially hard for you.

Third, keep reading and learning new words. Memorizing the alphabet and new words simultaneously is way more efficient. 

Quiz Point

Try to read the following words:

Level 1: 이, 거리, 아버지, 어머니, 여자 

Level 2: 줘, 왜, 사귀다, 사과, 퀴즈

Level 3: 여관, 습관, 상상, 형, 일기, 은행 

Level 4: 괜찮다, 읽다, 귀찮다, 없다, 값 

Beyond the Alphabet

As you familiarize yourself with the Korean alphabet, they are a few more things that will be helpful to your learning. 

A Couple of Important Phonological Rules in How to Learn Hangul

You can basically read almost anything in Korean by knowing Hangul, but here are a couple of important phonological rules that can help you read particular words correctly. 

Plosive sounds [ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ] are unreleased at a final position. Your mouth needs to be prepared to produce the plosive finals but never actually released to make the sounds audible. Try to pronounce the following words. 

빅뱅

먹다

Syllable contact law: the end of the previous syllable cannot be more sonorant than the beginning of the following syllable. Usually, when the former syllable ends with a final ㅋ, ㄲ,  ㄱ and the following syllable starts with a nasal, the previous final consonant will be nasalized as a /ng/. See the following examples. 

국민 -> 궁민 

닉네임 -> 닝네임 

sound change rules when reading hangul

Younger brothers in the families (step 3), also known as plain/lax Korean plosives, are voiced in intervocalic positions. Try to pronounce the following words. 

바보 pabo

기금 kigeum

Chinese Characters Popping Up?

If you try to learn Korean through news reports or TV shows, you are probably surprised to see some Chinese characters popping up in Korean texts every now and then. Here are a few examples of commonly used Chinese characters in Korean, known as Hanja. 

北 North. Typically used to represent North Korea. 

南 South. Typically used to represent South Korea.

無 Nothing, non-existent.   

Korean news titles involving Chinese characters

爱 Love. 

爱 among Hangul

中 Center, middle. Typically used to represent China.

中 among Hangul

This is likely to be a lot of information for you as a beginner to process. Don’t worry if you cannot pronounce words perfectly at this stage!

Wondering what the next step in learning Korean is? Common greeting and phrases? Grammatical rules? Which app is better for learning Korean? Keep following our blog and getting useful tips about everything you need to know in learning Korean.

Click here for the most detailed Korean study guide

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Parth Biswas
Parth Biswas
1 year ago

This article was so helpful! Thank you so much! I have tried learning Hangul before, but it was never explained so well. I am glad to have found this website! 😀

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2 years ago

[…] writing, and many Korean words, such as numbers, were influenced by the Chinese language. After Hangul was born, Koreans have developed two number systems with distinct usage over the […]

Disuli Hasanya
Disuli Hasanya
2 years ago

good.But I can t join bricks..in this manner i think i can make bricks left to right and top to bottom.so my question is like example i think to write annyeonghaseyo so in this way i can make bricks i think..

Shah
Shah
2 years ago

amazing article with great visualizations – i can tell just how much time you must have spent writing this. hangul is a lot easier than i thought!