Korean Pronunciation: How to Correctly Say Hangul Letters & Words

Last Updated on November 1, 2022 by 90 Day Korean
A boy with his hand raised and a speech bubble beside him with Korean characters

Welcome to our guide for perfecting your Korean pronunciation! In this article, we will show you how to correctly say Korean vowels and consonants, words, and sentences so you will be understood when you are speaking Korean.

A boy with his hand raised and a speech bubble beside him with Korean characters

Grab a pen and notebook, as well as your favorite beverage, as we’re about to learn how to pronounce words so you can sound like a native Korean!

Below is a free PDF guide that you can download and take with you:

Basics of Korean Pronunciation

If you’re new to Korean pronunciation, it’s best to start with the basics first. Here are some things to consider as you learn how to pronounce letters and words in Korean.

Korean Alphabet Pronunciation

Learning the correct Korean pronunciation can be made easier by first learning the Korean alphabet. You’ll be able to speak Korean and sound like a native speaker once you master the Korean alphabet (Hangul).

Many of the sounds that are pronounced in Hangul also have the same sounds in English, making it easier to learn. For example, the Korean alphabet character ㄱ is pronounced similar to the letter “g.” So for simplicity, you can think of the character ㄱ as “g.” It’s not an exact 1:1 match, but it’s very close!

These connections make Hangul an easy alphabet to learn, especially when you have visual associations to help you remember them.

Korean Pronunciation Chart

Here is a Korean pronunciation chart of the sounds of vowel letters and consonant letters. We’ve included the vowel combinations, which are just two different vowels put together to form a sound. You can think of vowel combinations as being similar to vowels.

This chart will help language learners like you with the proper pronunciation of Korean consonants and vowels.

It’s best to learn the sounds these consonants and vowels make so Korean speakers will hear you properly when you talk. The easiest way to do this is to use associations. You may see Korean words and letters written out in English letters. It may help you with learning Korean in the beginning.

However, avoid using this kind of transliteration for pronunciation. It will be confusing, and it will take longer to learn proper pronunciation.

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How to pronounce Korean words

After learning the correct Korean pronunciation of the letters, it’ll be easy to pronounce words. You’ll be able to pronounce them like a native speaker.

The letters are combined into Korean syllable blocks with 2-4 letters in each block. Each syllable block must have a consonant and a vowel. The syllables are pronounced together to form words.

For example, let’s look at the Korean word 가. It is made up of ㄱ + ㅏ = 가.

ㄱ = g

ㅏ = a

So it is pronounced like this:ㄱ + ㅏ (g + a) = 가 (ga)

Korean Pronunciation of 가 (ga)

Many letters in the alphabet have ranges of sounds. Just as the ㄱ can be a blend of “g” and “k,” the ㄹ can be a blend of “r” and “l.” The more you know the ranges, the better you will recognize them when you listen to a Korean speaker.

Once you recognize them well, it’s important to practice and expose yourself to listening and speaking more to Korean native speakers. It’ll be very helpful for learning Korean and improving your pronunciations.

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How to Pronounce Korean Names

Learning how to pronounce Korean names begin with mastering the Korean alphabet. If you have familiarized yourself with reading letters and words, not through romanization, but in Hangeul, then it will be easy for you to read Korean names!

Some Korean names can be confusing to pronounce because of inconsistent romanization. For example, the name 준 should be romanized as “Jun.” However, it’s commonly romanized as “Joon.” Given the various spellings, it may be harder to know if “Jun” should be pronounced as 준 (Jun) or 전 (Jeon). Hence, it’s best to practice reading these names in Hangeul as it will help you pronounce them correctly.

We have a separate article on Korean names with a list of the most common names used in Korea. This will give you an idea of how to correctly pronounce Korean names. You’ll also be able to come up with your own Korean name and pronounce it accurately.

Short and Abrupt Pronunciation of Korean

The closest approximation to the Korean letter ㄴ is “n.” However, sometimes it can sound pronounced like a “d.” The reason is that Koreans pronounce sounds shortly and abruptly sometimes. The best way to think of the ㄴ is to think of it as its own letter with similarities to some sounds in English.

