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Korean Script & Romanization Explanation

by Sabino Pena Arcia (Starian)

Welcome to the Korean Script & Romanization Explanation here at Unilang's free languages resources. We want to help you learn foreign languages and we hope this little explanation can help. This explanation is a brief introduction or foreword, to the forthcoming Korean course which will be available soon. It will allow you to understand the basics about the Korean script and the romanization rules involved in it, also a simple pronunciation guide, so you can have enough information to be ready to begin the course, and learn faster when taking the course itself. I hope you find this useful for your learning.

About 70 million people speak Korean. Although most speakers of Korean live on the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands, more than 5 million are scattered throughout the world.

The Korean people have developed and use a unique alphabet called Hangeul. It is considered one of the most efficient alphabets in the world and has garnered unanimous praise from language experts for its scientific design and excellence.
Hangeul was created under King Sejong during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In 1446, the first Korean alphabet was proclaimed under the name Hunminjeongeum, which literally meant "the Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People." This new system is predominately based on phonological studies, and it uses a tripartite division of the syllables, which in fact was a theory developed by King Sejong and the scholars who assisted him. As a result from this we get the actual tripartite division of the Korean syllables into initial, medial and final, as opposed to the bipartite division of traditional Chinese phonology.

The initial sounds are the consonants letters of which there are five basic forms. The other initial letters were derived by adding strokes to the basic letters. No letters were invented for the final sounds, the initial letters being used for that purpose. The original Hunminjeongeum text also explains that the medial sounds are the vowels of which there are three basic forms.

This syllable grouping is an interesting fact about the Korean language. However, the Korean script is essentially different from such syllabic writing systems as Japanese Kana. It is an alphabetic system, which is characterized by syllabic grouping.


Here we got all the letters in the Korean alphabet.


These are the simple vowels.


These are the simple double vowels (Notice the extra line on each)


NOTE 1: There are other vowels and special diphthongs that are going to be explained later, after seeing how the letter grouping works.


These are all the consonants.

ㄱㄲㅋ ㄷㄸㅌ ㅂㅃㅍ ㅈㅉㅊㅅㅆ

Ok... We have seen all the consonants and the simple vowels, now, What are you supposed to do with them? How do you take all those letters and make words with them?.. All that and more, next, after the commercial break :-P ;-)

Letters into words

First of all let's memorize these few rules to group letters in Korean:

  1. All the syllables are written in a square box
  2. A syllable must have at least a vowel and a consonant
  3. Syllables begin with a consonant *

A syllable that consists of a consonant and a vertical vowel ( ㅏㅓㅣㅐㅔ), its written with the consonant to the left and the vowel to the right.

 ㅈ + ㅔ= 제

  J      E = Je

A syllable that consists of a consonant and a horizontal vowel ( ㅗㅜㅡ ) its written with the consonant above the vowel (The latter goes down/below).

ㅅ + ㅜ = 수

 S     U = Su

If a syllable has a consonant, a vowel and the final consonant, the latter goes at the end of the syllable (below)

ㄱ + ㅏ + ㄹ = 갈

 G    A     L  = Gal

ㄷ + ㅜ + ㄴ = 둔

 D     U     N = Dun

Now you know how to write in Korean... But hey!, syllables begin with a consonant, but words like (AN), which means INSIDE in Korean, how can be written then?.

The answer is.. A consonant  ㅇ which is mute if it's placed in the initial position, letting the medial (vowel) sound be actually the first (Acting like a " placeholder"). You will get it with the examples.

ㅇ + ㅏ + ㄴ = 안

 -      A     N  = An

ㅇ + ㅜ + ㄴ = 운

 -      U     N   = Un

Now you know how to write things using the Korean script... But there's even more I haven't showed you, and it's the special vowels and diphthongs, which I wanted to show after getting to know the way the syllable grouping works.

Special vowels and diphthongs

There's even more as I said before.

ㅚ ㅟ These 2 are considered special simple vowels in Korean (See that they are actually 2 letters in one)

ㅘ ㅙ ㅝ ㅞ ㅢ These are the so called diphthongs in the Korean language (Again, it's a grouping of 2 letters into one)

Ok now, pretty cool, isn't it?. You might be wondering, "Cool, I know the script now... But I still don't know which Latin letter each of those characters represent, or sound like".. And.. You're right. Here's when the romanization comes in.


Korean is a difficult language to Romanize, given the variety of vowel and consonant phonemes and the complex rules for their realization. There have been TONS of romanization system used with the Korean language, though the most widely accepted and used, until mid 2000, were the McCune-Reischauer System (1939)(Mostly used on the west) and the and the Ministry of Education System (1959) (Mostly used in Korea).

In 1984 the romanization system was revised along the lines of the McCune-Reischauer System, with a few modifications, so that the two systems most widely used in Korea and the West were then, in effect, the same. This system, didn't represent the language itself, but it kind of did its work. On July 2000, the Ministry of Culture & Tourism of Korea revised the romanization system used, and set the definitive romanization system, which according to many studies by that Ministry, truly represented the language and diminished the confusion to the Koreans as well to the westerners (Although at the beginning it would probably increase, because of the innovation).

