Reading Hangul is Not So Easy

Whenever I read someone says “it’s so easy to learn to read hangul, it will only take you like 2 hours to do that”, I flinch a little because it’s not entirely true. Memorizing how each letter (or part of the letter?) sounds is easy, but then getting used to the rules of pronunciation changes will take some time.

When I started learning Korean, I used pronunciation guide in katakana (because I used textbooks written in Japanese) to help me practice reading hangul. The only way to get used to reading hangul is reading it every day, so when I found myself avoiding reading hangul without pronounciation guide, I got myself textbooks with pronunciation guide. So I know from the start that, for example, 좋고 is [jo-ko], 옳다 is [ol-ta], 몇 학년 is [myeo-tang-nyeon] >> but in katakana, not ABC.

Even so, I’m still surprised whenever I find a hangul word read differently from how it’s written.

Like yesterday, when I listened to a CD of a Korean textbook, I found out that 요리법 (=cooking recipe) is actually read “yo-ri-ppop”, not “yo-ri-bop”! Thank God now my ears are trained enough to hear the difference. Two years ago I wouldn’t have found out by myself, I would have needed the romanization.

Yes, 요리법 is pronounced [요리뻡 yo-ri-ppop]. Just check Naver Dictionary if you don’t believe me.

And then, also yesterday, I asked a forum with Korean natives, why 못쓰다 is romanized as [mot-sseu-da] when it is actually pronounced [mos-sseu-da], with ‘ss’ sound? Don’t believe me? Check Naver Dictionary and click the audio button!
Guess what, no one knew what I was talking about. Some people even insisted that it’s pronounced [mot] not [mos] like the way I hear it.

And then I started to question my insanity.

And then I started to question my sanity.

Oh well, instead of being frustrated about it, I’ll just trust my gut feeling and my own ears: that ‘ㅅ’ before ‘ㅆ’ pronounced ‘s…’, because I don’t hear any ‘t’ sound there. At least for now, until I find a better explanation. ###


14 thoughts on “Reading Hangul is Not So Easy

  1. I prefer using Daum dictionary, anyways 요리법 is indeed pronounced as [요리뻡], but 못 쓰다 has a ‘t’ in it [몯 쓰다/mot sseuda]. It’s kinda silent, but when you hear it properly it’s really 못, you just don’t give a strong like ‘ㄷ’.


    • Honestly I’ve never heard a Korean pronounce first syllable initial letter”ㅈ” in 좋고 (좋다) as “j” . I don’t know how to use romanization because the first few days when I was learning 한글 I tried my hardest not to use it . I understood that there are several ways of romanization like McCune-Reischauer and Revised Romanization of Korean. Don’t know which one is the standard.


    • I know. At first, I didn’t like it, either. They decided to romanize ㅈ as j, ㄱ as g, ㅂ as b. 강남 becomes Gangnam, even though it’s closer to kangnam. 부산 is Busan, even though it’s closer to pusan. I guess you get use to it.


  2. I’m so new to reading/listening to Hangul that I don’t feel confident in my own ears — I actually hear a bit of the ‘t’, or the thing which is like a ‘t’ – To me it sounds like an even softer version of the ‘t’ in the word ‘Tsunami’, which many english speakers only hear as ‘s’ even when the word is said properly, so they don’t add the ‘t’…

    However, I read a suggestion in one of my ‘Korean Learners’ books, and perhaps this applies here. It was, when a sound would require an extra puff of air (like T’s) you don’t add the extra puff of air, but you do mouth the letter (like make the shape of the letter with your mouth) with what’s left of your air while going on to the next sound. Giving it a verrrry soft sound.
    This applies especially at the end of a syllable, as is the case here.

    Listen to the sound clip again. Can you hear how the ‘o’ sound seems to cut off, before the ‘s’ sound starts? Like there is a pause, and then as she begins her ‘s’ it’s more harsh than soft – closer to a ‘t’ than a regular ‘s’, but still not actually a full ‘t’.
    It’s not a ‘t’ sound in and of itself, but that cutting off of the previous sound is the space where a ‘t’ would be if there were extra air.
    The result is the softest damned ‘t’ sound ever, as well as the mouth being in the shape to make the ‘t’ sound when beginning the next word.
    As I said, like a much softer ‘ts’ of tsunami.

    But that’s just with this sound clip. No guarantee that other native Korean speakers wouldn’t just be lazy about it, OR that some of them might not pronounce the ‘t’ more strongly.
    And these are just my ears, while listening specifically for the sound. (maybe I’m imagining things, but I swear I softly hear it)

    Hope maybe that helps. <.<


  3. Pingback: The silent [t] | Korean Vitamin

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