In general, the Korean script, 한글, is a favorite of linguists, logically constructed and relatively standard in its pronunciation. However, there are a number of exceptions, which can totally mess up foreigners. So, if you’re attempting to master the pronunciation of Korean as spoken in Seoul (I really can’t help you with regional dialects, because I’m not there yet), the following may be helpful for you ^^
Step One: Learn the Alphabet
Step one in your quest for good pronunciation is to learn the alphabet and how each letter is pronounced on its own, i.e. , 가, 나 , 다 (It’ll take you awhile to get the pronunciation down, and practice with a native speaker is key!) There’s plenty of websites out there with pronunciation guides for the letters of the alphabet. A quick search found me this fun guide from Indiana University.
Once you’ve learned your Korean ABC’s, it’s time to make syllables and words! Yay!
Step Two: Get acquainted with the Construction of Basic Syllables
When writing Korean words, the letters are grouped together by syllables and each syllable is written in a square block. For instance, if I was going to write the English word “Happy” in this manner, it would look something like this:
In Korean, this grouping of letters looks like: ㄱ, 가, 갑, 값
Step Three: Become Friends with 받침
It’s absolutely vital to your happy pronunciation life that you learn the joy of 받침!
What’s 받침, you may ask?
Well, 받침 are the final consonant(s) of a syllable, i.e. that “p” in “hap”, or the ㅁ in 김. Although any consonant could be used to end a syllable, there are only seven sound values for 받침!
When ending a syllable:
ㄱ, ㄲ, ㅋ, ㄳ, ㄺ are all pronounced as ㄱ
ㄴ, ㄵ are pronounced as ㄴ
ㄷ, ㅅ, ㅆ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅌ are pronounced as ㄷ
ㄹ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ are pronounced as ㄹ
ㅁ, ㄻ are pronounced as ㅁ
ㅂ, ㅍ, ㅄ, ㄿ are pronounced as ㅂ
ㅇ is pronounced as ㅇ
So, if you’re reading a single syllable, like, 닭, its 받침 is pronounced with its sound value as [닥]. And, if the following syllable also begins with a consonant, like 닭갈비, you would also continue to use the sound value to pronounce the word as [닥갈비].
낚시 is read aloud as [낙시]
있다 is pronounced [읻다] ^^
In the case of a double consonant 받침, it can be kind of confusing which consonant to actually pronounce, but in general, ㄴ, ㅁ, and ㅂ tend to win out, except in cases with ㄹ.
So now you can read each syllable on its own and get through a hefty chunk of 한글, but it’s sounding pretty different from what you hear when you’re watching a TV drama, right? Correcto! It’s time to smooth out your pronunciation.
Step Four: Link those Sounds Together with Lenition~ 연음화
When a syllable begins with a vowel, as signified by an “ㅇ” , like “이” does, that “ㅇ” is a weak, little letter and is easily dominated by the mighty 받침 of the preceding syllable. So if I put the word for book, 책, in front of the grammatical particle 이, I find myself with “책이” and I read it aloud as [채기]. Look at that! The letter ㅇ was completely wiped off the map!
Some more examples:
월요일 > [워료일]
책을 > [채글]
꽃이 > [꼬치]
In the case of a syllable that ends with two consonants, the second consonant moves into the space where “ㅇ” formerly was and both consonants are now pronounced!
앉아요 > [안자요]
넓어요 > [널버요]
So, things are sounding pretty great now! Except, you’re still running into instances where you’re not pronouncing things exactly like a native, right? Stay tuned, cuz I have yet to write about all sorts of fun pronunciation rules, like assimilation, and nasalization ^^