The similarities and differences between Japanese and Korean languages (2022)

Given the geographic proximity of Japan and Korea, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these two countries share many things in common. One of those things is the language – although different in many respects, there are also several similarities between Japanese and Korean.

From grammar and sentence structure to cultural nuances, read on to learn more about the basics of what is the same and what is different between Japanese and Korean. Read right to the end to find out which one you should learn and why.

The similarities and differences between Japanese and Korean languages (1)

Similarities between Japanese and Korean

It’s very obvious upon listening to people speak both of these languages that they sound different. Speakers of each respective language wouldn’t be able to understand each other without some prior knowledge of the other language.

But when you start looking a bit deeper at what the languages consist of and how they are structured, you’ll start to see more and more similarities.

Sentence structure and particles

One of the biggest similarities between Japanese and Korean is the subject + object + verb sentence structure.

For example:

In Japanese –
私は毎日7時に朝ごはんを食べます。
Watashi wa mainichi shichiji ni asagohan o tabemasu.
I eat breakfast everyday at 7 o’clock.

The breakdown of this sentence is:

Watashi wa, 私は – subject
Asagohan o, 朝ごはんを – object
Tabemasu, 食べます – verb

(Video) How Similar are Japanese and Korean?

In Korean –
저는 매일 7시에 아침을 먹습니다.
Jeoneun maeil 7sie achim-eul meogseummida.
I eat breakfast everyday at 7 o’clock.

The breakdown is:

Jeoneun, 저는 – subject
achim-eul, 아침을 – object
meogseummida., 먹습니다 – verb

Both Korean and Japanese use particles, which indicate relationships of words and add context to a sentence. These particles are, for example:

Japanese: (wa), (ga), (o)
Korean: 은/는 (eun/neun), 이/가/께서 (i/ga/kkeseo), 을/를 (eul/reul)

As you might have noticed in the example, Korean has more options for the same particle. This is partly because Korean particles have differing levels of politeness, while Japanese particles apply across the board.

Some vocabulary

As mentioned above, if a Japanese speaker sat down with a Korean speaker, they wouldn’t be able to understand what was being said in Korean – and vice versa. However, they might be able to pick up some words here and there.

This is because most Japanese and Korean words come from Chinese – even though all three languages are mutually incomprehensible. This is also why both Japanese and Korean still use Chinese characters – kanji 漢字 in Japanese and hanja 한자 in Korean (more on this in the next section).

Let’s look at some examples of vocabulary similarities between Japanese and Korean:

The similarities and differences between Japanese and Korean languages (2)

(Video) Similarities Between Korean and Japanese

Both languages also borrow foreign words and incorporate them into their native languages. Some examples:

The similarities and differences between Japanese and Korean languages (3)

Prevalence of Chinese characters

As you know, both Japanese and Korean languages include a large number of words that come from Chinese. Kanji was adopted into Japan around the 5th-6th centuries and hanja was present in Korea even before that (around 400 BCE).

Kanji forms one of three main writing systems in Japanese – the other two are hiragana (used for grammar) and katakana (mostly used for foreign loanwords). It’s very common to see kanji in sentences and it is widely used all over Japan. Learning kanji is therefore very much part and parcel of learning Japanese.

When it comes to hanja, it’s not impossible to get by in Korea without knowing it since hangul 한글, now the official Korean alphabet, is more widely used these days. However, it helps to know hanja since it is still a part of everyday life in Korea. It is still taught in schools and you will see it on restaurant menus, supermarkets, on signs and in academic texts.

Use of honorifics

Honorifics are essential in both Japanese and Korean. This is as much of a cultural element as it is a language one as honorifics are used to show respect to others and reflect the relationship between you and the person you’re speaking to. Failing to use honorifics in either language is considered a major social faux pas.

For both languages, the list of honorifics is extensive and there are many layers of politeness. They’re usually attached as a suffix after a person’s name e.g. Suzuki-san 鈴木さん, 김철수- Kim Choel-su nim.

Read more about Japanese honorifics here.

Differences between Japanese and Korean

Despite all the similarities between Japanese and Korean, they are not mutually intelligible. This is mainly because of the following differences:

The similarities and differences between Japanese and Korean languages (4)

(Video) The Similarities between The Japanese and Korean Languages

Writing

As already mentioned above, both Japanese and Korean incorporate Chinese characters into their writing system. However, that’s where the similarities end when it comes to the written languages.

