Korean writing – extra consonants and vowels

I’ve just completed the first week of the First Step Korean course on Coursera – 4 lessons on how to read and write the Korean alphabet, hangeul. This is  summary of lesson 3 of 4 in Week 1 of the course.

In the first section of the course they introduced the 10 basic vowels and 14 basic consonants. (Lesson 1 and 2 for Week 1)

But we’re not finished yet – there are still a few extra consonants and vowels that we need to know to be able to read and write in Korean.

Can you remember the vowels and consonants we’ve studied so far?

Now onto the other vowels and consonants we need to know.

We have already learned the simple sounds and the aspirated sounds – this lesson introduces the ‘tension sounds’ which are created by doubling up the consonant.

The pronunciation starts off quite soft with the simple sounds, with a puff of air for the aspirated sounds and with a hard, ‘tense’ intonation for the last sounds. In some cases it is quite easy to hear the difference, but there are other sounds that are hard to differentiate. In many cases Korean people find it difficult to tell the difference too but you should be able to work out which word is meant by the context.



To me these sound like a soft ka, ka with a breath of air and ga.




To me these sound like a very soft ta, aspirated ta and da



This sounds like unaspirated pa, aspirated pa and ba



Soft cha, aspirated cha and ja


Well done! That’s all the consonants!

Now for the extra vowels…

other vowels

ae-ae not 'a'

This is closer to -ae / eh/ ay sound (very similar to the sound below) NOT the ah sound in cat as described above – I think this must be a mistake in the course as she doesn’t pronounce it like the ‘a’ in cat in the video.

Unless it’s how cat is said in American English?

eh penweiwe

extra vowels

The new vowels are made by combining the vowels we have already learned and the four vowels above.

N.B. Some are more common than others.

Can you guess what they sound like?

yay yae

i + eh – yeh


i + ae = ye


o + ya = wa

wei way

o + ae – way


o + aw = waw/wo

way uei

u + ey = wei

ui ooee

u + i = ui (e.g. gooey)

How are you feeling? I found this the toughest lesson so far but I am hoping that it will get easier as I start to see the hangeul in context and become more familiar with the various combinations and how they sound.

Some of the sounds are very hard to distinguish – the pairs marked on the the graphic below show those that are closest in pronunciation and difficult even for native speakers. The teacher mentioned in the video that these vowels are not very commonly used so there’s no need to panic just yet!


Now, test out your reading skills by clicking through the slideshow below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can also practice writing these words:


How did you do? I think this lesson will need a lot of revision before I feel truly comfortable with all of the vowels, especially those that are very close in pronunciation.

Good luck with your Korean studies!


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post. Very explanatory!


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