I know plenty of korean alphabet charts and other learning resources for this already exist. But if you’re like I was and are already watching a heap of kdramas or other korean tv programs but can’t yet read Hangul but want to- here’s a different, though slightly unconventional way to learning it, all revolving around something you already enjoy!
I am my own test subject for this and managed to decipher the 24 korean letters through this method in way under a week. One thing that happened though was that i made a rule for myself, that i was not allowed to search anything up, and was limited to only google translate if i needed to know a specific word. So slightly more complicated words i encountered like “끓” in 끓다(ggeulhda) and “찮” in 괜찮아(gwaenchanha) really threw me off. The latter especially, because i could never really hear the h being pronounced when spoken, i got so frustrated and nearly gave up on korean then. Because of that stupid rule it took me 3 months in total to get to a stage where i could be sure there would be no more surprises, though i had also reached a pretty steady reading pace by then.
This method will no doubt be a lot more fun than methodically memorising a korean alphabet chart if you do decide to do this too. But it involves a bit more brain work than copying what you see so if you get stuck on anything, please don’t hesitate to look it up on the internet at once! You will a 100% be spared from far less mental breakdowns…
Alright, so here are my 4 Steps To Learning Hangul Without A Chart
- Pick a show you enjoy watching
The main goal in learning hangul this way is that you won’t have to stop your marathons just to learn it, but can do it simultaneously(almost). Anything from kdramas to kpop will work really, so just pick one. Or a few. I did this with running man just because i really liked it in 2014, i also learned from kpop too.
2. Pick a set of words you want to recognise.
I know i’ve literally just said to pick a show to study from, but we aren’t quite ready to put a drama on and expect to have magically learnt the letters at the end of it without doing anything different to what you would have normally. You’ll have to slog for a bit, just until you’ve made up a list of 24 unique letters(the no. of letters in the korean alphabet). Then you should be watching as much as you can to gain speed 🌝
So first pick a set of words you want to recognise, and by that i mean find a small sample of korean words you want to be able to read. I highly recommend names because there are generally only 3 words in a name and also, isn’t knowing your bias’s name in their actual language the dream?? (bangtan’s korean and romanised names are in the (bad) image if you want) doing the names of members from big groups like twice and seventeen would also be really fun because there will be a bunch of different letters to learn.
3. Make your own list
Now that you’ve picked your words, it’s time to actually learn to read! And the way this is going to work roughly is that by using the english(romanised) and korean versions of the same word, you will pick apart the words, and isolate the characters and assign them to an english one, or an english sound. Okay i might have just complicated things for you, but look at the little example below and try replicating it with other letters. When you actually get down to it and have already identified one or two letters, deducing the rest will be a breeze and so much more fun. It actually works a lot like a giant puzzle and will likely take a little bit of detective work and some guessing. But eventually you will end up with your own little list, or even a chart if you like.
I have a summary example of what i mean in the image above where i used the bangtan boys’s names.(It’s actually a little half assed and really messy because i did it in a few minutes just to give a general idea of what you should do.) If you like you can pick a character and learn the letters in them just to give yourself somewhere to start.
I know i’ve probably just confused you, so heres what i mean:
eg: two words 오징어(oh-jing-eo) and 강아지(kang-ah-ji)
– both characters 징 and 강 end with ‘ng’. They both have the letter ㅇ, so we can assume thatㅇin korean represents ‘ng’ in english.
– next, the two characters 징(from오징어) and the 지(from 강아지) both have the two letters ㅈand ㅣ in them. We’ve assumed that ㅇ represents ‘ng’, so removing ‘ng’ from 징(jing) in ohjingeo would leave us with 지(ji), which is the exact same as the 지 in kangahji.
This supports our first statement and it’s now pretty much safe to say thatㅇin korean stands for ‘ng’ in english. (when used on the bottom. I’ll leave you to figure out what it sounds like when it’s used on top with words like 오 and 아) You can then kind of guess that ㅈand ㅣwould represent j and i respectively, and go ahead to confirm them using other words.
These are two words that i literally thought of on the spot, and it is so fun to do with any words with a few similar characters.
Basically you should compare 2-3 words (or characters) at a time, and try to find the similarities between them. Then you can single the sounds down to the individual letter. And like i’ve said earlier, once you’ve got one or two letters to work with, you’ll be speeding through and it stays in your memory much longer than it will if you were learning by chart!
Something important to note is that it doesn’t matter how you romanise each letter and if it doesn’t correspond exactly to the ones in charts that you might look at after online for confirmation. It’s completely relative to how you pronounce things in your “accent”, and whatever romanisation gets you pronouncing those words as closely to the korean pronunciation is a correct romanisation.
4. Practice Reading
Now that you’ve got your 24, the hardest part is over! You can finally sit back and watch your korean shows! Whoo!
Instead of completely skipping over the name of the hotel or a menu full of korean in a scene of a drama this time, try pausing the video and reading the korean! I would really recommend variety shows over dramas while you’re still beginning though, because shows like running man have heaps and heaps of un-subtitled captions which gives you so much more practice than the occasional few words in the background of a kdrama. Weekly idol is also pretty good but their captions come and go a lot quicker and i would say their language is also more complex compared to what running man uses.
Remember to be patient with yourself! You’ve just learned how to read a new language. You don’t have to be a speed reader or anything, just go slow and pause the video to give yourself time. And obviously, you probably won’t understand half of the words you’ve just read if you’re only starting to learn korean and that’s nothing to feel horrible about. Remember there’s always a dictionary(◕‿-) and once you’re reading hangul, expanding your vocabulary is no problem at all!
i truly hope you’ve gained something from reading this and that you’ll give this method of learning hangul a shot. (i’m generally horrible at explaining things so if there’s anything you’re still confused about please say so and i’ll try my best to clarify thingsㅋㅋ) Otherwise, Thank you for reading and all the best with your korean journey!