An easy way to manage this is to follow the associations for the ㄴ, which is the “n” from “northeast.” When saying the words that start with an ㄴ, such as 네, you can pronounce them with “n.”

네 (ne)

If you hear someone saying, 네 (ne) it sounds like it starts with a “d,” then make a mental note of that. Slowly you will learn the range of sounds possible with the ㄴ!

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Using Romanization for Pronunciation

Korean romanization refers to using Latin characters to display Korean words and sentences in writing. For example, you can write the Korean word 메뉴 as “menyu.”  This romanization system is great for people who want to identify a few Korean words without needing to learn the alphabet. It can also be valuable for visitors who come to Korea for a trip and don’t know the alphabet.

The rules are useful to know for those reasons. However, you likely won’t use them often if you’re learning Korean. It’s better to know the correct pronunciation for each letter and use those as often as possible.

Another challenge with Korean words written in English letters is that not everyone uses the same romanization systems. There is a standard romanization system that most people follow, but not everyone. For example, you may see 김치 romanized as “kimchi.” However, according to standard romanization rules, it should be spelled as gimchi.

A woman teaching a girl how to say kimchi

Pronunciation of Romanized English vs Korean Letters

As shown in the example above, you may see the letter ㄱ written as a “g” or a “k,” but that shouldn’t be used as a guide for pronunciation. The purpose of writing a Korean word in English letters is often so people who don’t know Hangul can approximate the word.

However, it’s not a very accurate guide for pronunciation. Instead, it’s far better to spend the hour it takes to learn the alphabet to know the correct pronunciation.

How to Pronounce Korean Alphabet: ㅋ, ㄱ, and ㄲ

The pronunciation of the Korean alphabets ㅋ, ㄱ, and ㄲ can be complicated for a lot of Korean language learners. These three letters look similar and can sound similar. However, each letter has a distinct sound.

Below is a video that will teach you how to pronounce the Korean alphabets ㅋ,, and.

How to Pronounce the Korean Letters: ㅋ, ㄱ, and ㄲ (키읔 vs 기역 vs 쌍기역)

Romanizing Sounds That Don’t Exist in English

This not only goes for regular letters but also for the special double consonants in Korean. For example, the Korean ㄲ is romanized as kk. However, it is pronounced differently than what you would hear with “kk.” If you only learned from romanization, you probably wouldn’t realize this.

Whereas, if you learned how to say the sounds directly from the alphabet, you’d quickly nail how to correctly pronounce ㄲ. While romanizations can offer some aid and comfort in the early stages, it’s best to truly focus on learning the alphabet right from the start.

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Basic Korean Pronunciation Rules

Now that we have covered some basics to be aware of related to how Korean letters are pronounced, we can move on to some simple lessons that cover the basic rules for Korean pronunciation.

Consonants must be paired together with a vowel

No consonant alone in the Korean language can make a sound. There always has to be a vowel combined with a consonant. For example, ㄱ alone is nothing, but 가 is ga. This can perhaps explain why the pronunciation of some English loan words also differs from the original English pronunciation.

For example, the word 서비스 is pronounced differently than “service” because of the additional vowel sound at the end.

Korean Pronunciation of ㅖ and ㅒ with consonants

There are things to consider when learning the Korean pronunciation of consonants paired together with a vowel. One of them is that vowels such as ㅖ (ye) and ㅒ (yae) are pronounced but don’t have a strong sound.

For example, the syllable 폐 (pye). The “y” is pronounced in the syllable but when pronounced naturally, it seems like it’s omitted so it sounds like “pe” instead of “pye”.

Korean pronunciation of 합니다  (hamnida) and 입니다 (imnida)

The Korean letter ㅂ in 합니다  (hamnida) and 입니다 (imnida) is pronounced as ㅁ.  It follows a special pronunciation rule. When ㅂ is followed by ㄴ, it changes from ㅂ+ㄴ to ㅁ+ㄴ, which is more similar to “m”.

