The Korean language belongs to the Altaic language family like Mongolian and Japanese. There are about 75 million people in the world who speak Korean, and according to a statistical ranking done in 2002, Korean is the 13th most spoken language in the world. Hangeul is the Korean writing system. It is similar to the Latin alphabet, inasmuch as each individual symbol represents a single sound, not an idea.
As with many languages, Hangeul is written left to right. However, instead of each individual symbol being written next to each other on the same horizontal line, the symbols are grouped into characters, and each character consists of at least one consonant and one vowel symbol, representing a syllable. Thus a word of three syllables is written in Hangeul with three characters, each one composed of individual consonant and vowel symbols.
Hangeul was devised by King Sejong the Great (r. 1418-1450), who wanted his people to have a writing system of their own. At that time, the learned and noble people wrote in classical Chinese.
Korean Vowels and Consonants
☞ Click here to learn the vowels in more detail
☞ Click here to learn the consonants in more detail
How to write Hangeul characters
When we write Hangeul in a syllabic unit, there are six different ways to combine the vowel and consonant symbols. As illustrated in the following diagram, the individual Hangeul are arranged and proportioned to fit neatly into a square box, and are always read left to right, then top to bottom.
| CV CV CVV CVC CVCC CVVC |
(where C = consonant and V = vowel)