Learning the Korean Alphabet in a Week

The first time I encountered the Korean writing system (Hangul), I assumed it was going to take me months of intensive study to learn. I had some experience with writing Japanese, and I had heard of the challenges involved with learning the Chinese writing system, and so with the visual similarities, I thought it was all going to be quite similar. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

To quote an old saying on Hangul: “a wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; even a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.

I can personally attest to this. If my memory serves me well, it took me three days of casual study to learn the alphabet and writing system, and another week or two to fully memorize it. To this day it remains one of my favourite writing forms, which is in large part helped by how incredibly satisfying it is to be able to scrawl out words in Hangul with relative ease, even with my limited vocabulary.

Initially designed in the 15th century by Sejong the Great, the king put himself to the challenge of creating a writing system that would be easy enough to learn for a population that was largely illiterate. It is considered one of the most logical writing systems in existence by linguists, and is often considered one of the easiest foreign alphabets for English speakers to learn. There are a good number of reasons for this; from there only being 24 letters to memorize, to it being heavily based around the use of syllables.

Regardless, I found that memorizing Hangul proved to be an enormously helpful tool while learning Korean. Even as I struggle to string a sentence together, I am still able to write out long lists of vocabulary with confidence in Hangul. While reading a piece of text in Korean, I can sound out new words that are unfamiliar, and do so with confidence that the pronunciation will be accurate; unlike English where I am often wary to try and pronounce a new word without first hearing someone else pronounce it, even as a native speaker.

In the end, if Korean is a language you’d be interest in learning, or if you just fancy challenging yourself for an evening, I highly recommend taking a closer look at Hangul and its fascinating history.

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