Korean Pronunciation Rules Chart

The Korean letters have their own distinct sounds. But, their sounds can vary depending on which letter comes after or before them.

Another factor that can affect the change in their sounds is their placement. For example, the word 초콜릿 (chokollit). The sound of the letterㅅ in this word changes. It’s pronounced with a “T” sound rather than an “S” sound.

These are a few of the Korean pronunciation rules you’ll need to keep in mind.

In this section, you’ll get to downloadable the Korean Pronunciation Rules chart. Press the red button below to get the cheat sheet sent to your email.

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Special rules for Korean word pronunciation

The easiest way to pronounce words written in Hangul is to just sound out the syllables one by one. However, there are some special pronunciation rules that exist when certain consonants are next to each other in syllables.

The best way to learn these pronunciation rules is to practice them one by one. Learn the most common rules first, and be patient with them. As you learn them, you’ll start to notice that a lot of them make sense logically because some of the consonant sounds are difficult to say back to back. So, it makes sense to change them to make them easier to say.

Vowel following a consonant

Suppose the previous syllable ends in a consonant in the final position, and the next syllable begins with the letter ㅇ. In that case, the consonant sound gets moved to the beginning of the following syllable.

For example:

먹어 -> [머거]

십이 -> [시비]

Additionally, when the final consonant of a syllable is ㅎ, it will become silent in the world. Like this:

좋아 -> [조아]

Meanwhile, if the last consonant is ㅌ or ㄷ and is followed by 이, their pronunciation switches to 치 and 지 respectively. For example:

같이 -> [가치]

Only when the last consonant of the syllable is ㅇ does the consonant sound not switch over to the following vowel. For example:

종이 -> [종이]

What if the consonant isn’t followed by a vowel?

When the syllable ends with a consonant, and there is no syllable to follow, or the next syllable begins with a consonant, the pronunciation of that consonant may change.

Like this:

ㄱ, ㄲ, ㅋ -> k

ㅂ, ㅃ, ㅍ -> p

Most of the other consonants will be pronounced as “t” in this case. The two exceptions are ㄹ, which will simply be pronounced as “l,” as well as ㅇ, which gets a nasal sound similar to “ng” when it’s the last consonant in a syllable. Although these rules occasionally include verbs, you’ll run into these situations with nouns most of the time.

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What is a batchim?

The batchim is the bottom or lower position consonants in a syllable. It is an important part of Korean pronunciation because it often determines a change in the way words are pronounced.  Not all syllables have a batchim.

For example:

-> no batchim

-> ㅂ is the batchim

-> ㄹㅂ is the batchim

What is “batchim” in Korean?

You can write “batchim” in Korean as 받침. However, this word is usually pronounced as 바침 (ba-chim).

This video shows what the batchim rules are in Korean:

What are Batchim Rules in Korean?

Korean Pronunciation of Final Consonants in a Syllable

When learning how to pronounce words with final consonants, it is important to note that the final consonant is pronounced softly. For example, the words 밤 (bam) and 팬 (paen). The final consonants ㅁ and ㄴ are pronounced softly in these words.

Consonant Assimilation with the Batchim

Consonant assimilation means pronouncing a word differently when certain consonants in the batchim position are followed by other consonants in the first position of the next syllable.

For example:

막내 (maknae) -> [망내] [mangnae]

The purpose of the change is to make the pronunciation more natural and easy. Below are the most common assimilation types you will run into.

ㄱ + ㄴ – > ㅇ +ㄴ

국내 (guknae)-> [궁내] [gungnae]

ㄱ + ㄹ – > ㅇ + ㄴ

석류 (seokryu) -> [성뉴] [seongnyu]

ㅇ + ㄹ – > ㅇ + ㄴ

등록 (deungrok) -> [등녹] [deungnok]

ㄴ + ㄹ – > ㄹ + ㄹ

신랑 (sinrang)-> [실랑] [sillang]

ㅎ precedes or follows ㄹ/ㄱ/ㅂ/ㅈ/ㄷ – > ㅎ disappears, and the consonant sound becomes aspirated while ㄹ becomes pronounced as “r.”