Japanese includes hiragana and katakana – which are made up of 46 base syllables each – and kanji, of which there are over 50,000 (most adults know nowhere near this number, but know at least 2000).

All three could appear in one sentence e.g.

田中さん、今年スペインにいきますか?
Tanaka-san, kotoshi Supein ni ikimasuka?
Tanaka-san, are you going to Spain this year?

A breakdown of the sentence:

田中 – Tanaka, a name that is in kanji
さん – san, an honorific in hiragana
今年 – “this year” in kanji
スペイン – the word “Spain” in katakana
にいきますか – “ni’ is a particle indicating motion and “ikimasu” meaning “to go”, in hiragana

Learning kanji is inescapable when learning Japanese. This makes it considerably more difficult to learn in terms of the writing. However, if you hope to one day learn Chinese, then knowing Japanese will help as you’ll be able to recognise many of the Chinese characters.

Korean these days is written using hangul, which consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels that fit together to make syllables. In terms of writing, Korean is easier than Japanese since the alphabet is straightforward and simple. Once you have learned the alphabet, you can technically read any Korean word (whether or not you understand it is another issue!).

For example:

You learn each alphabet separately at first e.g. consonants like ㄱ(g), ㄴ(n), ㄷ(d) and vowels like ㅏ(a), ㅓ(eo), ㅗ(o). Then you can combine them both and make tons of examples with meaning or just sounds.

(Video) Are Korean and Japanese related languages?

ㄱ + ㅏ = g + a = 가 (ga)
ㄴ + ㅓ = n + eo = 너 (neo)
ㄷ + ㅗ = d + o = 도 (do)

If you learn and memorise the total of 24 basic letters you can at least read them easily.

Pronunciation

Japanese and Korean are very different languages when it comes to pronunciation. This is where many would argue that Japanese is easier. It is entirely phonetic so you pronounce words exactly how they are written. There are intricacies around pitch accent in Japanese, but generally people will understand you even if you don’t pronounce something perfectly.

Korean has more sounds than Japanese, making it slightly more complicated to pronounce. English speakers may struggle with some of the unfamiliar sounds and in general, Westerners may find many of the sounds to be quite similar to each other. It’s important to be able to distinguish them all and pronounce them properly in order to be understood.

Which one should I learn?

This is a deeply personal decision and shouldn’t be made solely based on the similarities and differences between Japanese and Korean alone. Each language has things about it that make it easier or harder to learn than the other and it’s better to take a holistic approach when making this decision. This includes considering what your long-term goals are and what you want out of this experience. Is it your dream to live and work in either Korea or Japan? Do you want to do some travel and explore the places that tourists never have time to get to?

Some things to consider:

Culturally, Korea and Japan share many similarities – societal structure, work culture, collectivist mindset. But they are also polar opposites in many ways, from cuisine and preferences in design, to general stereotypes about personality traits.

The standard of living in both countries is high. On the whole, the cost of living in South Korea is typically lower than in Japan. Read more about the highs and lows of the cost of living in Japan and the cost of student life in Tokyo.

Covid-19 has had a big impact on both countries and language students who want to study in either country. As of the writing of this article, there are Covid-related restrictions in place in both countries, please contact us for the latest information.

Need more information or advice? For information on living and studying in Japan Contact our team at Go! Go! Nihon, for information on living and studying in Korea, Contact our team at Go! Go! Hanguk.

(Video) How Similar are Japanese and Korean?

FAQs

What is the similarities between Korean and Japanese language? ›

Korean and Japanese both have an agglutinative morphology in which verbs may function as prefixes and a subject–object–verb (SOV) typology. They are both topic-prominent, null-subject languages. Both languages extensively utilize turning nouns into verbs via the "to do" helper verbs (Japanese suru する; Korean hada 하다).

What is the difference between Japanese and Korean language? ›

After all, both cultures certainly have a long history together. However, the two languages are very different, as indeed are their cultures. Japanese is spoken by 125 million people worldwide, and Korean is spoken by 77.2 million people worldwide.
...
Learning Korean and Japanese.
Rocket Korean
ProsCons
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2 Mar 2021

Is Japanese and Korean language same? ›

Although Japan and Korea are only 587 miles (945 km) away from each other, the two languages are vastly different. The sounds, writing, and culture all differ. The big one people seem to think connects the two is that they both have unique scripts. The Korean alphabet is Hangul, and the Japanese alphabet is Kanji.

