October 9 is a special day for Koreans. It’s Hangul Day! On this day, we thank King Sejong the Great for inventing Hangul and we teach people around the world to read and write Korean. Let’s get into it!
A Brief Introduction to Hangul
Hangul is a unique alphabet for a few different reasons. It has 10 vowels, 14 consonants, and 27 complex letter combinations. When writing words, Korean letters are arranged vertically in syllabic blocks, read from left to right like Western text.
Image Credits: Image via LoneWolfInCyberia for r/korea on Reddit
Each letter has a distinct shape. The consonants represent the shapes of a person’s mouth, teeth, and tongue made when saying them. And the vowels are made with dots and lines that represent heaven, earth, and humanity.
Image Credits: Tongue&Talk via Medium
You can also combine letters into double/tense consonants (5) or double vowels (11). With double consonants, the pronunciation can be a bit tricky, but they’re easy to spot. Double vowels (below), on the other hand, are more difficult to read, especially if you're new to Hangul.
Despite these challenges, you can learn basic Hangul within a week. There’s even a famous saying: “A wise man can acquaint himself with [Hangul] before the morning is over; even a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.”
Image Credits: Korean Cultural Centre UK via Flickr
Due to its detailed design and system, Hangul is considered the world’s most scientific language. It’s also one of the world’s youngest, only being around since the 15th century. How did it start? Keep reading to find out!
Where Did Hangul Come From?
Koreans used to write in classic Chinese characters (Hanja, 한자). The letters didn’t reflect the Korean language’s sounds and were complicated to write. Scholars and noblemen were the only ones able to learn it, since they had both time and money, so many people were illiterate.
Image Credits: Bibliotheque Nationale de France via Wikimedia Commons
Things changed with Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. He reigned from 1418 until his death in 1450, and his greatest achievement was creating the Hangul, originally called the Hunminjeongeum (훈민정음).
Image Credits: Image via Applied Unificationism
To help the lower classes learn to write Korean, Sejong worked with scholars in the Hall of Worthies (Jiphyeonjeon, 집현전) on a new alphabet and a manual (Hunminjeongeum Haerye, 훈민정음 해례). They were published and distributed in 1446.
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However, not everyone was happy with the new alphabet. The noble classes felt threatened by the peasants’ new ability, and they continued to use Hanja. The tyrannical Prince Yeosang (Yeosangun) banned Hangul’s study and publication in 1504, but it survived and thrived into the 19th century.
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Hangul became Korea’s national writing system in 1894, but it was banned again by Japanese colonizers. Language groups secretly preserved Hangul by creating and hiding dictionaries until Korea’s liberation in 1945.
Image Credits: Image via REsource – Rockefeller Archive Center
Korean newspapers used both Hanja and Hangul up to the 1960’s. Since the ‘70s, Hangul has become more common and mostly replaced Hanja. However, you can still see the Chinese characters in advertising and media.
Image Credits: Korea JoongAng Daily via Wikimedia Commons
When Did Hangul Day Start?
Koreans started celebrating Hangul Proclamation Day (한글날), or Hangul Day, in 1926, but it had a different name: “Gagya Day” (가갸날) after the Giyeok characters. Its name changed to “Hangul Day” in 1928, the same year that the alphabet’s name was also changed.
Hangul Day used to be celebrated on different days. Then in 1940, an original copy of the “Hunminjeongeum Haerye” was discovered. According to the text, Hangul had been announced around October 9, 1446. Based on this discovery, Hangul Day was moved to October 9 and became a legal holiday in 1945.
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Some Korean businesses wanted their employees to keep working on that day. They convinced the government to remove Hangul Day as a national holiday from 1991-2012. But the Korean Language Society called for the holiday to be restored, and it was celebrated again starting in 2013.
Image Credits: tvN via Noonas Over Forks
How Do Koreans Celebrate Hangul Day?
Now that you know about Hangul Day, here’s how to celebrate! First, you can visit The Story of King Sejong Museum, located right under the King Sejong statue in Gwanghwamun Square.
You can also check out the National Hangeul Museum near Yongsan Family Park. It’s a great place to visit by yourself or if you have a family, with its children’s museum, café, and Hangeul Library.
Next, you can participate in special events hosted by the museums and cultural centers for Hangul Day. They include calligraphy classes and contests; performances; art exhibitions; and even fashion shows.
Image Credits: Yonsei News via Yonsei University
Finally, the simplest way is by learning Hangul. Like we said earlier, it’s easy to learn, and if you’re persistent, you’ll be a Hangul master in no time!
What Is the Best Way to Learn Hangul?
The best way to learn to speak and write in Korean is through face-to-face classes. But what if your school or university doesn’t offer Korean lessons? Luckily, there are many websites and apps that can teach you. Here are some of the most popular ones:
Image Credits: Image via Talk To Me In Korean
Talk To Me In Korean. With 10 different levels, you’ll learn the Korean grammar, vocabulary, and phrases you need. Talk To Me In Korean offers online courses, eBooks, and textbooks. They also have free content available on YouTube.
Image Credits: Image via 90 Day Korean
90 Day Korean. Learn a 3-minute conversation in Korean in 90 days! You can move at your own pace using fun games and exercises. There are also private speaking classes held over Zoom. 90 Day Korean has both free and paid content.
Image Credits: Image via Duolingo
Duolingo. Did you know Korean is the fourth most-learned language on Duolingo? A free platform with a paid option, you’ll be able to learn the basic letters, words, and phrases easily. However, there aren’t any speaking exercises, so you’ll need to find a native speaker to practice instead.
Besides these apps and websites, you can familiarize yourself with the Korean language through k-dramas and K-pop. They won’t explain all the nuances or honorifics, though, so be careful when speaking with a stranger!
Hangul is an amazing alphabet with a unique history. Have any of you Seoulmates learned it? Leave your tips and experiences in the comments below. And from all of us at Seoulbox: Happy Hangul Day!