There are ten basic consonants in Korean. The first eight are:
|ㄱ||halfway between ‘k’ like in ‘kick‘ and ‘g’ like in ‘gold’|
|ㄷ||halfway between ‘t’ like in ‘two’ and ‘d’ like in ‘dark’|
|ㅂ||halfway between ‘p’ like in ‘punch’ and ‘b’ like in ‘blue’|
|ㅈ||halfway between ‘ch’ like in ‘cherry’ and ‘j’ like in ‘juice’|
|ㅅ||‘s’ like in ‘seven’|
|ㅁ||‘m’ like in ‘mauve’|
|ㄴ||‘n’ like in ‘night’|
|ㅎ||‘h’ like in ‘hello’|
The first four of these letters – the ones described as being ‘halfway between’ the sounds of two English letters – are difficult to pronounce, and are part of what makes Korean a difficult language for English speakers to learn.
There are two more basic consonants, but they are a bit more complicated. Firstly, there’s:
This letter is pronounced differently depending on where it appears in a word and what other letters appear before or after it. At the beginning of a word, it’s pronounced similarly to the letter ‘r’ like in ‘red’. It’s also pronounced like ‘r’ when it’s between two other vowels.
However, when it appears at the end of the word, or when it appears before most other consonants, it is pronounced like an ‘l’ as in ‘light’.
We saw this letter in the previous lesson on vowels. When this letter appears in the initial position in a syllable, like in:
아 어 이 오 우 으
It has no sound.
But when it appears in the final position of a syllable, as in:
It is pronounced ‘ng’ like in ‘king‘.
A note on romanisation
‘Romanisation’ is when a Korean word is written using English letters. A ‘system of romanisation’ is a set of rules describing how Korean words should be romanised. There are several different systems of romanisation. The official system of romanisation in South Korea is called the Revised System of Romanisation.
The reason why there are several different systems of romanisation is ultimately because it’s difficult to accurately represent the sounds of Korean using English letters. Each romanisation system has different advantages and disadvantages. The table below shows how each of the consonants at the top of this page are romanised according to the Revised System of Romanisation.
|ㅇ||no letter if at the beginning of a syllable; ng if at the end of a syllable|
This is how the Korean consonants are represented in the exercises below; however, it isn’t a very good representation of how the Korean is pronounced.
Once you’ve learnt the information given above, have a go at these exercises on Korean consonants.
1. Match the syllable to the sound
For each Korean syllable in the table below, choose the correct pronunciation.
|마||a.) na||b.) ma||c.) ba|
|하||a.) ha||b.) a||c.) ba|
|가||a.) ga||b.) ja||c.) na|
|자||a.) ga||b.) sa||c.) ja|
|바||a.) da||b.) ba||c.) ma|
|아||a.) ga||b.) ha||c.) a|
2. Match the sound to the syllable
For each syllable sound in the table below, choose the correct Korean syllable.
|da||a.) 다||b.) 나||c.) 마|
|ba||a.) 바||b.) 마||c.) 다|
|ha||a.) 아||b.) 라||c.) 하|
|a||a.) 아||b.) 하||c.) 앙|
|ra||a.) 나||b.) 라||c.) 다|
|ang||a.) 하||b.) 강||c.) 앙|
Exercise 1: b, a, a, c, b, c
Exercise 2: a, a, c, a, b, c