Rules for Pronunciation

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One of the biggest challenges of learning Korean is to get familiar with pronunciation rules. As a native speaker, I knew the rules but didn’t know I knew, even though I used them every day. When my non-native friends point them out, it was a big surprise to me. When I opened a Korean grammar textbook, I was overwhelmed by how the rules were described in meticulous detail. Here’s an excerpt from the book titled “Essential Grammar For Korean as a Second Language”
Consonant Compression
When ‘ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, ㅈ’ are followed or preceded by ‘ㅎ’, they change to the aspiration ‘ㅋ.ㅌ.ㅍ.ㅊ’ (Lee, 2004)
ㄱ + ㅎ = ㅎ + ㄱ = ㅋ 노랗고 [노랗고] (yellow)
ㄷ + ㅎ = ㅎ + ㄷ = ㅌ 노랗다 [노라타] (yellow)
ㅂ + ㅎ = ㅎ + ㅂ = ㅍ 밟혀 [발펴] (to be stepped on)
ㅈ + ㅎ = ㅎ + ㅈ = ㅊ 닿지 [다치] (to touch/reach)
Vowel Compression
When two vowels meet, they become a diphthong.
ㅗ + ㅏ = ㅘ 보아라 [봐라] (to see)
ㅜ + ㅓ = ㅝ 주었다 [줬다] (to give)
Representative Sounds for Consonants
ㄱ ㄱ, ㄲ, ㅋ, ㄳ, ㄺ
ㄴ ㄴ, ㄵ
ㄷ ㄷ, ㅅ, ㅆ, ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅌ
ㄹ ㄹ, ㄼ, ㄽ, ㄾ
ㅁ ㅁ, ㄻ
ㅂ ㅂ, ㅍ, ㅄ, ㄿ
ㅇ ㅇ
A Final Sound pronounces as its representative sound, if it is followed by a consonant
닭 [닥] (chicken)
높다 [놉다] (high)
젖다 [젇다] (wet)
밖 [박] (outside)
값 [갑] (price)
삶 [삼] (life)
There are many other crazy rules like consonant assimilation. When you pronounce simple words like ‘바다 (ocean)’ and ‘노을(sunset)’, you do not need those rules. When you pronounce words with 받침(final consonant), however, you will need the rules. I know it’s confusing, but please don’t sweat it. It’s normal to make mistakes, and even when my non-native friends make mistakes on it, I still understand what they are trying to say.
If you’re a self-learner and want to check if your pronunciation is right, I recommend Forvo (https://forvo.com/). Forvo is a website that gives users access to pronunciation sound clips in many languages including Korean. Below is a sample pronunciation clip for ‘노랗다’ (https://forvo.com/word/%EB%85%B8%EB%9E%97%EB%8B%A4/#ko)
Hope this helps! 🙂
Reference
Lee, Chul Young. (2004) Essential Grammar For Korean as a Second Language.

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