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Learn the Korean Language: In-Depth Guide to Pronunciation and Grammar Rules

Your Guide to Korean Language Pronunciation and Grammar Rules

If you're a complete beginner to the Korean language and haven't played the Korean Alphabet Game yet, you might want to do that first so you are able to read characters and words fluently before getting into the more advanced pronunciation and grammar. Although Korean has a completely different writing system from English, it is by no means nearly as difficult as you think it is. In comparison to languages such as Chinese and Japanese that requires you to learn characters one at a time individually, the Korean alphabet is actually quite straightforward. For more information on the best way to learn Japanese, follow the link mentioned for our complete guide to the basics of Japanese along with our Japanese Alphabet Game.

For this reason, you shouldn't be deterred from learning Korean simply because of how different its writing system is! After playing the Korean Alphabet Game, you should have realized just how easy it is to learn how to read Korean in a mere matter of hours. Instead of using traditional methods that could take weeks if not months to learn how to read, use our proven approach and you'll be reading fluently in no time. Hopefully, that was enough to give you the confidence and motivation you need to start seriously learning Korean.

When you do get into pronunciation and grammar, you can refer to our own Korean Pronunciation and Grammar Guide to get a good understanding of all the different letters and rules involved in both speaking and reading Korean properly. By following our Korean language learning hacks, you will be able to practically applied what you've learned to real life situations in order to progress at a faster rate.

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Korean Pronunciation and Writing System

The Korean alphabet and pronunciation system at first glance are not hard to learn. It is when you need to start applying sound change rules that the system can get a bit tricky.

We'll go over the basics here, but you may refer to the Korean Hangul infographic (below) and the Korean Alphabet Game to learn the alphabet very well. In addition, the Glossika IPA Channel and relevant image representing the sound of alphabet in your mouth will be a great source for you to acquire the accurate pronunciation.

There are two ways we can view an alphabet such as Korean:

  1. It is phonemic in nature: it represents the underlying sounds associated with a word as it has descended to the present day through history. Such as the English word "night" retaining {gh} in the middle of the word, but no longer pronounced. If you just want to learn the letters, we recommend using the Yale Romanization alphabet game. This is easiest and quickest to learn. If you are a linguist who is writing papers about the Korean language, then the Yale romanization is the international standard that you should use (note: linguistics papers never write languages in their native scripts).

  2. Applying a few sound rules to the spelling brings us to the modern real pronunciation that everybody uses in everyday speech, which linguists call "phonetic." The difference can be shown in "to do" spelled "hapnita" and pronounced "hamnida." You certainly should not pronounce the {p} as it's written. Another example is "independent" spelled "toklip" and pronounced "tongnip." If you play the Glossika Phonetic alphabet game, you will not only learn all the letters but also their correct pronunciations as well. This is the tool you should use to acquire the most accurate pronunciation.

The Vowel System

Korean has the following vowels in IPA:
/a, ɛ, e, ʌ, o, u, ɯ, i/
The vowels are equivalent to a romanized version as follows:
{a, ae, e, ŏ, o, u, ŭ, i}
The vowels represented in Hangul as follows:
{아, 애, 에, 어, 오, 우, 으, 이}
(notice each vowel is preceded by an empty place holder circle)

These vowels can be preceded by both {y} and {w}:
Y: {야, 얘, 예, 여, 요, 유}
W: {와, 왜, 웨, 워}

Some vowels can be followed by {y}:
{의, 외, 위}

If you're learning the Yale romanization, then technically 애 and 에 are 아 and 어 followed by 이 {y} resulting in: ay and ey, respectively.

learn korean language guide to pronunciation rules

The Consonant System

Korean does not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced consonants as we do in English. Instead they are in allophonic variation with each other. Allophonic variation means that a letter is pronounced in one way (unvoiced) under a certain condition and another way (voiced) in another condition. An example of this is the English letter {t}: in "top" it is aspirated, in "stop" it is unaspirated, in "better" it is flapped, and in "gotten" it is a glottal stop.

