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This Question Came to My Inbox: “How Was the Korean Alphabet Invented?”

The Korean alphabet, hangul, was the brain child of a king named Sejeong. He didn’t do it alone, though. He gathered scholars to help him. He was on a mission. He had discovered that most of the population of Korea was illiterate because they just didn’t have time to learn all the Hanmoon (Chinese characters). Only the upper classes could read. He wanted to make his people literate so everyone could read. He gathered scholars, and they worked at it together. They came up with an amazing alphabet that the Korean people love! I appreciate it too because without it, I doubt I would be speaking Korean because Korean is complicated enough without adding the Hanmoon. I actually learned to read hangul in one day because it is such an easy alphabet to learn.

All Korean children learn to read. They have 100% literacy thanks to King Sejeong. Photo by Jc Laurio on Pexels.com

You don’t read it like you do other alphabets, but there are commonalities between it and English. In English, at times, we pronounce a word according to the combinations of letters used, and it may not be pronounced the same way in another place, and Korean has that characteristic too. It is also like the English alphabet in that there are exceptions.

The top of this sign transliterated into English letters: “Go-yang ee kape” which means “Cat Café.” No, they don’t eat cats. It is a place you can go and pet cats. Photo by JAMIE DIAZ on Pexels.com

Hangul is very unlike the other alphabets in that you read it in syllables rather than one letter right after another making a word. There is a possibility of four places in that syllable, but they don’t always use all four places. A syllable begins with a consonant. If the word or syllable actually begins with a vowel, you must write a symbol there that looks like a zero:. ㅇ. After that, you write a vowel. A vowel can be next to the consonant or under the consonant. Each vowel has a place that it belongs, one or the other place. Your word could be done, but if not, the next letter must be a consonant, and it comes at the bottom of the syllable. Usually, your word is done at this time, but some syllables have either a double syllable like ㅆ (ss) on the bottom or a combination like: ㄺ (LK). If you see an ㅇ on the bottom, it is an “ng” unlike at the beginning of the syllable where it makes no noise. One syllable may be a word alone, or a word may be made up of several syllables.

Korean universities are extremely cheap as compared to American universities and very few don’t get to go. Korea has, overall, a very educated population. Their government works hard at keeping the costs down, and makes it almost impossible for foreigners to do more than come as language studiers or exchange students unless their parents have planned it from the beginning and know the system. If you want your kids to study in Korea, save every report card from Kindergarten, all the way through school, and don’t homeschool because they don’t accept homeschooling or online classes at all. Photo by Tam Hoang on Pexels.com

The vowels aren’t hard to learn either. There is a system. If you have a line with just one mark on it, it is simply a regular vowel sound, but if there is a line with two marks, the second mark puts a “y” in front of the vowel. Here are some examples: 아 is “ah.” 야 is “ya.” 어 is “eo.” 여 is “yeo.” Letters that go up and down like this are written on the side of the consonant. 오 is “oh.” 요 is “yo.” 우 is “oo.” 유 is “yoo.” Letters written with the main like going from side to side like this are written under the first consonant of the syllable. I added the ㅇ at the beginning of each of these letters, but it is just a place holder. Here is an example of writing some of the vowels with an actual consonant that makes sound: 무 is “moo.” 로 is “roh.” 나 is “nah.” 드 is “duh.” 디 is “dee.” 며 is “myeo.” 머 is “meo.” 두 is “doo.” 듀 is “dyoo.” I hope this is making sense to you. It is a very logical alphabet, and King Sejeong did his people a great service. There is a reason he is such a hero to the Korean people. They have 100% literacy now because all of them can read. English can’t quite boast that because it takes a lot longer to learn to read English. In fact, the Korean letters are easier on your eyes than the English letters, and it is hard to identify kids that have dyslexia in Korea because they are not struggling to read like children with dyslexia of other countries. If you look back through my blogs, I have twice written blogs on how to read hangul if you don’t know how.

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