In the first blog in this series, I taught you to read the Korean consonants. In the second blog, I taught you to read the Korean vowels as well as the sounds when the vowels are combined. In this one, I will teach you to read the syllables, and then some words.
Korean is written from left to write like English, but it is not all written on the same line. It is written in syllable groupings that have one or two sounds at the top and one or two sounds at the bottom, and sometimes three sounds at the bottom. You begin a Korean word with a consonant. However, not all words begin with consonants, so if the word doesn’t begin with a consonant, you begin it with the Korean letter “ㅇ.” “ㅇ” is kind of like a space saver or taker at the beginning of a word. It makes not sound. It just has to be there if the word doesn’t begin with a consonant. It looks like a zero, and it has zero sound if it begins a word. It has sound only at the end of the word, and then it is an “ng” sound.
Now, let’s put some syllables together and see how they sound:
나= nah. This is a syllable, and it means “I” or “me” in English according to which article comes after it. ㅏ is always written to the right of the consonant.
나는= nah nun. This is two different syllables, and two different words. 나, as I said before is “I’ or “me” according to the article that comes after it. 는 happens to be the article that makes 나 into “I.” ㅡ is one of the vowels that must be below the consonant, and then you can put another consonant after it, or in some cases, put nothing below it.
나의 = nah oo-ee. This is also two different syllables. As I said before, 나 is the first person pronoun, either “I” or “me” according to the article that comes after it. Here, you have the possessive mark after it that after most words is equivalent to and apostrophe “s” meaning it belongs to the person. For example, my name is Ronda, so if I put Ronda 의, it is the same as Ronda’s, meaning it belongs to me. This makes 나의 = my.
일 = eel. This is one of the words that begins with an “ㅇ” because it begins with a vowel sound. The vowel is written next to the “ㅇ.” the “ㄹ” is written on the bottom. This word means “work,” the noun.
일어요= eel eo yo. This is the verb “work” or “works.” the first part of the word is the same as the one above. The second syllable starts with “ㅇ” again because “ㅓ” is a vowel, and it must be written next to a consonant. The third syllable begins with “ㅇ” again. The letter “ㅛ” is places below it.
읽 어요 = eelk eo yo. This is a verb that means “read” or “reads” in simple present tense. That means usually or everyday. The first syllable is a bit more complicated, but the last two are like the verb 일어요 which is above. With this verb, it begins with the “ㅇ” that holds the place of the consonant, and then it has the “ㅣ” beside it. After that, two consonants are below it: “ㄹ” is “L” in this case, and “ㄱ” is read as “k” in this case. That means that “ㄺ” is read as “lk.”
마음 = mah um, pronounced kind of like our word “mom,” which means heart or mind. As you can see the “ㅁ” with the “ㅏ” next to it, and then on the next syllable, it begins with the “ㅇ” again which means the next syllable begins with a vowel. The vowel is “ㅡ,” the short vowel sound, and then it has another “ㅁ” below it.
읽었어요 = eelk eoss eoyo. This means “read,” past tense, like “I read a book yesterday.” Everything is the same as when I wrote 읽어요 above except it has an extra syllable: ” 었.” That is the syllable that makes it past tense. That syllable begins with the “ㅇ” again, then has the “ㅓ” that is written next to the consonant again. Lastly, it has what they call a double shi-ot at the bottom: “ㅆ.” That is two “s’s.” In this case, it is read as an “s,” but not always.
읽었다 = eelk eott dah. This also means “read” in past tense. However, it is the form they write on the page. The other is a kind way of saying “read.” This one has many more “stops” of the tongue in it, and it makes is sound harder when it is spoken. The middle syllable has that double shi-ot (ss) again, but it is not pronounces as an “s” here because of the consonant sound that comes after it. Here the “.ㅆ” is pronounced like a double “t.” The last syllable begins with a “ㄷ.” and then ends with a “ㅏ.” “다” is “dah,’ and it comes at the end of a verb that is written on the page or more formal.
십자가= sheep jah gah, meaning “cross.” In this case, the “ㅅ” (shi-ot) in the first syllable is not merely an “s” sound. Because the “ㅣ” comes right after it, it turns into an “sh” sound. Often the “ㅂ” at the bottom of the first syllable is said as an English “p,” but when you look on the hangul (the Korean alphabet) charts, it is labeled as a “b,” and sometimes it is pronounced that way too. It is just one of those Korean oddities that you must get used to. They tell you technically it is pronounced one way, but when they speak, we hear something different. It is almost like us writing a “t” in English, but often we day a “d” instead of a “”t.” It is an English oddity that foreigner must get used to. The next syllable begins with a “ㅈ” and then ends with an “ㅏ.” Those two letters combined, it is pronounced like “jah.” the last syllable is “가,” a combination of “ㄱ” and “ㅏ.”
I hope the syllables are making a big more sense to you now. The words are written in a combination of syllables like English is, but written differently. They have groupings of letters that are on top, on the side, and on the bottom. Perhaps, in the next blog, I should show you how to read some simple Korean sentences. I hope you are enjoying learning how to read in Korean. It is actually much easier than learning to read in English. There aren’t as many exceptions as we have in English. However, they do have some combining of letters to make other sounds like we have in English, and I have been trying to show those to you.