Need a good conversation starter for your Korean friends? Show them your name written in Korean alphabet. They will be impressed!
In a Korean dictionary, what would be the order of words? Believe it or not, you already know the answer -- the alphabetical order. Wait, aren’t the Korean letters graphical symbols, rather than representation of sounds? Nope, that’s Chinese. Korean letters represent sounds, and that’s why your name, too, can be written in Korean.
Unlike in English, however, the words in Korean dictionaries are sorted based on their first consonant. What about words starting with a vowel? Here is the trick: there is a special symbol for “zero sound consonant”. So, even when a word is pronounced starting with a vowel, it’s written with the "zero consonant” symbol first, followed by the sounded vowel. The "zero sound " consonant looks just like the figure zero ("O"). (The similarity is an interesting coincidence. The Korean alphabet was invented in the 16th century, hundreds of years before the Arabic numerals were introduced into Korea.) There is a bit of complication, though, because the same Korean letter "O" signifies the /ng/ sound when it comes at the end of a syllable.
A friend of mine once said she figured out how to tell Korean texts from Chinese or Japanese – only Korean has the character O. She is right.
Here is an example. This phrase means "How are you?"
( Play Sound )
If this looks hopelessly complicated, it is not! Let me walk you through. First of all, what did you notice graphically? Yes, there are aggregates or clusters of letters (5 altogether in this example). Korean is written in "clusters" of letters rather than "strings" of letters as in English. Each cluster is one syllable.
Now, let's go one step further. Can you count how many parts (component letters) each cluster has? Do they all have two? Three? As you can see (or will see), the first two clusters in the example have 3 parts each, and the 3rd, 4th and 5th clusters consist of only two parts each. A Korean syllabic cluster has either 2 or 3 letters in it.
The basic structure of a cluster is shown in the figure.
The first part of a cluster is always a constant (real or null) ("C" in the figure). Then comes the vowel (V). Some vowels are written vertically as in the left figure; some are written horizontally as shown on the right. The third part, if there is one, is always a constant (C) and is written at the bottom of a cluster – it’s called a "pedestal".
Some syllables don't have the last consonant and simply end with a vowel without a pedestal. Such a cluster looks like this:
If you scroll up and examine the Korean "How are you?" phrase again, you will recognize that the first two are C-V-C clusters and the rest are C-V clusters. If you can't see it right away, that's because you are not familiar with the individual Korean letters yet. It's time to show you all consonants and vowels of the Korean alphabet.
The Korean alphabet has 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels. So, there are only 24 letters to learn -- fewer than the English alphabet letters. In addition to these 24, there are some intuitively obvious mix-and-match variations (compound consonants and compound vowels).
You can view the Korean alphabet letters by clicking the links in the table below.
I know you are eager to try writing your name in Korean now. But there is one rule that I need to explain. After this short step, you can really write your name in Korean!
Look at the 14 basic Korean consonants. They are easy to learn, since they are distinct in shape. What about the vowels? At first glance, some Korean vowel characters may look similar. But, if you invest a few minutes of your time, you can easily tell them apart.
I told you that some Korean vowels are written on the right side of a consonant, and some are written below a consonant. Is there a rule? The key is the shape of the vowel.
When you write a Korean cluster, you always write the first consonant first, then the vowel, and finally, the "pedestal" (final consonant), if there is one.
Let's revisit the phrase we saw earlier.
In this example, you are looking at five syllabic clusters arranged from left to right and a question mark. The first cluster has three elements: a null (no-sound) consonant, then an /ah/ sound followed by an /n/ sound. The second syllable has 3 elements: /n/ followed by /yu/ followed by /ng/. The third has only two: /h/ followed by /ah/. The fourth is a soft /s/ followed by /eh/. The fifth is a null consonant followed by a /yo/ sound.
Now you can pronounce the whole phrase: ahn-nyung-hah-seh-yo? ( Play Sound )
This is the most general greeting that you can use in any occasion, at any time of the day.
At this point you may be wondering: "Where should I put the accent?" Well, here is the thing. Korean words and sentences generally have no stress points. You can simply pronounce these five syllables more or less monotonously. Some Korean dialects spoken in rural provinces have strong ups and downs and strict rules for applying these stress points. But the language spoken in the region of Seoul (the "standard" Korean language) is almost free of stress points. In fact, the more monotonously you utter a Korean sentence, the more sophisticated it would sound to Korean ears. So, stress is one thing you don't need to worry about, which makes learning Korean easy. After all, you've just learned one Korean phrase that you can start using – isn’t that wonderful?
Now, equipped with what you have learned so far, you should be able to write your name in Korean. Some sounds in your native language may not exist in Korean, and some sounds are only remotely related, as you would expect in any foreign language. But there are many common (or nearly identical) sounds.
|Names Written in Korean Alphabet|
| Name starting with: (Clicking will open a new tab) |
A B C D E-F
G-H-I J K L M
N-O P-R S T-V-W-X
Hope this article was helpful. Enjoy writing names in Korean!