When you're learning Korean learning how to write in Korean is the key to mastering it. If you’re studying French, Spanish, or Italian, this is not too much different from learning English since they all use the Roman alphabet with only a few minor changes here and there.
For many Asian languages, however, you will have to learn a separate script. Fortunately, Korean is pretty easy especially if you’ve already learned how to read Hangul.
In fact, many language experts consider the Korean alphabet to be among the most logical and easy-to-learn writing systems out there. With just 24 letters, it’s even easier to learn than English.
Are you ready to master the fundamentals of writing in Korean? Here’s everything you need to know.
1. Korean Alphabet: A Quick Refresher
I’ve covered this before, but let’s make sure we’re on the same page. Korean has 24 letters broken into consonants and vowels:
14 consonant letters (ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ)
10 vowel letters (ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ)
Below are the approximate English equivalents for each of the letters:
- ㄱ = G
- ㄴ = N
- ㄷ = D
- ㄹ = L
- ㅁ = M
- ㅂ = B
- ㅅ = S
- ㅇ= null/placeholder consonant, but sounds like “ng” as in “sign” when on bottom, also paired with individual vowels
- ㅈ = J like jeans
- ㅊ = CH like cheese
- ㅋ = K
- ㅌ = T
- ㅍ = P
- ㅎ= H
- ㅏ = a (ah
- ㅑ = ya (yah)
- ㅓ = eo (sounds like uh)
- ㅕ = yeo (sounds like yuh)
- ㅗ = o
- ㅛ = yo
- ㅜ = oo (as in woo)
- ㅠ = yoo (as in you)
- ㅡ = eu (as in “gul” like Hangul)
- ㅣ= e (as in we)
Don’t forget that Korean also has a few special letters that are formed from either double consonants are mixed vowels:
- ㄲ = strong g like “gate” or “go”
- ㄸ = strong d like “dog” or “day”
- ㅃ= strong b like “bank”
- ㅆ= strong s like “snake”
- ㅉ= strong j like j “John”
- ㅐ sounds like ae as in “day”
- With ㅐ, you combine ㅏ(a) plus ㅣ(e) to make ㅐ(ae).
- ㅒ sounds yae as in “yay”
- With ㅐ, you combine ㅑ(ya) plus ㅣ(e) to make yae.
- ㅔ sounds like ae in “day”
- With ㅔ, you combine ㅓ(eo) plus ㅣ(e) to make ae.
- ㅖsounds like yae as in “yay”
- With ㅖ, you combine ㅕ (yeo) plus ㅣ(e) to make yae.
- ㅚ sounds like “we”
- With ㅚ, you combine ㅗ (o) plus plus ㅣ to make we
- ㅙ sounds like “way”
- With ㅙ, you combine ㅗ (o) plus plus ㅐ(ae) to make way
- ㅟ sounds like “we”
- With ㅟ, you combine ㅜ (oo) plus ㅣ(e) to make we
- ㅞ sounds like “way”
- With ㅞ, you combine ㅜ (oo) plus ㅔ (ae) to make way
- ㅢ sounds like eui “oo we.” This is a unique Korean sound, you’ll get the hang of over time.
- With ㅟ, ou combine ㅡ (eu) plus ㅣ (e) to make oo we
- ㅝ sounds like wuh.
- With ㅝ, you combine ㅜ (oo) plus ㅓ(eo) to make wuh
2. Write In Korean: How To Put Letters Together
Do you remember the game Tetris? Of course, you do! Unlike in English where you write letters side-by-side, Korean has slightly different rules. In many cases, you’ll stack letters together into separate one-syllable blocks.
Think about the word “Kimchi,” which is made of two syllables “kim” and “chi.” In Korean, it’s written like this: 김치
Notice how the ㄱ, ㅣ, and ㅁ are stacked on each other to make 김 (Kim) and likewise, how 치 (Ji) is put together.
