The Korean word for their language is "hangookeo". The written language, called hangul is pretty much phonetic, and very easy to learn. I was capable of reading Korean characters within a week of coming to South Korea.

Westerners find the pronunciation somewhat difficult, as the sounds of many of their letters are halfway between two English letters. The vowels in particular are rather tricky. The romanization varies depending on who you ask, but if I had to write, in English, the vowel sounds that exist in Korean, I would write them as: "ah", "yah", "oeuh" (almost like the "aw" in "law", but with a bit of an "euh" sound... this is easily the hardest vowel for me to pronounce), "yoeuh", "oh", "yo", "oo", "yoo", "ee", "uh" and two different ones that both sound like "ae" to me.

Since I mentioned the vowels, I might as well talk about the consonants. The consonant sounds available in Korean are: something halfway between "g" and "k"; a hard "k"; "n"; halfway between "s" and "sh"; halfway between "b" and "p"; "p"; "ng"; "j"; "ch"; "m"; "d"; "t"; halfway between "r" and "l"; and "h".

It's worth noting that it is impossible to have two consecutive consonants within a single character in Korean. This is why Koreans often put extraneous vowels into their English speech, often resulting in extra syllables. For instance, my name, Alex, when spoken in Korean, becomes "Ahl-laek-suh," since it isn't possible to finish the word with the "ks" sound (represented by "x").

While it is certainly true that in spoken Korean, there are never two consecutive consonants in the same syllable; It should be noted that this is not true of written Korean, called Hangul. Many Korean syllables have two consecutive consonants. Some even have two sets of double consonants. There are two cases in which this occurs:


    examples:

  • 1. The korean verb "to read" is spelled with four letters arranged in one syllable. The mute consonant to indicate the syllable starts with a vowel sound, the vowel "i" (pronounced as a long 'e'), the consonant "r/l", and the consonant "k/g".

    When the verb is in its dictionary form, it is followed by the syllable "da." In this case, the "k/g" sound is dropped and the verb is pronounced approximately like "ir-da". However, in certain cases, such as past tense (verb + "ot" pronounced as 'oat') the verb is followed by a vowel, in which case, the "k/g" sound is brought back as part of the following syllable "ir-kot".

  • 2. The verb "to use" is spelled with three letters. Two of the consonant "s" and the vowel "eu" (sounds like the grunt made by getting hit in the stomach). The result is a slightly sharper pronunciation of the "s" consonant "sseu."
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