Korean Pronunciation: How to Correctly Say Hangul Letters & Words

Last Updated on December 15, 2021 by 90 Day Korean
Illustration of girl sitting on a ledge reading a book

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

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!

Illustration of girl sitting on a ledge reading a book

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

Korean Alphabet Pronunciation

The nice thing about learning Korean alphabet pronunciation is that it is very similar to the English alphabet pronunciation. Many of the sounds that are pronounced in Hangul also have the same sounds in English.

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.

Learning the Korean alphabet is the easiest and most accurate way of improving your Korean pronunciation. You’ll be able to speak Korean and sound like a native speaker once you master the Korean alphabet.

How to pronounce Korean words

The best way to correctly pronounce words in Korean is to learn the proper pronunciation of the Hangul characters (letters). Once you learn the Korean pronunciation of the letters, it’ll be easy to pronounce words. You’ll be able to pronounce them like a native speaker.

Each character in Hangul (Korean alphabet) has a sound connected to it, just like the English alphabet. For example, the ㄱ in Korean sounds similar to the letter “g.”

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)

How to say the Korean alphabet

The easiest way to learn how the alphabet is pronounced is to use associations that connect the Korean alphabet to the English alphabet. You can get a free PDF download of our guide here.

We also have a full guide with audio on this page. The lesson shows the way the letters should be pronounced and audio to hear how each character sounds.

How to pronounce the Korean letters

Here is a table of the vowel and consonants sounds. 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.

It’s best to learn the sounds these letters 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.

Learning the Korean alphabet pronunciation

You can easily learn the Korean alphabet pronunciation if you use associations. An association is some way of remembering the Korean character by using similar sounds you already know in your native language.

We can associate the ㄱ to the word “gun.” The shape of the ㄱ looks a bit like a gun, and the sound is similar to a “g” sound. So, you may want to associate ㄱ = gun.

The letter ㄱ is pronounced similar to a “g” but can also be pronounced similar to a “k.” That’s because many letters in Korean have a range of sounds. That means that the letter ㄱ can sound like a “g” or a “k.”

It doesn’t matter which one you use. Instead, think of it as a “blend” of the “g” and “k” sound. Listening to a native speaker of Korean will help you recognize these sounds.

Pronunciation of Romanized English vs Korean Letters

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.

Girl with black hair studying at a desk

We have a free lesson here that will teach you how Korean letters are pronounced using visual associations. You can also download the PDF lesson and learn that way.

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. And 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.

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.

You may wonder if the ㄴ is pronounced as an “n” or a “d” sound. Many people hear a “d” sound for some words that start with ㄴ. The answer is that the ㄴ is pronounced similar to an “n” most of the time but can also be pronounced similar to a “d” at times. 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.” If you hear someone saying, 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!

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.” There are romanization rules for each of the Korean letters.

This romanization system is great for people who want to identify a few Korean words or signs without needing to learn the alphabet. It can also be valuable for visitors who come to South 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.

If you want to become a proficient Korean speaker, we recommend you learn the associations for the alphabet of Korean as soon as possible. It will be helpful to pronounce sounds correctly, so Koreans will understand what you are saying. Otherwise, you may become frustrated when saying romanized words as they’re not accurate in giving you the correct pronunciation.

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.

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.

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.

What is a batchim (받침)?

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:

바 -> no batchim

밥 -> ㅂ is the batchim

밟-> ㄹㅂ is the batchim

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.

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.

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.”

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 batchim 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.

Double consonants: ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ

Unlike in English, Finnish, and many other languages, a double consonant in the Korean language doesn’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.

Two friends talking on the phone

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.

Aspirated consonants: 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)

피 (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.

Consonant Assimilation with the Badchim

This 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 -> [망내]

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 -> [궁내]

ㄱ + ㄹ – > ㅇ + ㄴ

석류 -> [성뉴]

ㅇ + ㄹ – > ㅇ + ㄴ

등록 -> [등녹]

ㄴ + ㄹ – > ㄹ + ㄹ

신랑 -> [실랑]

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

Double Badchim (받침)

Finally, we have the syllables that end with two consonants in the final position, such as 닭. 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.

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).

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!

Here are some mistakes to avoid when learning Korean:

1. Not pronouncing loan words, such as coffee, the Korean way of pronouncing the word. (커피 vs coffee)

Solution: Speak the word in Korean instead of in English

2. 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.

Solution: Make an effort to listen to the intonation of Korean speakers.

3. Pronouncing double 받침 as the word is written.

Solution: Note that there are some special cases with double 받침, so be conscious of them.

4. Mixing up the vowels 어 and 오. 어 has a much open and relaxed sound, whereas 오 is more profoundly “o.”

Solution: Get clear on the pronunciation distinction between these two. Practice as much as needed.

5. Correctly pronouncing the vowel ㅡ.

Solution: You’ll want to practice this a lot. It’s such an uncommon sound to make for many Korean learners.

6. Overstressing ㅎ when a lot of times it’s rather silent.

Solution: Listen for the times when ㅎ is silent, such as in adjective 좋다.

7. Ignoring common special cases such as when ㅂ gets pronounced as ㅁ in a word. For example, 입니다 should be pronounced as 임니다.

Solution: Note special cases as you see them. Don’t worry about learning all of them at once.

8. Trying to study all of the pronunciation rules at once.

Solution: 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.

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 Nana Nana

      Hello, for the 받침 => ㄷ,ㅈ,ㅅ,ㅆ,ㅌ,ㅊ that pronounced as “t” , how do we know when is the time we have to use ㄷ or ㅈ or ㅅ or ㅆ or ㅌ orㅊ for writing a word or sentence?
      I mean for the example 몇, how do we know for the word 몇 we have to use ㅊ not ㅈ or ㅅ.
      do we have to memorize or we can analyze them?.

      really appreciate your response, thank you in advance.

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        You will have to memorize the spelling. Koreans usually ask the spelling when it’s not clear. ^^

    • Avatar for sunny sunny

      my name is sunny can you translate it to korean

    • Avatar for Mimiyashi Mimiyashi

      Hi, I want to know how my friend name will be pronounced in Korean, her name is chaely<33

    • Avatar for Uche Udoye Uche Udoye

      My daughter’s name is Mehwa, which I understood to mean Eternal fragrance or 영원한 향기.

      Is the spelling and meaning correct??

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        If it’s Korean spelling is 매화, it means “Japanese apricot flower[blossom].”

        • Avatar for Aarefa Aarefa

          Please write my name in korean my name is aarefa

    • Avatar for Yoongles Yoongles

      I’ve been looking for so long for an amazing website that teaches Korean and can learn from it easily. I think I have found it 😁. Thank you so much for making this website, I will definitely be using this whenever I’m learning Korean!!

      • Avatar for 90 Day Korean 90 Day Korean

        That’s great! It’s our pleasure. We’re glad that it has been valuable to you. ^^

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.