The Korean pop culture has introduced us a lot of Korean words, some so frequently used that they were adopted by its international fandoms as … well, part of the community’s jargon. You may have encountered them almost every day, or even used it as some point of your fandom life.
Among international fans, at least, those who can read Hangeul and understand the language (let us all take note that Hangeul is not the Korean language but the Korean “alphabet”) translate Korean movies, news, and songs into English alongside romanizations, or the conversion of a different form of writing into the Latin alphabet.
However, did you know that Korean romanization may be easy but never always concise? This is because Hangeul is difficult to properly represent in the Latin script. This conversion is so difficult that there have been at least seven methods developed for romanization of the Korean script!
We Korean pop culture enthusiasts may have been victims of half-erroneous, half-correct romanization of words that we often commit mistakes in actual pronunciation. But fret not, because KStreetManila has identified some Korean words (and names) that are usually mispronounced.
How you might be mispronouncing it: Some people pronounce this word as /oon-nie/, with “oon” sounding like that of in “boon” and “nie” as that of in “niece.” This is because the usual romanization begins with an “u” which usually corresponds to the /oo/ sound.
How you should pronounce it: The actual pronunciation for the word is /uhn-nie/, wherein you say /uhn/ the same as “undress” and /nie/ as in “niece.” We should remember that the vowel used for the first syllable is not 우 (which creates the /oo/ sound) but 어 (which is close to the /eo/ or /uh/ sound).
How you might be mispronouncing it: Similar with 언니, the tendency to pronounce 형 is /hyoong/ where the “yoo” sounds the same as “u” in “unicorn” again because of its romanization. However, this pronunciation is erroneous given that the Korean vowel used is “yeo” (여), not “yoo” (유).
How you should pronounce it: It should be pronounced as “young” with an “h” at the beginning. The same rule applies to all words and names that have “hyu” (혀) in it regardless of its consonant ending. Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun should be pronounced as /suh-hyuhn/ not /suh-hyoon/ and EXO’s D.O’s real name, Kyungsoo, should be /kyoung-soo/ not /kyoong-soo/.
How you might be mispronouncing it: A lot of people pronounce this as /mak-nay/, with /mak/ as in “McDonald’s” and /nay/ as in “neighbor.” Totally understandable because of its romanization.
How you should pronounce it: However, it should actually be /mang-ne/, with the /mang/ sounding like that of in “mango” and /ne/ in “never.” Koreans have a lot of digraphs or the mixing of two consonants to create a different distinct sound, sometimes omitting the original pronunciation of the consonant. In this case, when the “k” (ㄱ) sound is followed by an “n” (ㄴ), the sound becomes /ng/ (like that of “bang” or “dang”).
How you might be mispronouncing it: The official romanization for the place is Gimpo, hence many people pronounce it with a strong /g/ similar to “gang” or “grapes.”
How you should pronounce it: But the actual pronunciation is /kim-po/. The general rule in Korean is that if a word begins with “ㄱ” you pronounce it as /k/ not /g/ (or sometimes a cross between the two but closer to /k/ than a strong /g/ sound). You don’t say /gim-chi/ for kimchi, or /gam-sa-ham-nida/ for kamsahamnida, right?
Fun fact, by the way: the airport is now within Seoul territory.
How you might be mispronouncing it: We have heard this a ton of times, and you can’t say no when we tell you that most fans pronounce his name as /ryuh-wook/. Pats everyone. It’s okay. Again, it’s the romanization’s fault, not yours.
How you should pronounce it: Did you know that in Hangeul, there is no character for “woo” despite the amount of names romanized as such? Yes. If you look at Ryeowook’s name, it actually ends with 욱 which is read as “ook.” Hence, Ryeowook’s name is pronounced as /ryuh-ook/. You heard (or read) it right. It’s “ook” like that of in “book” or “cook.” This rule also applies to Infinite’s Dongwoo (read as /dong-oo/), co-member Woohyun (read as /oo-hyeon/) and WINNER’s Jinwoo (read as /jin-oo/).
How you might be mispronouncing it: It’s a dead giveaway that you’re not paying attention to your Korean class if you mispronounce it as “hwimang” with the literal romanization as /hwi-mang/. But don’t fret. It’s also a common mistake, even to some speakers.
How you should pronounce it: Just like Super Junior member Heechul’s name, it’s supposed to be pronounced as straight up /hee-mang/, drop the ‘w’ and say the word “hee”.
How you might be mispronouncing it: Four characters in one syllable might be confusing, so one may end up pronouncing all of the letters in that word. An example is 밝다 which is sometimes pronounced as /balk-da/ with a strong emphasis on “L”.
How you should pronounce it: For a better pronunciation, let L die (like in Death Note) and pronounce it as /bak-da/. Quick advice: the third character in the word is almost always a silent one, so this wouldn’t be too hard.
How you might be mispronouncing it: This word is a bit tricky since they double up on ㄱ and ㅈ and ends up being mispronounced as /gam-jak/. You don’t wanna risk saying “potato” (감자) on your conversation now, would you?
How you should pronounce it: It’s pretty easy. Make the double characters soft, pronounce it as /kkam-chak/ in a smooth, effortless way and you’re good to go.
Now that we’ve identified these words, you don’t have to worry about mispronouncing them anymore! If you encounter a word we did not include in this list, don’t be shy to ask! Leave a comment below and we would be more than glad to help you.
Studying Korean isn’t just about memorizing Hangeul and familiarizing yourself with Korean words. Pronunciation is a very important part of it—of any language for that matter. If you commit mistakes, don’t feel bad! It’s part of the process. So don’t stop learning, alright? Good luck and fighting!