Aafreen Hossain, Delhi
In my previous article, I talked about the reasons why learning the Korean language is worth it. Read here (if you haven’t already). In this article, I will be taking the discussion further, and tell you why learning Hangeul (The Korean alphabet) is your first step to learn the Korean language not only faster but also in a correct manner. Well, learning Korean as a second language is a great decision, as it brings you closer to understanding the Korean Culture as well as opens scope to many opportunities. I am sure, there are many of you who aspire to learn the Korean language, but often stick to reading through romanization as it seems a lot easier. But for effective learning, does learning Korean without learning Hangeul actually make any sense?
Well, romanization is not a cheat code. In general, people think it is an easy approach to describe Korean sounds and pronunciation with the help of the English alphabet. People often start their journey of studying the Korean language by substituting Hangeul to the English alphabets. Though this approach seems friendly and convenient at first, It’s actually an incorrect way of learning the Korean language. Here, I will explain why.
First of all, the Korean script (Hangeul), has its own set of characters, writing system, and rules for pronunciation. Using English will only make things more complicated. Romanization brings inaccuracy to your pronunciation and also misleads the actual word sound. Korean can’t be written in English because it is unique in its own way. There are many sounds in the Korean language, which do not have an exact replacement letter to represent in the English language. For instance, you might know the Korean letter ‘ㄱ’ pronounced as ‘giyeok’ sounds somewhere between “K” or “G.” But which one exactly? The answer is NONE.
Following are some of the reasons to help you understand better:
1. Korean words comprise of syllables:- Hangeul uses syllables that form words and sentences. 안녕하세요 which means ‘Hello’ in Korean (literal meaning- are you in peace?), has 5 syllables among which 안 is the first while 녕 is the second syllable. But when using romanization, it doesn’t tell you exactly which syllable is to be pronounced when and how i.e. Annyeonghaseyo can be pronounced as Ann-yeong-haseyo or An-nyeon-gha-se-yo. Thus, it may cause ambiguity and confusion when you study Korean using romanized letters, because you may end up pronouncing words incorrectly.
2. Romanization makes it tougher to conjugate Korean verbs:- While using romanization it is difficult to understand the rules of conjugating Korean verbs. For example., 먹다 -meog-da means ‘to eat’. When this verb is conjugated to past tense, it becomes 먹었어요- meogeosseoyo but when romanized, it can be written either as mogosoyo or meogoseoyo. It meddles with the conjugation techniques that varied Korean verbs follow. And last but not the least;
3. Hangeul cannot be expressed as English:- Various Korean words are written differently using Hangeul, but sound similar if romanized. The word 는 and 눈 can be romanized as ‘nun’ but the former is ‘a Topic marker’ while the latter means ‘eyes’. Another example can be 차 (means car or tea) and 짜 (means salty). There is a huge difference in the pronunciation of both the words in Korean because of the differences in the sounds of the vowels and consonants, which is overlooked in romanization.
Check out this video to know more :
In theory, romanization doesn’t really seem harmful in learning, until it becomes a habit. Romanization can be used as an assistant for reading along with Hangeul. It can also be used simultaneously while studying Korean but shouldn’t be entirely relied upon. It’s better to learn Hangeul from the beginning itself because it’s a lot easier than grilling over romanization and ending up learning the language in an incorrect manner. Additionally, Hangeul is one of the easiest scripts in the world, which you can learn very quickly, and can start reading and writing Korean on your own.