To learn correct Korean pronunciation:
- Learn the basic rules of Korean pronunciation (e.g. from a textbook that focuses just on pronunciation)
- Use Naver to learn the pronunciation of specific words (those which are not covered by basic rules)
- Use Korean Standard Pronunciation Converter to check the pronunciation of longer strings of Korean words and even whole sentences
Those are three steps I take, sorted by the complexity of the pronunciation of the particular Korean word or sentence, and for each of those steps I use a different tool.
I have never come across a Korean word for which at least one of those tools didn’t give me the proper standard pronunciation. Below I explain how I use each of those to figure out the correct Korean pronunciation and give you links for each.
N.B. In Korean, pronunciation is usually written in square brackets to distinguish it from the proper spelling of the word.
These steps I lay out are meant for you to use after you have learned how to pronounce Hangul. Learning how to write and pronounce each Korean letter should take a few days. A few hours if you’re really dedicated. Learning how to pronounce Korean language can take weeks.
Don’t believe me? Did you know that “petals” 꽃잎들 is pronounced [곤닙뜰]… yeah, read on.
These tools take you beyond Korean alphabet pronunciation so let’s look at, in more detail, steps I use to learn proper Korean pronunciation, and hopefully make myself understood by Koreans:
1. Learn basic Korean pronunciation rules
I studied Korean pronunciation from a textbook written just for that, no grammar no vocabulary, and it worked well for me so I recommend it for you too. There are some online sources but I’ve never come across anything as in-depth and with as many audio exercises as this book. If you have your favorite online source for learning Korean pronunciation rules (not just pronunciation of Hangul letters) please leave them below in the comments.
Maybe I can write a review for the book someday if you want, but in the meantime here is another review for Sounds of Korean textbook. It’s the same book I used. I did all the audio exercises from it which helped quite a bit, but I didn’t memorize all the pronunciation rules particularly well because there were so many rules to memorize and I was eager to start learning vocabulary and grammar :)
Honestly, there is sooo much in that book. As it should be, Korean pronunciation can get quite complicated. Even Shanna from Hangukdrama (who is my Korean-learning-idol) says that Korean pronunciation is not easy.
But there are rules. And learning a few rules, instead of having to learn pronunciation for each and every single Korean word, like you need to do for some other languages (looking at you English), is much more efficient and takes waaaay less time.
Still, you don’t have to learn every obscure rule. Especially because towards the end of the book you go from “this is the way it must be pronounced” to “this is the way it could be pronounced”.
I don’t know, now that I think about it maybe knowing those rules would be helpful for understanding native Korean speakers when they speak quickly, but as a beginner, all I need is to be able to understand textbook audio which always uses very proper pronunciation, and is slowed down. Maybe someday I’ll learn optional rules too.
Haha, once again I’m not sure if I’m done with Korean textbook. Deja vu much?
For now, I feel like I know enough.
I know (at least in theory:) ), things like the pronunciation difference between ㄱ, ㅋ, and ㄲ, that nasalization turns 십만 into [심만], I know that when you have a word such as 축하하다 that 받친 badchim (the bottom consonant) before ㅎ becomes aspirated, which means you make a puff of air and pronounce it as [추카하다], I even know how to pronounce 의 in all three situations it can find itself in – at the beginning of the word, in the middle of the word, and as a possessive particle at the end of the word ( 의 or 으, 이, 에 if anyone was wondering), and so on.
To be honest, most of those rules make logical sense. Korean voice changes are there to make pronunciation quicker and easier. So instead of saying ㅂ with your lips and then ㄴ in your nose 십만, you still use lips but make the sound in your nose and ㅂ turns into ㅁ and you say [심만], and now both ㅁ and ㄴ are sounds said with the same part of the vocal organ. Quicker than having to switch.
(If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about say “mmmmmm” and “nnnnno” and feel your nose vibrate).
The second example, ㄱ is said without a puff of air, but ㅎ sounds like Darth Vader’s consonant, so it makes sense that when you put them together you get ㅋ, that is a k sound with lots of air coming out of your throat.
Anyway, explaining pronunciation without sound is pointless so I’ll stop here, but the point I am trying to make is that I know the basic rules, and that enables me to know how to pronounce simpler words even if I’ve never seen them before in my life and I have no idea what they mean.
But throw something like 읊조리다 at me and I have no idea what the correct pronunciation is. In such situations I use two online Korean pronunciation resources that have saved me countless times.
First I recommend
2. For complex Korean words get correct pronunciation and audio from Naver Korean dictionary
Getting the right pronunciation out of Korean online dictionary is really simple: type in the word, look it up, and right next to it in square brackets is the correct pronunciation spelled out. Right next to that is a little white square with blue speaker, click it and you will hear the word pronounced twice by a Korean native speaker.
Now we know that 읊조리다 is pronounced as [읍쪼리다].
I use Naver dictionary a lot, but it only has pronunciation for single words and it’s missing some more obscure ones. Sometimes Korean words get linked inside sentences and change each other’s pronunciation. In such situation I
Unlike Naver dictionary, which only tracks voice changes between syllables inside one word, this converter tracks those changes between words too and will tell you how to pronounce a whole sentence.
(I just learned that 표준발음 at the top of that webpage means “standard pronunciation”, I guess that goes into my Korean word of the day vocabulary book for today)
As you can see 요 in 요일 gets changed to [뇨] because of the ㄴ in the word that precedes it, even though 요일 on its own is always pronounced just as [요일], so Naver dictionary wouldn’t be useful in this situation.
The textbook would, however
That’s why I first recommended the textbook – it’s great to learn all the rules, but it’s also great to be able to quickly check when you’re studying grammar and vocabulary, and that’s why I love the Korean Standard Pronunciation Converter.
There’s no audio in the Converter, which is to be expected when dealing with random sentences, so pronunciation is just spelled out. I guess they just use the official pronunciation rules so they can tell you how to pronounce any sentence even if it has never been input before.
Another very useful feature of this site is that it also tells you how Korean numbers are pronounced in a sentence according to which counter they are followed by.
Look at this sentence I got from howtostudykorean site. Instead of 3, you get 세 (it even reminds you to drop the ㅅ in 셋!). I think it’s great to check whether to use native Korean or Sino-Korean numbers for the more obscure counters.
And in that example I would definitely forget to pronounce ㄱ as ㄲ in 것 because it’s preceded by ㄹ.
Looking back at the word I used to scare you with at the beginning, 꽃잎들, you can see that Naver dictionary only gives you pronunciation for the singular 꽃잎
Once again, Converter to the rescue (but Naver will always have the advantage that you can hear the Korean word pronounced)
There you have it, three Korean pronunciation tools that should cover every possible combination of Korean words you may come across.
Even if you are self-studying Korean and have no one to help you, with these three resources you should be able to learn how to properly pronounce any Korean word and sentence.