From Jonathan Gardner's Korean Notebook
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Learning Korean

This lesson is an introduction to Korean, along with some hints at ways you might want to approach it.


  • Korean is language spoken mostly by ethnic Koreans.
  • Ethnic Koreans are concentrated in the Korean peninsula, but are also found all over the world.
  • The Korean alphabet is Hangul, which is a phonetic, easy-to-learn writing system.
  • Korean Grammar is agglutinated and rather simple, comparable to Japanese.

Who Speaks Korean?

Korean is a language principally spoken in South Korea, North Korea, and in the Manchurian area in China.

Ethnic Koreans also generally maintain their language, bringing it to countries all over the world.

Koreans are proud of their history and culture, and tend to bring it with them. You might recognize staples of their culture such as Tae Kwon Do, kimchi, and bulgogi.

The Korean Alphabet

One of the features of the Korean language is its simple yet effective alphabet, called Hangul (한글). It is a phonetic system, meaning that its symbols directly represent sounds you should make to pronounce the words, rather than entire syllables or pictures of ideas that the words represent.

For those of you who learned how to read English (even native English speakers spend quite an effort to master this), Hangul should seem much simpler and easier to master. Indeed, one of the nicknames of Hangul is "achimmal", which means "morning words." This is a hint that the letters can be mastered in a single morning.

Rather than take a morning to teach you, I'll divide up the letters into short, 15-minute lessons which will gradually introduce you to all of the combinations possible.


As with any language, speaking and listening are two skills that depend a great deal on pronunciations. There is a trick to it, a trick that you will learn by studying Hangul.


Korean grammar is very simple compared to other languages. The only words that change are verbs, and the rules for their changes are extremely simple. Korean modifies ideas by "gluing" additional words and markers on to existing words. Although this is very much different than English, it is a simple system that can be mastered.

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