Why is Korean and Japanese language so similar? ›

This is because most Japanese and Korean words come from Chinese – even though all three languages are mutually incomprehensible. This is also why both Japanese and Korean still use Chinese characters – kanji 漢字 in Japanese and hanja 한자 in Korean (more on this in the next section).

Which language is similar to Korean? ›

Michael: In many ways, Korean is actually similar to Japanese. These two languages are not mutually intelligible, meaning a speaker of one language is not able to automatically understand the other based on similarities between the languages alone.

What language is similar to Japanese? ›

Japanese belongs to the Japonic or Japanese-Ryukyuan language family. There have been many attempts to group the Japonic languages with other families such as the Ainu, Austroasiatic, Koreanic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.

What is the difference between Japanese and Korean makeup? ›

Korean makeup typically applies blush conventionally, either right on the cheekbone or slightly lower depending on preference. Both styles use shimmer in different ways. Japanese makeup typically keeps most of the shimmer on the eyelids for an eye-opening effect.

What is the relationship between Korea and Japan? ›

Relations between Japan and South Korea have soured in recent years after unresolved disputes re-emerged from acrimonious eras in their shared history. But the current leaders of the two East Asian countries have shown a willingness to rebuild ties.

Which language is harder Korean or Japanese? ›

However, considering the larger number of sounds and the different particles in Korean, Japanese is definitely the easier language to start in. If you're not good at distinguishing new sounds and pronunciations, you're definitely going to have a hard time with Korean.

Do Japanese and Korean sound similar? ›

Basic sounds of consonants and vowels are very similar. Japanese doesn't have certain vowels that exist in Korean. Japanese also doesn't use consonants as the last sound in a syllable with an exception of 'n'. Korean doesn't have the 'z' sound that exists in Japanese. Otherwise, they are phonetically almost the same.

What is the difference between Korean and Japanese BBQ? ›

Korean BBQ relies on marinades to add flavour whereas Japanese BBQ is left plain and instead relies on the sauce. Dipping sauces for Japanese BBQ include garlic, mirin, soy sauce, among other interesting ingredients.

Is Korean more similar to Japanese or Chinese? ›

Because Japanese and Korean have Chinese roots, there's a lot of similar vocabulary between these three languages. Linguists believe that around 60% of Korean words and 50% of Japanese words come from Chinese. So if you know one of these languages, it gives you a massive head-start when learning the others.

What Oppa means? ›

Borrowed from Korean 오빠 (oppa, “elder brother or close elder male friend (of a female)”).

What is your name in Korean? ›

성함이 어떻게 되세요? (dangsin-eun eotteohge doeseyo?)

This means, "What is Your Name in Korean?" Use this to ask the names of people who are older than you.

What does Appa mean in Korean? ›

The word 아빠 (appa) has a similar meaning to “dad” in English. This should only be used to refer to your own dad.

How many words does Japanese have? ›

500,000

What is the main Japanese language? ›

The most widely spoken language in Japan is Japanese, which is separated into several dialects with Tokyo dialect considered standard Japanese. In addition to the Japanese language, Ryūkyūan languages are spoken in Okinawa and parts of Kagoshima in the Ryūkyū Islands.

How old is Japan? ›

Japan: 15 Million Years Old

Japan came into existence in 660 B.C. Buddhism impacted Japanese culture to a large extent, if we go by historical records.

Is Japanese skincare better than Korean skincare? ›

The ingredients are another point of the departure between the two trends. While Korean skincare relies heavily on ingredients such as snail mucin, rice bran, sea-kelp, and sake, Japanese skincare prioritizes moisturizing and anti-inflammatory ingredients like green-tea, hyaluronic acid, Camellia oil, and Aloe Vera.

Who is richer Japan or Korea? ›

A major geoeconomic event occurred in 2018 when South Korea's real GDP per capita surpassed that of Japan. By 2026, the International Monetary Fund projects that South Korea will be 12 per cent ahead of Japan.

What happened between Korea and Japan? ›

On August 22, 1910, Japan had formally annexed Korea through the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea. The legality of the annexation and the subsequent 35-years of occupation of the Korean Peninsula by Japan are controversial.

