The Korean written language, Hangul, is very easy for newcomers to learn. Knowing how to sound out words can help with reading street signs, subway station names and names of businesses. Many English and other foreign words are written in Hangul in Korea. You’ll be amazed at how many signs you can read and recognize English words written in Hangul.

Romanized Korean pronunciation guide Consonants in Korean sound similar to English consonants. Generally, hard consonants in Korean like “k” and “p” are not as hard as in English unless a double consonant like “kk” or “pp” is used. There are exceptions.

Vowels: The Romanized Korean letter “i” is pronounced as a long “e” like “seen.” The letters “e” and “ae” are pronounced with a short “e” sound like “beg.” The letters “oe” together sound like the word “way.” The letter “a” is pronounced as a short “a” like “ah.” The letter “o” is pronounced long like “boat.” The letter “u” is pronounced like in “tube.”

The vowel combination “eo” is pronounced like “aw” in “saw.” The vowel combination “eu” is pronounced like the vowel sound in “good.” The vowel combination “ui” is pronounced like “whee.” All vowel combinations that start with the letter “y” and “w” are pronounced with a “y” or “w” sound added to the beginning of the sound.

Because the Roman or English alphabet has letters that its Korean counterpart doesn’t, some letters are substituted for others when referring to certain English words. For example, the letters “f” and “z” are replaced with the letters “p” and “z,” respectively such as in the words “kopi” (coffee) and “pija” (pizza).


Numbers ()

Basic Korean Vocabulary

Basic Korean Vocabulary ()

Korean by numbers There are two separate but equally important groups of Korean numbers. Pure-Korean numbers, generally used to denote cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3), and Sino-Korean numbers, generally used to denote ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd). The Sino-Korean numbers can also be written using Hanja (Chinese characters). As with English, double-digit numbers consist of one of the first nine numbers and a modifying prefix such as “yol”-hana (11), “sumu”-tul (22), or “soren”-set (33). Similar rules apply for larger numbers.

Number use Exceptions: In descriptive use of the Pure-Korean numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 20, the last letter is dropped from the pronunciation. “Hana” becomes “han,” “tul” is “tu,” “set” is “se,” “net” is “ne” and “sumul” is “sumu.”

Money: Always use Sino-Korean numbers. $30 is “sam-ship bul” (“bul” or “dolla” means dollar) and a $20 bill is “ee-ship bul” (but when counting how many $20 bills, use Pure-Korean numbers).

Time (shi gan): Use Pure-Korean for the hour (“shi”) and Sino-Korean for the minutes (“bun”). 3:30 is “se-shi – sam-ship bun,” a.m. and p.m. are “oh-jeon” and “ohhu,” respectively.

Date: Use Pure-Korean for counting the months, but Sino-Korean for the month and day (“il”). “Ee wol, ee-ship il” is Feb. 20.

Age: Informally or when referring to yourself, your children, or someone much younger than yourself, use Pure-Korean with the suffix “sal.” Six years old is “Yosot sal.” In a formal situation or when referring to someone older, use Sino-Korean with the suffix “se.” Sixty years of age is “yuk-ship se.”

Counters: Pure-Korean numbers usually require “counters,” words used to associate numbers with subjects, like two “sheets” (“jang”) of paper or one “bag” (“bongji”) of groceries. A few worth remembering right away are: “Gae,” things (good for anything); “myeong,” people (informal); “sa ram,” person (casual); and “bun,” people (polite).

Vowels and Cosonants

Vowels and Cosonants ()

Useful phrases

Hi/Hello An-Nyeong-ha-se-yo/ An-nyeong-ha-shim-ni-kka

  • The first of these is casual while the second is more formal and polite. 

It is nice to meet you. Man-na-seo-ban-gop-sub-ni-da

It is nice to meet you / It is a pleasure Ban-gop-sub-ni-da

I’m meeting you for the first time (How do you do?). Cheo-eum-beob-gesseub-ni-da

Goodbye (to someone who is staying) An-nyeong-hee-kye-se-yo (Informal/ casual) An-nyeong-hee-kye-ship-shi-yo (More formal/polite) Goodbye (to someone who is leaving) An-nyeong-hee-ga-se-yo (Informal/ casual) An-nyeong-hee-ga-ship-shi-yo (More formal/polite)

How are you? (how have you been) Chal-ji-nae-sheo-sseo-yo? ( Are things going well?) Eo-toh-kye-ji-nae-sheo-sseo-yo?

My name is XXX: Che Irum-un XXX ip-ni-da.

What is your name? Sseonghami eo-tteo-ke doe-sim-ni-kka? (More formal/polite)

I am XX years old Jeo-neun XX saal ip-ni-da

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