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Why does the ㅅ sometimes sound like a “t”?

Certain consonants change to a “t” sound when they are in the batchim position. These consonants are ㄷ,ㅈ,ㅅ,ㅆ,ㅌ, and ㅊ.

Here’s a video explaining why ㅅ sometimes sounds like a “t”:

Why is the Korean letter ㅅ sometimes pronounced like “t” and sometimes like “s”?

For example:

꽃 = [꽅] – ends in “t” instead of “ch”

맛 = [맡] – ends in “t” instead of “s”

If you see a single syllable that ends in ㄷ,ㅈ,ㅅ,ㅆ,ㅌ,ㅊ, then you can pronounce the final consonant as “t.”

Double Batchim (받침)

Finally, we have the syllables that end with two consonants in the final position, such as 닭. These are called double batchim.

How to read words with double batchim?

In these cases, when the next syllable begins with a vowel, the sound of the latter of the consonants simply gets transferred to the following syllable. For example:

없어 – > 업서 (eopseo)

If one of the consonants is ㅎ, this will simply get ignored. Like this:

싫어 --> 시러 (sireo)

If the next syllable also begins with a consonant, it might get trickier to understand as there is no specific rule, and you’ll simply have to memorize how the words are pronounced. But to give you something to start with, each cluster usually has its own set of rules. Like this:

If there is a cluster with ㄱ in it, such as ㄺ or ㄳ, typically ㄱ is pronounced and the other is silent.

How to pronounce ㄹ (rieul) in a batchim position?

Typically, if there is a cluster with ㄹ, the other consonant will be pronounced, and ㄹ will fall silent.

However, there are some words with ㄼ where ㄹ will be pronounced instead, such as 여덟 which is pronounced as 여덜 (yeodeol).

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Korean Consonants Pronunciation

In learning the correct pronunciation of Korean words, knowing the different types of Korean consonants is also important.

Double consonants

Unlike in English, Finnish, and many other languages, double consonants in the Korean language (ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ) don’t actually get pronounced twice as long or with twice the emphasis. Getting the level of pitch and emphasis correct on Korean double consonants is some of the hardest parts of Korean pronunciation you’ll learn.

A boy reading from a big book and a girl talking while pointing at him

It’ll help you to follow an audio guide, in particular when learning double consonants. Here are some double consonant words that you can practice with:

가까워요 (gakkawoyo)

딸기 (ttalki)

바빠요 (bappayo)

비싸요 (bissayo)

짜장면 (jjajangmyeon)

The romanization is here just for reference. Try to follow the Hangul when practicing your pronunciation. To learn about double consonants in more detail, please refer to our guide on Korean double consonants. The lesson has audio to help you with the pronunciations of the consonants.

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Aspirated consonants 

These are the aspirated consonants in Korean: ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅊ, ㅍ

In common language, this means a strong burst of air that follows the consonant. You could say that this consonant is a stronger version of its “original” version. Their romanization has also changed over time. Previously the romanization for ㅋ, ㅌ and ㅍ was kh, th, and ph, respectively, but the “h” has since been dropped.

Understanding the previous romanization could help you understand why these consonants are referred to the way they are and even how they are supposed to be pronounced. When pronouncing them, try to get your k, t, and p as strong as you can.

The ㅊ, which is ch in its basic sound, is more straightforward to understand. In each case, the pronunciation of the consonants is quite identical to their English counterparts, especially as they are often used specifically in loan words. Here are some words you can practice with:

키스 (kiseu)

토마토 (tomato)

침대 (chimdae)

(pi)

The Consonant ㄹ

The ㄹ-consonant can be a tricky letter and produces many special cases. We’ll give you some basic rules for pronouncing this letter the correct way.

