Brief History of Hangeul

Hello, Dreamers!

If this is your first time here, welcome! If not, welcome back! This is the first installment of the Korean series on my blog! (Yay!) As mentioned in my very first post, this blog is sort of a personal language learning blog where I post what I have been learning in a more structured way to help myself and anyone who wants to learn the same language. Hopefully the information and resources I share will help on your language journey! As always, if there is a native speaker that happens to read this and finds something to be corrected, please let me know! We’re all here to learn, including myself, and as a non-native speaker, I know mistakes may happen. With that little detour over, let’s start our journey into the Korean language!


What is Hangeul?

Hangeul (한글), is the writing system/alphabet used throughout Korea (both North Korea and South Korea). It is made up of both consonants and vowels, just like the English language.

Statue of King Sejong the Great in South Korea.

Hangeul was created and promoted by King Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, and a group of his scholars called the Hall of Worthies. So, needless to say, this guy is pretty important in Korean history (there’s even a huge statue of him in Seoul). The language was finally published on October 9, 1446 and is now celebrated as Hangeul Day in South Korea [1, 2].

Prior to this creation, Korean was written in Chinese characters known as “Hanja”. Due to the difficulty of learning Hanja, a majority of Korean citizens were illiterate. Once Hangeul entered, it completely changed the game. Hangeul was so simple to learn that the majority who were unable to learn the Hanja system were now able to read and write through Hangeul. See? Sometimes simplicity is best!

The Korean language and writing system went through a lot of changes and battles to get where it is today, and if you’re interested in learning more of the history behind it, go for it! It’s pretty interesting and will also give you a glimpse into Korea’s history in general. The links provided in the reference section below are only a couple of resources but take an adventure through time via whatever search engine you use and find out more!


Why Learn Hangeul?

You may be thinking to yourself “Why do I need to learn Hangeul? I’ve found plenty of sources with Romanized spellings and I understand them just fine!” Yeah, those sources are out there, but during the small amount of time I spent visiting a friend in Korea, learning solely the romanization version would have been useless unless my pronunciation was always on point… Believe me, it was (and still is) far from perfect. From the places I visited, the signs/text was either written English letter or Hangeul, no romanization. As an example, you can see the ticket I received at the Incheon International Airport to travel from the airport to the bus terminal near my friend in Cheonan.


My bus ticket from Inchon International Airport to the Cheonan bus terminal in Chungcheongnam-do.

Hangeul consists primarily of 10 vowels and 14 consonants. Each of these letters are written in a certain order to form syllables (or blocks), and a combination of these syllables for words. Syllables are written one letter at a time from left to right or top to bottom, depending on the letters used. We will cover all of this in the following blog post, but for now, we just want to understand the history and importance of the writing system itself.

To be real, Hangeul is super easy to learn, and hopefully the next few posts will show you how easy it really is. I will cover the vowels, consonants, and diphthongs (I didn’t even know what these were until I began studying Hangeul… Even though we have them in English too!) in separate posts to not overwhelm any of you who are new to learning Korean, especially those who have never learned a language outside of the alphabet used for English. Once we have learned each of the basic letters, we’ll move on to syllable construction, so you can take the letters ㄱ – ㅗ -ㅇ – ㅑ – ㅇ – ㅇ – ㅣ to form the syllables 고-양-이  and then the word 고양이 (cat). Once you have a grasp on the different ways to form syllables, we’ll move on to understanding sentence construction!

I know this sounds pretty daunting, but I promise you it’ll be ok. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment so I or another reader can help.

Until Next Time!

– Rebekah T.