Below, you have the four different rules on how to arrange letters to form syllables.
This diagram shows the four different ways you can arrange letters to make one syllable in Korean. “C” equals Consonant and “V” equals vowel.
1. You can have a consonant on top of a vowel.
2. You can have two consonants with a vowel in between them like a sandwich.
3. You can have a consonant and a vowel side-by-side.
4. You can have a consonant and a vowel together with a consonant underneath both of them.
Remember, you can never have a consonant by itself. It must have a vowel pair.
Here a few sample words, can you figure out what rules they are using?
- 바나나 (Ba Na Na)
- 고 (Go)
- 보보 (Bo bo)
- 각 (Gak)
- 봅 (Bohb)
- 가다 (Ga Da)
**These words use rules 3, 1, 1, 4, 2, 3******
To be honest, you don’t need to memorize these rules. They are helpful when you’re first learning Korean, but you’ll intuitively get the hang of them over time as you see and write more Korean words. Focus more of your energy on reading and writing instead and writing in Korean will come naturally before you know it.
3. Korean Stroke Order
Since Korean is an alphabet, perfect stroke order isn’t absolutely necessary. Of course, it will help you to write more smoothly and quickly over time.
But if you can't remember the exact sequence for all 24 letters right away, then don’t sweat it! Many Koreans will be the first to tell you, stroke order doens’t really matter.
With that said, in general, strokes are written from left to right, top to bottom, and outside in.
Here’s a basic breakdown of stroke order for Korean letters.
Image Courtesy of the University of Texas
There are plenty of great examples videos online of people demonstrating proper stroke order that you can check out.
But again similar to the rules for syllables above, it’s much easier if you just practice writing the letters out yourself until they become more natural and not place too much emphasis on memorizing the correct stroke order.
4. How To Type In Korean
On the other hand, you should really spend some time learning how to type in Korean. When was the last time you ever wrote anything out by hand anyway? We live in the future and everything we do is based on typing and texting!
Typing in Korean has so many benefits. It will help you better learn the alphabet and master the order of consonants and vowels in Korean.
In addition, since most smartphones have built-in Korean keyboards with auto suggest, you can get the hang of spelling better by typing as well.
The most difficult part of typing in Korean is the different keyboard layout. Unfortunately, Korean keyboards aren’t a direct translation to an English keyboard. For example, even though ㅅ = S, it’s actually found where the “T” Key is:
To help you practice hitting the right keys, you can buy keyboard stickers or covers or you can enable an onscreen keyboard.
Here are a few additional tips to help you get started:
Make sure you use a 2-set Korean keyboard. Most Koreans use this instead of the 3-set which can be found in some places. Notice, for the most part, that all the consonants are on the left side of the keyboard and all the vowels are on the right.
Pay attention to vowel pairings. See how ㅛ is right above ㅗ, ㅕ is above ㅓ and so on.
Typing Korean On Your Smartphone
Using your smartphone is fairly similar to typing on the computer. However, you may come across a different layout depending on how you hold your phone or the keyboard you install:
This keyboard layout was more common during the flip phone days, but it still shows up from time to time.
While there’s nothing wrong with using this once you’ve gotten the hang of typing in Korean, stick to the full keyboard layout for now. It’s both easier to use and will better help you translate your skills over to the computer.
You can disable this layout in your keyboard settings or just by holding your phone horizontally.
Write In Korean: Your Next Steps
As you’ve seen, writing in Korean really isn’t so difficult, especially once you’ve gotten the hang of reading it!
Nowadays, there are so many helpful resources for you to get started. Many of the same apps you used for reading, also have writing exercises built-in. You can also directly practice by installing a Korean keyboard onto your smartphone or computer.
The most important thing is that you have patience and a little fun with it. Learning to write in Korean may be a little tricky at first, but over time you’ll actually come to enjoy how smooth and logical the language is. Before you know it, you’ll want to do all your writing in Korean!