The above video shows the importance of spelling in English. But you know, learning how to spell is also important in a foreign language you’re studying.
Chinese might be the singular exception to this rule, but even in Chinese, there are stroke radicals that make up larger characters. So if you learn how to ask “does this character contain the radical for ‘people’ or ‘water’?” you’ll be well on your way to learning that character and remembering it.
Have you ever seen anyone in Korea ask how to spell something? It’s relatively uncommon because most people you’ll meet have already endured years of Korean education and reading and writing practice. The most common spelling question you’ll probably ever hear is, “Ae? Is that ㅏㅣ = ㅐ or ㅓㅣ = ㅔ?” Still, for second language learners, learning (and practicing proper spelling) is a necessity. Here’s why:
Why spelling is important
It helps cement the connection that is shared between sounds and letters.
“The correlation between spelling and reading comprehension is high because both depend on a common denominator: proficiency with language. The more deeply and thoroughly a student knows a word, the more likely he or she is to recognize it, spell it, define it, and use it appropriately in speech and writing.”
— Joshi, Treiman, Carreker and Moats
Learning to spell is both conceptual and associative; children [and second-language learners] must learn concepts about language structure at several levels and remember specific letter sequences. Learning to spell is learning about words, from all their interesting angles.
3. [Almost] all children [and second-language learners] learn to read more quickly than they learn to spell.
Why? Because in reading, children decode the written word.
For example, the letter ㅐ always says, “ae” so it’s easy to decode the word 트랜스포머 to see that it says “Transformers.” But then turning around and actually respelling that word correctly is the trick. Remember the previous question? “Ae? Is that ㅏㅣ = ㅐ or ㅓㅣ = ㅔ?”
You can’t say you really know the word until you know how to spell it properly.
When we are taught something that “makes sense” to our brains, we remember it much more readily.
Look at some of these Challenges facing English teachers of young students (taken from this site) and see how the same Challenges affect you as a second-language learner:
- Challenge: Kids develop faulty methods for learning spelling, like memorizing words as strings of letters or memorizing word shapes. They soon become overwhelmed.
- Challenge: Kids guess how words are spelled instead of being certain of their answers. This problem is compounded by methods that encourage invented spelling.
- Challenge: Kids forget their spelling words by Monday. They’re able to remember the words long enough to pass the spelling test…but by Monday, they’ve already forgotten what they’ve learned.
- Challenge: The method of “copying the words ten times” doesn’t work for many students. Too many spelling books out there cause failure by just presenting a list of words and expecting the student to learn them.
How to improve your Korean spelling
Beginning writers should be encouraged to guess the spelling, in other words, try to figure out the letters that match the sounds. This is called invented spelling.
But, don’t limit yourself to just guessing. You need to know the proper way to spell. So get someone to check and correct you as necessary.
- Ask your students their names and try to write those on the board in Korean (I did this for years and now know the most common spellings of most names).
- Ask your students what a vocabulary word is in Korean and try to write that on the board (I’ve picked up dozens of new vocab words this way).
Students are always happy to help you and correct you, especially with their names, or especially when you make “silly” mistakes (which I sometimes do purposefully now for a little fun).
2. Practice oral spelling (like this 3-year-old in English)
In order to do this, you first need to know all the names of the Hangul letters (perhaps not surprisingly, it’s quite easy to learn the letters themselves, but many students don’t learn the names of the letters until much later).
If you don’t know the names of the Hangul letters, watch this video to learn them.
- When you hear a new word, ask how to spell it (ex. “어떻게 철자 해요? ㄱ ㅏ ㅁ?” = “How do you spell that? Ki-uk, ah, mi-eum?”).
- Ask your teacher or language partner to give you an oral spelling test (like a spelling bee).
3. Learn the diphthongs (here’s a pretty good video to help out)
Diphthongs are important to learn because then you’ll be able to begin to understand the patterns that Korean words have. You’ll also know which vowel combinations are impossible (like 오ㅓ).
A very important and often overlooked aspect of proper spelling are the ending consonants. There are 3 basic “catches” to Korean 받침.
- Sometimes, in spoken Korean, the ending consonant sound transfers to the first (empty) consonant position in the second character (like in 한국어 – it sounds like 한구거).
- Sometimes, there is an “invisible” or unspoken consonant (commonly ㅎ) like in 어떻게 and 괜찮아요.
- Sometimes, there are double consonants that when spoken only take on the aural sound of the final consonant (consider 읽다 “read” that sounds like 익다 and 닭 “chicken” that sounds like 닥).
Learning the proper spelling of ending consonants usually only happens with repetition.
- Work through flashcards on Memrise (it forces you to type in the letters at times).
- Practice typing on a touch-typing program (Mac | Windows).
- Write often and get feedback.
The above article is an excellent analysis of how the spelling of words affects how they are read and spoken (for example 입니다 has a ㅂ that sounds like a ㅁ, i.e. 임니다).
Here is an overview of his 7 rules for sound-shifts in Korean:
- Softened consonant sounds (like when ㄱ sounds like “g” instead of “k”)
- Hidden pauses (학교 = 학꾜)
- Filling in the blanks (한국어 = 한구거)
- The missing H (전화 = 저놔)
- Smoothing things out (입니다 = 임니다)
- H finally makes a comeback (급행 = 그팽)
- The double-R one-two punch (설날 = 설랄)
Today you want to learn and check the proper spellings of words.
#13: Ask a Korean friend to speak some vocabulary words or phrases to you while you try to spell them properly (or write all your students’ names on the board in Korean). Get immediate feedback on your spelling.
For me, because I already know a good deal of spelling words (and I’ve trained myself now to pick up patterns and pronunciation subtleties), the Challenge for me is spelling names properly – movie names, band names, famous people names. Basically, the transliteration of English to Korean. (For example, did you know in Korean that Vincent Van Gogh’s name is “고흐“? That was strange and difficult for me to figure out.)
Record your progress with a photo or video of your spelling exercises.
Here is a compilation of the the Hangul resources provided earlier in the article:
- Hangul letters rap
- Diphthongs video
- Ending consonants (받침)
- Sound-shifts in Korean
- Flashcards on Memrise
- Mac touch-typing
- Windows touch-typing
- HaruKorean – writing help