In the last lesson, we talked about the basics of Hangul. Hangul was created to help literate Korean people by moving away from a logographic system. It is an alphabet that has ten basic vowels and fourteen basic consonants. Today, we will learn the ten basic Korean vowels. First, we will learn three types of vowel construction, and then, we will learn how to read and write those basic vowels. I will start by speaking the ten vowels, “ㅏㅑㅓㅕㅗㅛㅜㅠㅡㅣ.”
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To help your understanding, we will divide the ten vowels into three groups according to three types of vowel construction. We will arbitrarily name these types one, two, and three. Type-1 represents object shapes, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, but there is less detail in the Hangul logograms or “hieroglyphs.” There are three of these: a dot, a horizontal line, and a vertical line.
The dot represents the shape of the sky: as if you are looking straight up at the sky, or as if you are looking at an image of the round Earth. The horizontal line is the shape of land: as if you are looking at the horizon across a flat field. The vertical line is the shape of a human: as if you just started to draw a stick figure, but did not draw any arms or legs yet. To make things easier to understand for this lesson, we will refer to the names of these letters as the sky, land, and human. So, the three letters sky, land, and human comprise the type-1 group. However, sky does not exist as a letter anymore in modern Hangul, although it is used to make other letters.
Combining either land or human with sky makes the letters in the type-2 group. Sky is a round dot, but it is stretched into a line when combining it to land or human. “ㅏㅓㅗㅜ” are the four letters. Here they are in more detail:
- Human (ㅣ) + Sky (·) = ㅏ
- Sky (·) + Human (ㅣ) = ㅓ
- Sky (·) + Land (ㅡ) = ㅗ
- Land (ㅡ) + Sky (·) = ㅜ
So those four letters, “ㅏㅓㅗㅜ,” make up the type-2 group. Combining a type-2 with another sky makes the letters in the type-3 group. “ㅑㅕㅛㅠ” are the four letters. Here they are in more detail:
- ㅏ + Sky (·) = ㅑ
- ㅓ + Sky (·) = ㅕ
- ㅗ + Sky (·) = ㅛ
- ㅜ + Sky (·) = ㅠ
So those four letters, “ㅕㅑㅛㅠ,” make up the type-3 group. Next, let’s learn how to read them. First though, we want to mention a difference between reading English and Korean. In English, one vowel can have different pronunciations depending on the word. For example, “a” can be read “a” in cat, “o” in call, “e” in care, or “ä” in card. On the other hand, Korean vowels have same sound regardless of the word. In that point, Korean is easier to read once you learn how each vowel is supposed to be pronounced. For example, the Korean vowel “ㅏ” is pronounced “a” in baji, jadu, saja, and pado. Next, let’s practice speaking them. Please repeat after me, “ㅏㅑㅓㅕㅗㅛㅜㅠㅡㅣ.”
Next, let’s learn how to write them. There are two basic rules for how to write Korean vowels the proper way. Start by writing top to bottom and then left to right. There are a few exceptions, but most of time those rules are correct. I will show you how to write the ten basic vowels one by one next. (See the video.)
So today, we studied the ten basic vowels. The first three vowels are based on the shape of the sky, land, and human. Then, with some combination of those three, the rest of the basic vowels are made. The vowels “ㅏㅑㅓㅕㅗㅛㅜㅠㅡㅣ” are always pronounced the same way in words, and when you write them down, go top to bottom and left to right.
If you want to practice what you learned today, or want to test what you already know about Korean vowels, you can take a quiz about these vowels on my blog, aeriskitchen.com (below).
Next time, we will study fourteen Basic consonants. For homework, please practice the ten basic vowels you learned today by writing and reading each one. I would appreciate it if you leave comments with the ten vowels in Korean, or leave a video response on my YouTube channel.
Keep taking this quiz until you can easily get a perfect score by just reading, and then keep taking it until you get a perfect score by just listening. 😉
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