Why it’s important to ditch romanization ASAP!

I’m still frustrated when I see kids writing Korean in its romanized form. I don’t mean as an aid in asking a question or explaining something. I mean having conversations – chatting – with each other in full blown romanized Korean. O.o


1. It’s soooo easy to learn the Korean alphabet (한글/Hanguel/Hangul)

Thank you for that, King Sejong! Of course, it may seem overwhelming at first. But, it IS a completely new alphabet, after all.  Nevertheless, it’s very straightforward. Here’s a great video that helped me learn the consonants.

You will notice that the Korean alphabet is slightly different than the English alphabet in that it only contains consonants. Okay, that doesn’t mean that Korean has no vowels. It just means that – for reasons unknown to me – there is a clear division between the two. In fact, the Korean keyboard has all of the consonants on the left and all of the vowels on the right. Regardless of all these points, you should be able to memorize most of the Korean alphabet in a few minutes. I’m not kidding. I got the following list from Omniglot. You can also listen to an audiofile on the site for each set of letters.

Single consonants - black // double consonants - red

Single consonants – black // double consonants – red

Basic vowels- black // basic vowels (ya vowels, as I call them) - red // diphthongs (wa vowels, as I call them) - purple

Basic vowels- black // basic double vowels (ya vowels, as I call them) – red // diphthongs (wa vowels, as I call them) – purple

2. There is no standard way of romanizing Korean

There are a few systems, and all of them are valid. Don’t let any source convince you that System A or System B is the “standard” form, because it’s not. That may be the case for official documents, but the truth is that every individual will romanize Korean as they see fit. Therefore, you will see romanized as “dd“,”tt” and even “t” depending on the writer.  The other problem with romanization is that people don’t tend to hyphenate it. Hyphenating is a very useful way of letting the reader identify each syllable, and therefore identify the original Korean word more accurately. However, it’s a pain in the ass, so almost no one does it unless strictly necessary.

Here are a few of examples of romanization for the same word, 안녕하세요 (hello):


Oh, and I forgot “ahnnyeonghaseyo”

3. Romanization is to Korean what sound spelling is to English. No more.

There’s a reason why we don’t write English as sound spelling…because it’s not English; it’s just an aid. “Britul” is no more “brittle” than “sarang” is “사랑.”  If we were to see a person writing English only as sound spelling, we would probably think that they weren’t learning English, right? Well, the same is true with romanization and Korean. You’re not really learning Korean.

Romanization is helpful in the beginning. But, it will soon becomes a hindrance.

HERE’S WHY YOU SHOULD KICK THE ROMANIZATION HABIT (in addition to the previous points)

  • As far as I know, you can’t look up a word in a dictionary via it’s romanized form (you can google it and get a hit, but this is usually reserved for more common words). Korean-English dictionaries generally have romanization, but only after the Korean word.
  • If you want to re-Koreanize a romanized word you will likely not get it exactly right (see point 2). This makes looking up the word even more difficult. It happens to me all the time.
  • Many Koreans don’t know romanization.  Maybe, a lot of teenagers do, but not the majority of the adults…and why should they for that matter? So, using romanization to communicate with a native Korean speaker is pretty difficult.
  • If you plan on travelling to Korea, you will see that the street signs, billboards, etc. are not romanized. They might be translated into English, but they won’t be romanized.

Honestly and truly, it’s much easier to learn the Korean alphabet than the English alphabet. So, just do yourself a favor and learn Hanguel right off the bat and use romanization as an aid in pronunciation. In the long run, you’ll be happy that you did.


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