Why did Japan give up Korea? ›

Instead, Japan tried to seek out Russian assistance to end the war, in which Japan schemed to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and the United States. This delayed Japan's surrender, allowing the Soviets to enter into the war, which in turn resulted in the division of Korea.

What should I learn first Korean or Japanese? ›

Let's start with if you were to learn Japanese first, then learn Korean second. Pros: 1) Japanese pronunciation is by far easier than Korean pronunciation. For vowels, the Japanese language is mostly comprised of “consonant” and “vowel” usually at the end.

What's the hardest language to learn? ›

1. Mandarin Chinese. Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. Mandarin Chinese is challenging for a number of reasons.

What is Z Korean? ›

Because the /z/ sound is basically a voiced /s/ sound, which is simply not represented in the Korean alphabet. At least, not anymore. So they must use the character that sounds closest, which is ㅈ. The English word "pizza" is pronounced like "pitsa," which if directly transliterated in Hangul would look like 핏.... 사.

Are Koreans and Japanese closely related? ›

Genetic distance measurements from a large scale genetic study from 2021 titled 'Genomic insights into the formation of human populations in East Asia', Japanese are genetically closest to Koreans with 91% of their genetic makeup being derived from the group and the remaining from the Jōmon people.

DO Korean and Japanese sound similar? ›

Basic sounds of consonants and vowels are very similar. Japanese doesn't have certain vowels that exist in Korean. Japanese also doesn't use consonants as the last sound in a syllable with an exception of 'n'. Korean doesn't have the 'z' sound that exists in Japanese. Otherwise, they are phonetically almost the same.

Is Korean more similar to Japanese or Chinese? ›

Because Japanese and Korean have Chinese roots, there's a lot of similar vocabulary between these three languages. Linguists believe that around 60% of Korean words and 50% of Japanese words come from Chinese. So if you know one of these languages, it gives you a massive head-start when learning the others.

Is Korean harder than Japanese? ›

Conclusion. In terms of difficulty, I think Japanese and Korean are at about the same level. Some parts are harder for Korean while other parts are harder for Japanese. However, considering the larger number of sounds and the different particles in Korean, Japanese is definitely the easier language to start in.

What should I learn Japanese or Korean? ›

If your goal of learning a certain language is related with Japanese culture, then Japanese is the best choice. If your goal is Korean culture such as K-pop, K-drama, or some others, then Korean might be the best choice.

How old is Japan? ›

Japan: 15 Million Years Old

Japan came into existence in 660 B.C. Buddhism impacted Japanese culture to a large extent, if we go by historical records.

Can I learn Japanese and Korean at the same time? ›

Of course, you can learn Japanese and Korean at the same time. However, it is suggested to learn them separately. Study one first, and it will make the other easier. Learning two languages at once definitely can be double as hard as learning one language.

What is the hardest language to learn? ›

Mandarin Chinese

Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. Mandarin Chinese is challenging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the writing system is extremely difficult for English speakers (and anyone else) accustomed to the Latin alphabet.

What is the difference between Korean and Chinese language? ›

While Korean writing may be easier to interpret than Chinese, both are different from each other and look nothing like any European language. Chinese and Korean both use characters but Chinese characters are not letters of the alphabet but represent different sounds. Some characters are words in their own right.

What is difference between Korean and Chinese? ›

It is quite difficult to tell the difference between the two nationalities because there is often a mixture of inherited characteristics, along with the typical Asian look, that people recognize. Generally speaking Koreans have light smooth skin, smaller eyes and longer noses than the Chinese.

What is the difference between Chinese and Japanese language? ›

While Japanese is an SOV language (subject, object, verb), Chinese is an SVO language (subject-verb-object). Japanese grammar is a little more complex than its Chinese counterpart. For instance, in Japanese, they often combine verbs and adjectives. And, while Chinese doesn't have conjugations, Japanese does.

How many letters does Korean have? ›

What is Hangul? Hangul is the writing system of the Korean language. Hangul is made up of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, making it an alphabet with a total of 24 letters.

How many letters does Japanese have? ›

How Many Letters are in the Japanese Alphabet? There are 46 basic characters in the Japanese alphabet and additional characters/sounds that can be made from the basic 46. Each of the alphabet symbols forms one syllable made of the 21 romaji, which is phonetic and always read the same way.

What's the easiest language to learn? ›

15 of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers -...
  • Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
24 Oct 2021

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