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What and Why?

Romanization is the representation of hangeul using English letters. Many different schemes have been used and standardized. Its primary use lies in learning the Hangeul alphabet, although it is common for travel phrasebooks to provide tourists with familiar characters.

Word of Caution

Romanization should be considered something only useful for people who don't know Korean, never want to know, or are learning the alphabet. Otherwise, it is suggested that you rely 100% on native hangeul. Relying on romanization can become a crutch and impede correct pronunciation since Korean sounds do not perfectly correspond with sounds in the Roman alphabet.


Featured below are examples of problems with Romanization:

  • The "sh" sound is never Romanized properly. The jamo becomes an "sh" sound instead of an /s/ sound when followed by the following vowels: , , , , and . These cases are ignored in all systems of Korean Romanization. For example, the word 신도림 (the first syllable should be pronounced like shin) is Romanized as 'Sindorim' instead of 'Shindorim.'
  • English sounds and Korean sounds are not the same. Would it make sense to try to learn English using the Korean alphabet? Especially when there are no F, V, and Z sounds in Korean? Obviously Korean does not contain all the sounds of English, and in the same sense, English does not contain all the sounds of Korean. Therefore the English alphabet cannot accurately represent the sounds of Korean. If one wants to learn English, one should learn the English alphabet and its sounds. Logically, if one wants to learn Korean, one should learn the Korean alphabet and its sounds.
  • Korean Romanization is misleading and ambiguous.
    • If one has no experience with Korean at all and uses a book with travel phrases with Romanized Korean, the pronunciation will be totally off. For example, how would you pronounce the Romanized word 'neon' ? Like 'ni-yon' or closer to the English word 'nun'? The pronunciation is closer to 'nun.' (The Hangeul of the aforementioned "neon" is "넌.")
    • There are various Romanization systems and sometimes it is hard to know which system one is using. For example, the gold medal Olympic skater "Kim Yuna" (김연아) is not Romanized in the traditional way, but is instead spelled closer to its English pronunciation. If it were assumed it was from the Revised Romanization System, it would sound like Yoona, not Yuna since yu represents ㅠ not ㅕ.
    • There is no such sound as Woo and impossible to write in Korean, yet sometimes the sound ㅜ gets spelled as Woo.
  • more to be added
  • make a note of the official Romanization South Korea uses

See Also