Here comes the tricky part. I, being a westerner, use this latter romanization system, which is the officially used in Korea, because I think that it's the most correct and easy to understand and use. And it's the one I work with of course, so this explanation uses it, and the course will do so.

My advice here is... DON'T RELY ON ROMANIZATION for your learning, unless it's extremely needed to. Use it as a tool for your learning, but DON'T rely on it. (I can't stress that enough).

So, here next, It's the summary of the romanization system:


a eo o u eu i ae e oe wi ya yeo yo yu yae ye wa wae wo we ui


g, k kk k d, t tt t b, p pp p
j jj ch
s ss h
n m ng
r, l

Note 1 : The sounds ㄱ, ㄷ, and ㅂ are transcribed respectively as g, d, and b when they appear before a vowel; they are transcribed as k, t, and p when followed by another consonant or form the final sound of a word.

Note 2: ㄹ is transcribed as r when followed by a vowel, and as l when followed by a consonant or when appearing at the end of a word. ㄹㄹ is transcribed as ll.

Note 3: The sound of the letter ㅅ when it's in the final position or followed by a consonant it's transcribed as T.

Note 4: When there is the possibility of confusion in pronunciation, a hyphen '-' may be used.

e.g. 중앙 Jung-ang 반구대 Ban-gudae
세운 Se-un 해운대 Hae-undae

This is it with the romanization. Now you might want to know how to pronounce everything, don't you?. A SIMPLIFIED pronunciation guide coming up next.

Pronunciation Guide

This is going to be a SMALL and SIMPLE guide to help you with the pronunciation.

ㅏ = sounds like Spanish "A"

ㅓ = It has a sound between Spanish "O" and German "Ö", preceded by a really small English "e" as in "Be "

ㅗ = sounds like Spanish "O"

ㅜ = sounds like Spanish "U" or English "OO" in "Moon"

ㅡ = similar sound to the French "U", German "Ü", Finnish "Y"

ㅣ= sounds like Spanish "I" or English "ee" in "Cheers"

ㅐ= sounds like Spanish "E"

ㅔ= sounds like Spanish "E" (The difference between this one and the latter it's HARDLY perceptible)

ㅟ = sounds like English "we"

ㅑ = sounds like English "ya" in "Yacht", or English "Ja"

ㅕ = add the English "J" or Spanish " ll" sound before the simple vowel ㅓ. Like English "John" in some way.

ㅛ = add the English "J" or Spanish " ll" sound before the simple vowel ㅗ. Like Spanish "Yo".

ㅠ = add the English "J" or Spanish " ll" sound before the simple vowel ㅜ. Like Spanish "llu" in " Lluvia", or English "you".

ㅒ = add the English "J" or Spanish " ll" sound before the simple vowel ㅐ.

ㅖ = add the English "J" or Spanish " ll" sound before the simple vowel ㅔ.

ㅘ = sounds somewhat like French "Oi" in "besoir", and/or English "wa" in "was" or Spanish "ua " in "Juan"

ㅙ = sounds almost like English "whe" in "when", and Spanish "bue" in "bueno".

ㅞ = sounds like English "whe" in " when", and Spanish "bue" in "bueno".

ㅝ = sounds like English "wo" in "won"

ㅢ = sounds like English "oo" in moon but shorter followed by a "ee" in "bee" but shorter (Llike "oo" "ee", or spanish "U" "i")

Those were nearly all the vowel sounds in Korean. The consonants sound mostly as in English, except some which I'm going to explain below.

ㄱ = sounds like "g" in English "Gay " or Spanish "Gato". (Ohh, remember that the sound might change according to the letter position in the syllable. See: ROMANIZATION)

ㅅ, ㅆ = They sound just like English "s ", but there's an exception. When they are followed by the vowel ㅣit sounds like English "she". (Ohh, remember that the sound might change according to the letter position in the syllable. See: ROMANIZATION)

ㄹ = Sounds like Spanish "R" in " Corea". NEVER like English, French and/or German "R". (Ohh, remember that the sound might change according to the letter position in the syllable. See: ROMANIZATION)

All the other letters, and the letter's sounds (according to the position) behave as in English.


Here are some tips.

  • Have fun with the Korean alphabet!. Try to write your name using the Korean alphabet, or small sentences and other interesting stuff. It will help you to practice, and improve your skills. One thing I did lots, and actually do, was to write in Hangeul (Korean Script) my secrets on my diary. It's a really cool practice tool!. It's fun, helps you out, and FEW will be able to understand what you wrote!!!.

  • Listen listen listen... Listen to Korean music and find the lyrics of the songs, and try to follow and read the song. In the beginning it's gonna be a very difficult task, but with practice you get used, and then you will be able to read, and SING! those songs!

These tips will definitively get you used with the hangeul!


This is the end of the explanation. Now you've learned the basics about Korean script, romanization and pronunciation. In the future, we will have a Korean course available, until now this is all. However, we do have some more information about the Korean language on the UniLang Wiki! So continue looking! Now you know some basics you will probably manage to learn more with other aids from our site (or another).

Thanks for your interest in this explanation! If you discovered any mistakes or you just want to say something then please let us know.