How I learned 한글

Rote memorization would probably be the simplest way of learning a new alphabet. Take some flashcards, write the character on the front, sound on the back, and then drill yourself until it’s branded into your memory. I tried this with the Japanese syllabaries and it worked. I tried it with Hangeul and failed miserably. No matter how many times I went through it, I would get ㅏ and ㅓmixed up, ㅗ and ㅜ mixed up and, sometimes, if the cards flipped directions as I shuffled them, I would get all four mixed up with each other. With Hiragana/Katakana I could make a sort of visual-auditory connection because the letters looked so different but Korean was too difficult. So, I ended up learning Hangeul in a weird, roundabout, organic kind of way without really TRYING to learn it through rote memorization.

I realized later on that I needed to see the Hangeul arranged in actual words before I could learn the sounds of the individual characters, which is kind of backwards from how people normally learn it. After reading up on some basics of how Korean words are formed (they are made up of characters like ㅗ ㄹ ㅁ ㅊ ㅡ ㅓ arranged in syllabic blocks), I printed out a Hangeul chart which depicted all of the characters and their sounds and started carrying it around with me. Now, at that point, I’d already been obsessed with K-pop for a while; I had the Romanized lyrics (bad!) in my iPod and I could at least mimic the sounds of the song even if I had no idea what it was actually about. So after I learned the basics of how writing and spelling worked in Korean (even though I hadn’t memorized the individual Hangeul characters yet), I looked up the Hangeul lyrics for these songs. 동방신기’s “Hug” was the first song I did this for. I had a basic idea of how the song sounded so I started mentally associating how certain words “looked” in Hangeul with how they “sounded.” So for example, I’d hear:

haruman ni bang-e chimdae-ga doego ship’eo

And, when I looked up the Hangeul lyrics, that was actually:

하루만 네 방의 침대가 되고 싶어

Since I knew kind of how Korean words worked at that point, I could infer that 하루만 = haruman, which meant that 하 = ha, 루 = ru, and 만 = man. Then, I’d store away ㅎ = h, ㅏ = a, ㄹ = r/l, ㅜ = oo, etc. And then the next time I saw those characters, I’d automatically remember their sounds because I associated them with being a part of word I already knew.

After figuring out some characters like this, I started to practice “reading” by Romanizing Hangeul lyrics, using my Hangeul chart whenever I forgot certain characters. By comparing my Romanizations to what I heard in the actual song, I started to figure out certain pronunciation exceptions. For example, the ㅔ in 네 is sometimes pronounced as ㅣwhen it means “you” and 의 is pronounced as ㅔ when it is a possessive marker. I also figured out that there are pronunciation changes depending on what consonants follow each other in a word. Like 연락 (“communication/contact”) is pronounced yeonllak not yeon-rak. The ㄴ/ㄹ combination makes a ㄹ/ㄹ sound. Again, I didn’t have to memorize or study these rules per se; context helped me retain them better in my memory.

The way I learned Hangeul is probably one of the most inefficient ways to learn an alphabet that comprises only 24 relatively simple characters. But it was a process of discovery for me. I skipped memorizing and studying all the rules and used a familiar context to help me associate Korean sounds with Korean writing in a way that felt fun and natural to me.


  1. Jeannie says:

    You learn 한글 in a unique way! I memorized the letters in just an hour but back then I spell like this ㄷ ㅗ ㅇ ㅂ ㅏ ㅇ ㅅ ㅣ ㄴ ㄱ ㅣ and I couldn’t read 동방신기 in it’s right spelling so I did Romanization work for this one forum so I’ll be more familiar with how 한글 works^^ I use to get confused with how ㅓ & ㅗ, ㅔ , ㅐ & ㅢ sounds. “Hug” reminds me of my first translation work ㅋㅋㅋ


    1. Archana says:

      Yeah, it’s funny how I learned about how Korean was made up of syllable blocks before I actually learned the individual 한글 자모. I think distinguishing between the aspirated, plain, and glottalized 자모 (like ㅋ, ㄱ, ㄲ) was kind of hard for me at first. Hehe I’ve translated “Hug”too. It sounds so stalkerish in English. ㅋㅋ


  2. 어머, 우리 똑똑한 두 학생 나빼고 여기서 같이 놀고 있었네. ;) 반가워요~


    1. Archana says:

      ㅋㅋㅋ 네~^^ 반가워요 언니~


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