One day last fall I got sick enough that I thought it was worth staying in bed to recover, rather than forcing myself through the day and prolonging it. Instead of reading or listening to music to pass the day, I decided to do something I’d meant to do for a long time and never gotten around to: learn to read, write, and pronounce the letters of Hangul, the Korean alphabet.
I was surprised at how fast and easy it was to learn, thanks to a couple of nice apps. Many months later, I still remember everything, so I think it was a worthwhile use of an hour or so to learn and a couple more to practice.
There are tons of free apps out there, many with paid upgrades to unlock the full content, natch. It probably doesn’t matter which one you use, so if you don’t like the suggestions below, there may be better ones available. Here are the ones I used:
This is where I started. The app is primitive and initially seems overly easy, but if you work your way through it the complexity grows at a pace that’s challenging but not overwhelming. Seeing the characters and hearing the sounds made a strong connection in my mind. By the time I finished, I understood all the characters in the Korean alphabet and was able to retain them.
This makes a good followup to Korean Letters, because it coaches you through drawing the characters on your touchscreen. It’s meant for kids and has a pretty annoying (or cute, depending on your leanings) soundtrack, but it’s great for teaching stroke order. In Hangul, as in Chinese/Japanese, there’s a correct way to write each character/sound and many wrong ways. Like Korean Letters, this app has free and paid versions, so you can see if you like it before you part with your hard-earned cash.
This app isn’t the best way to learn the alphabet, but it serves as a nice reference guide for refreshing your memory. Its chief virtue is a matrix view of all the basic vowel/consonant combinations in one place.
The nice thing about understanding Hangul, aside from lording it over everyone you know who doesn’t, is that you’ll know with greater confidence how to pronounce Korean words you encounter. The romanization of Korean words is so inconsistent that it’s confusing and often unhelpful, so being able to see the actual characters adds clarity. If you want to learn and use Korean words like Tae Kwon Do techniques, names of forms, and basic dojang courtesy, this is a good way to get a solid foundation.
Note that the app recommendations above are for iPhone because that’s what I happen to have. If anyone uses Android, I’d love to see your recommendations for good apps on Google Play in the comments below.