Korean [r, l] are also in allophonic variation. You may have noticed that Koreans don't always get these sounds right when speaking English, but this is because they are considered the same sound in Korean, and tightly influenced by the conditions in which they manifest. In English, the conditions are different, and the sounds can be isolated as separate sounds which is why it can be difficult for a Korean speaker. In fact, [r, l] have another allophone: [n] which you will learn to apply when practicing the Korean phonetic game at Glossika.

Introduction to Korean Grammar

Korean is essentially a language isolate. This means that according to linguists and scientists who study language, there is not enough evidence available today to prove its existence of relation with any other language.

On the surface, Korean resembles Japanese in many ways, both syntactically and stylistically. These two languages are theoretically grouped with a larger language family called “Altaic,” which includes Turkic languages and Mongolian. For anybody who knows Turkish, you'll probably find a lot of grammatical similarities with Korean. However, as linguists point out, there isn't enough evidence to prove that a relation exists.

Korean is different from English in virtually every possible way. To learn Korean through an English construct or English way of thinking is misleading. Although Glossika does teach you a large number of sentences and patterns via English, you'll soon find that such a crutch will have to be dropped once you start getting into real Korean conversations.

For example, our sentences may introduce you to pronouns about who is doing what, however Korean isn't just a pronoun-drop language -- it is actually a stylistic difference as well, as there is no marking of who does an action on the verb (verbs don't conjugate in the European sense). Stylistically speaking, the doer of the action is supposed to be obvious based on the context of the conversation.

This means that in many of the sentences that you learn, much of the identifying information can be dropped in real conversation.

learn korean language guide to grammar rules

To learn to speak Korean properly means that you need to start thinking about how the Korean construct a sentence from their way of thinking. We find that this is true for most East Asian languages, including Chinese, which is just as much as different from Korean as it is from English. Because of this, it's important to learn Korean by example as a native speaker would speak rather than constructing what you think would be a valid Korean sentence. Saying something that you believe is a complete idea both logically and semantically but what a Korean person may not be used to or may not have heard before could result in a complete misunderstanding or just nonsense to the native speaker. Rather than translating from your native language to Korean, you'll have to "translate" your translation into a Korean way of speaking. This is why we recommend learning through example sentences until you have a better sense of the grammar structure.

As a foreigner coming into contact with Korean for the first time, a basic level of respect would be expected -- after all, this is the first time you've met the person and feelings can be offended quite easily with the wrong choice of words. A major difference with how most western languages are becoming less and less formal: people are opting for the informal you (tu, du, ty, ты) over the formal you (Usted, vous, Lei, Sie, vy, Вы) as quickly as possible when meeting someone. Take note: this is not a trend that you'll want to continue in Korean. It is best to stick with the person's name followed by -ssi 씨 instead of using "you".

Despite these hurdles, let's start taking a look at how to construct basic sentences in Korean:

A Korean sentence is in the order of Subject - Object - Verb and it prefers postpositions attached to the ends of words rather than using prepositions.

Various things can be attached to the ends of sentences, and even make the whole previous clause as part of a new embedded clause for something that is coming up.

To make a sentence into a question at the end of the sentence add "-kka" 까 in polite speech and add "-yeyo" 예요 in casual speech.

Try to get into the habit of thinking about which particle every word will take.

This adding of postpositions means that every noun in a sentence is marked by some particle. So let's begin with nouns.

Mastering the Korean Language

With a mastery of the Korean alphabet and strong understanding of Korean pronunciation and grammar rules, take the next step by first downloading our free Korean Pronunciation and Grammar Ebook guide. When playing the Korean Alphabet Game, you should have received a Korean fluency trial course to give you a feel for using the Glossika Spaced Repetition (GSR) method. By using training yourself to comprehend the sentences presented to you instead of trying to memorize them through traditional means, you are able to internalize what you've learned much more effectively in a natural and intuitive way.

KOREAN PRONUNCIATION AND GRAMMAR GUIDE