First, you can pronounce the letter on its own as a blend between “r” and “l.” If you listen to a native Korean speaker, you may hear the ㄹ pronounced as an “r.” If you listen to a different native Korean speaker, you may hear it as an “l.” Work on making this a blend between the two letters.

How to Say ㄹ and ㄴ Together

One of the common changes you’ll get with pronouncing the ㄹ letter is when it’s paired next to ㄴ. If it’s ㄹ + ㄴ, then it will become ㄹ + ㄹ.

Like this, for example:

일년 = [일련]

If you have ㄴ + ㄹ, then it also becomes ㄹ + ㄹ.

For example:

연락 = [열락]

There are some special cases, but these rules will work most of the time.

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How do you pronounce this word?

In this section, we have added some examples of Korean words with audio of how to pronounce them correctly.

Korean pronunciation examples

The terms below are used to address people depending on the speaker’s gender and relationship with the person. If you want to know more about these words, they are further explained in this separate article.

“Hyung” pronunciation

The pronunciation of the word “hyung” (형) is [형]. This word can also be romanized as “hyeong.”

Here is the audio:

“Oppa” pronunciation

You can pronounce the word “oppa” (오빠) as [오빠].

Here is the audio:

“Unnie” pronunciation

The pronunciation of the word “unnie” (언니) is [언니]. Another romanization for this word is “eonni.”

Here is the audio:

“Nuna” pronunciation

You pronounce the word “nuna” (누나) as [누나] Take note that this word is also romanized as “noona”.

Here is the audio:

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Common Mistakes with Korean Pronunciation

Before we send you off to practice what you’ve learned in this lesson today, we’ll quickly go over some commonly made mistakes with pronouncing Korean properly – so you won’t waste time making them!

A girl holding signages of an X and checkmark

Here are some mistakes to avoid when learning Korean:

MistakeSolution
Not pronouncing loan words, such as coffee, the Korean way of pronouncing the word. (커피 vs coffee)Speak the word in Korean instead of in English
MistakeSolution
Over-emphasizing syllables in a word.
Correctly speaking words in Korean can be quite flat, so your sentences will sound unnatural if you stress some syllables over others.
Make an effort to listen to the intonation of Korean speakers.
MistakeSolution
Pronouncing double 받침 as the word is written.Note that there are some special cases with double 받침, so be conscious of them.
MistakeSolution
Mixing up the vowels 어 and 오. 어 has a much more open and relaxed sound, whereas 오 is more profoundly "o."Get clear on the pronunciation distinction between these two. Practice as much as needed.
MistakeSolution
Correctly pronouncing the vowel ㅡ.You'll want to practice this a lot. It's such an uncommon sound to make for many Korean learners.
MistakeSolution
Overstressing ㅎ when a lot of times it's rather silent.Listen for the times when ㅎ is silent, such as in the adjective 좋다.
MistakeSolution
Ignoring common special cases such as when ㅂ gets pronounced as ㅁ in a word. For example, 입니다 should be pronounced as 임니다.Note special cases as you see them. Don't worry about learning all of them at once.
MistakeSolution
Trying to study all of the pronunciation rules at once. These rules take time. Studying them all at once can be overwhelming, and it may slow down your Korean learning progress. Note them as you go, and continue with your plan.

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Conclusion

Apart from the pronunciation of words and letters, there are other things to remember when you’re first learning a language like Korean. This can be the Korean grammar, different Korean vocabulary, or perhaps basic phrases in Korean.

If you’re a bit confused about where to start, we have a great resource on how to study Korean. It contains a brief overview of the language and tips and tricks to learn Korean fast.

Has our guide been helpful to aid you with learning how to properly say Korean sounds and words? What other concerns do you have with learning how to pronounce Korean like a native? Tell us in the comments about your personal biggest challenge with Korean pronunciation.

    34 replies to "Korean Pronunciation: How to Correctly Say Hangul Letters & Words"

    • Avatar for Esther Esther

      Thank you so much for this post.. It really helped me to understand a lot of things I’d been confused about.

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