There is a debate among Korean learners as to whether or not it’s necessary to learn the Korean alphabet (Hangeul). It is a whole new alphabet, so it may seem like too big of a burden to learn. This may be especially true if you are only passing through or living in Korea for a short amount of time. However, with many people learning to read Hangeul in about 1 hour, it makes sense to give it a shot (click here for the free guide to be reading Korean in 1 hour!).
Instead of learning Hangeul, many people will primarily use the Romanization of Korean. For example, instead of writing “금요일”, they will write “Geumyo-il”. This is frequently seen in guidebooks, message boards, and Facebook groups. While this is sufficient for very short visits in Korea, learning the Korean alphabet has some distinct advantages.
Here are 4 reasons why you should learn Hangeul (the Korean alphabet):
1. Navigating Korea
Once you learn the Korean alphabet and have the basics of reading down, then you can move through Korea much easier. For instance, you’ll be able to read menus, bus stops, and signs. Why does this matter? Let’s say you visit Daegu and you hop on a crowded bus to go visit a friend. Your friend tells you the name of the bus stop to get off while you’re talking on the phone, but the bus route is all in Hangeul. You’re at the back of the bus, and there are many people between you and the driver. Knowing the Korean alphabet would come in handy.
As you start reading signs in Hangeul, you may not know what the words mean. But the cool part is that you’ll start surprising yourself since Korean borrows words from English. For example, you’ll read the word “카페” on a storefront, and quietly realize “ah, that’s a café!” Slowly Korea will become a much more familiar place.
According to Wikipedia, there is a standard way of Romanizing Korean. However, in practice not everyone is on the same page. For example, sometimes you’ll see a certain area in Seoul spelled Kangnam and Gangnam. The former is an older Romanization and the later is more recent. Still it can get confusing since Korean can have different spellings when transcribed. However, if you learn to read the Korean alphabet, you’ll know precisely what you’re looking at.
Korean learners have a harder time using the correct pronunciation when reading the Romanized versions of Korean words. That is because expressing the words in English isn’t as exact, so it can be harder to have good pronunciation. As a result, you may have a harder time being understood if you try to speak to a Korean. That can be quite demotivating, especially when you’re first learning the language.
This also carries over to names. If you have to read a Korean’s name in Romanized letters, it can be extremely confusing to know the correct pronunciation. That is because Koreans will often transcribe their name whichever way they like. For example, 준 will sometimes be written as Jun, June, or Joon. The 전 can be written as Jeon or Jun. If you need to pronounce “Jun”, how do you know if it’s 준 or 전? It can be a point of confusion that adds up over time. Best to spend the hour learning the Korean alphabet and be sure!
Learning the Korean alphabet will help give you an extra boost over the long term with learning Korean. You’ll have a lot more exposure to different words as you go about your day, and you may find yourself retaining them without much effort. The language won’t seem so unfamiliar since you’ll be exposed to it more often. Reading the signs on your commute will not only be fun, but an extra bonus study session! These are all small things that will help move you along towards having better interactions in Korean.
What are your reasons for learning the Korean alphabet? We’d love to hear them, so please leave a comment below!
Photo Credit: Ron Cogswell
Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn