In my first, “Let’s Read Korean” blog, I showed you to Korean consonants. If you just sit down and write them a bit, you can get them in your head easily. They aren’t hard to learn at all. According to experts, they are actually easier on our eyes than English letters. It is harder to diagnose people with dyslexia in Korean than in America because the Korean letters are easier to learn to read than English letters. The next step is learning to read the vowels. The vowels are also easy on our eyes. They are systematic and make sense. They may seem a bit more complicated because vowel sounds are not always as concrete as consonants. You can also combine vowel sounds to make different sounds, so you may think of them as a bit harder than the Korean consonants, but not as hard as English letters. Here we go!
ㅏ= “a” like in “father” (written beside the consonant)
ㅑ= ya, with the “a” like in “father” (written beside the consonant)
ㅐ= short “e” sound. There are two letters that have the short “e” sound. At one time, there was a difference in the sound of these letters, but they lost the difference a long time ago, so now a days, they say them the same, and no one remembers the difference. (Written beside the consonant)
ㅔ= short “e” sound (written beside the consonant)
ㅒ= ye, with the short “e” sound (written beside the consonant)
ㅖ = ye, with the short “e” sound (written beside the consonant)
ㅣ= the long “e” sound, you hear the name of the letter “e.” (written beside the consonant)
ㅗ = the long “o” sound, you year the name of the letter “o.” (written under the consonant)
ㅓ= the Koreans say this sound is “eo.” However, for a beginner in Korean, I know that is hard to think about contorting your mouth into this sound because we never do that in English. They don’t do it in Korean either, so don’t try the way they have it written in English. There are two letters here that we don’t make a difference in when we speak English. To us, they are both long “o” sounds. The only difference between them is that this one is like the Ohio Valley accent of the letter “o.” However, if you have never been to the Ohio Valley, that is hard too. The best way to describe the difference is that this one is said higher in your mouth and you round your lips more. You just have to practice a bit. It was one of the harder letters for me to master, and it may be for you too. Just round your lips more than you normally do when you say a long “o,” then push your mouth up, and then say the long “o” with a funny accent. (written beside the consonant)
ㅛ = yo, with a long “o” sound (written under the consonant)
ㅕ= yo, with the funny “o” sound with the more rounded lips (written beside the consonant)
ㅡ = short “u” or just a grunt. It is the “u” sound like is in “under.” (written under the consonant)
ㅜ = long “u” sound. It is like the “u” in “glue.” (written under the consonant)
ㅠ = yu with the long “u” sound. It is pronounced like the word “you.” (written under the consonant)
Vowel Combination Sounds:
ㅘ= this is the ㅗ and the ㅏ combined. It is said “wa.”
ㅙ= ㅗ and ㅐ combined is pronounced like the word “way.”
ㅚ = This is ㅗ and ㅣ combined. It is pronounced like “wee” or like the word “way” or simply “ay,” it is all according to which word they are in.
ㅝ = This is ㅜ and ㅓ combined. It is pronounced like “whoa” like when you ask a horse to stop.
ㅞ = This is ㅜand ㅔ combined. It is pronounced “oo-e” or “whey.”
ㅢ= This is ㅡ and ㅣ combined. It is pronounced like “wee” or simple “oo-ee.”
Okay, now, I think I have searched out all the combinations for you. Any time a word begins with a vowel or a vowel combination, you will see ㅇ at the beginning of the word. An example is 의 which is pronounced “oo-ee” and is the syllable that is like our apostrophe “s” that designates possession. If you put 과 is pronounced “ko-ah” and means “and,” but there is another word meaning and, 와, and it is pronounced “wah.”
I will teach you more about how to put these letters together to make the syllables and then wors in the next blog about the Korean alphabet.