This summer Visit North Korea is offering a unique opportunity to study Korean at a Pyongyang University, a program which will prove to be a life changing educational and cultural experience, but before then, why not get a head start? We’re proud to announce the start of our periodical “Learning with Visit DPRK” program, a fun, quick and easily accessible way to learn about a nation well known, but little understood. After all, North Korea is not just a regime, a bomb or a war, but an intrinsic component of a culture which has lasted for millennia. Today, hosts part one of our exciting program, learning Hangeul/Chosongeul, the script of Korean text used in both Koreas.
Hangeul (South Korea) or Chosongeul (North Korea) is an alphabetic script used to depict Korean language. Following centuries of using traditional Chinese characters, known as “Hanja”, in 1443 King Sejong the Great (세종대왕) invented the script as a way to improve the literacy of peasants. Since then, the script has became a strong symbol of Korean national identity and culture in both Koreas, despite the politically differentiating names for it. Nevertheless, despite minor differences in pronunciation and intonation, the script’s interpretation and reading in both states remains the same.
King Sejong the great invented the korean script used today in both koreas
Hangeul/Chosongeul functions in a building block style fashion, with two to three components being fitted together to create a sound or word. Each sound must always contain a vowel. The basic vowels consist of the following:
eo= ㅓ pronounced “oh”
o= ㅗ pronounced as a softer “o”
u= ㅜ pronounced “oo”
eu= ㅡ pronounced “egh”
i= ㅣ pronounced “ee”
These basic vowels are added together with consonants to create sounds. The vowel always comes second after the consonant, the consonants being as follows:
From here, we can put them together, here are some examples:
ㅂ+ ㅏ= 바 (ba)
ㄷ+ ㅏ = 다 (da)
ㅁ + ㅗ = 모 (mo)
ㅅ + ㅡ = 스 (seu)
ㅈ + ㅜ = 주 (ju)
ㄹ+ ㅣ= 리 (ri/li)
ㄷ+ㅓ= 더 (deo)
As you can see, there are many different consonant and vowel combinations. Some sounds or words only consist of the two, but many come with an additional consonant after the vowel which is placed on the bottom. By adding three together, we can create words like the following:
문= gate (ㅁ + ㅜ + ㄴ)
국= country (ㄱ + ㅜ + ㄱ)
Then, by adding two or more hangeul/chosongeul components together, we can create more complex words. After learning them, try making your own!
조선= Korea (northern name) (ㅈ + ㅗ, ㅅ + ㅓ + ㄴ)
나무= tree (ㄴ + ㅏ, ㅁ + ㅜ)
할머니 = grandmother (ㅎ + ㅏ + ㄹ, ㅁ + ㅓ, ㄴ + ㅣ)
Chosongeul on a North Korean Children’s book, can you translate what it says using our guide?
To summarize, these are the basic rules and sounds of the Korean script. Hangeul or Chosongeul, as you may choose to call them, are fun, simple and very easy to memorize. By building up basic blocks of two or three, combining a consonant, with a vowel and then if needed, a following consonant, you create basic Korean sounds. This was the genius of King Sejong.
Tune in next time, as we will be covering advanced vowels and sounds, building on the basic steps you learned here! We hope learning with Visit DPRK can be of use!