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Korean vs Japanese Language: Similarities And Differences

If you want to learn a foreign language, you probably ask yourself, “Should I learn Japanese or Korean?

It might seem like Korean and Japanese are two completely different languages. But upon closer inspection, there are actually many similarities between the two.

In this blog post, discover the similarities and differences between Korean and Japanese to better understand each language and decide which one you can devote your resources to.

Korean vs Japanese: Similarities

You may not realize it, but Korean and Japanese have a lot in common! In fact, the two languages are more similar than you might think.

Read on to discover the similarities between Korean and Japanese.


One of the most striking similarities between Korean and Japanese is their grammar. Both languages are head-marking, meaning that grammatical information is indicated by affixes or particles placed on the verb, noun, or adjective rather than by word order.

Additionally, both languages use topic-comment word order. That means the subject (topic) comes before the main verb or sentence (comment). For example, the sentence "I eat breakfast" would be expressed as "I breakfast eat" in Korean and "Watashi wa asagohan o tabemasu" in Japanese grammar.


In both languages, there are no voiced consonants at the beginning of words (with the exception of a few loanwords), and all syllables end in a vowel.

Moreover, both languages make use of pitch accents to denote grammatical information. In other words, pitch (or tone) is used to distinguish between different words with the same pronunciation but different meanings.

For example, the Chinese character 上 can be pronounced either "jou/shou" (depending on whether you're using traditional or simplified characters) or "uew" in Mandarin. Still, each has a different meaning depending on which tone it's pronounced with.

Similarly, in Korean and Japanese, a word with a high pitch on its second syllable would have a different meaning from a word with a low pitch on its first syllable despite being pronounced identically otherwise.


In both Korean and Japanese, there are three writing systems: hanja/kanji (Chinese characters), hangul/kana (syllabic scripts), and romaji (the Latin alphabet).

The vast majority of words in both languages are native words written in hangul/kana. However, there is a significant number of Sino-Korean and Sino-Japanese words borrowed from the Chinese language. Thanks to these shared origins, many of these words are cognates—that is, they have the same meaning and are pronounced similarly despite having different writing systems.

For example, the Chinese character 漢字 can be pronounced "kanji" in Japanese or "hanja" in Korean. Similarly, 日本語 can be read as "Nihongo" in Japanese or "Ilbon gugeo" in Korean.

There are also a few loanwords from English in both languages. However, these tend to be written in katakana rather than Romaji.

Use of Honorifics

Honorifics are terms used to show respect to the person you are talking to or about.

For example, in the Korean language, you would use 님 (-nim) after someone's name to show respect. In Japanese, this would be さま (-sama). There are many different levels of respect shown through honorifics, and choosing the right one is important to show proper respect in both languages.

Important Note: In recent years, there has been a trend in Korea of young people using 야 (ya) instead of 님 (-nim). While this might seem disrespectful at first, it's actually seen as more friendly and casual than using -nim.

Korean vs Japanese: Differences

Here are the key ways in which Korean and Japanese differ.

Writing Systems

One of the most obvious differences between Korean and Japanese is the way that they are written or their writing system.

Japanese uses a mixture of Chinese characters (which are called Kanji) and two phonetic alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana). On the other hand, Korea has its unique Korean alphabet called Hangul.

While Chinese characters can be adapted to write any language, they are usually only used for certain words in Japanese, such as place names or loanwords from other languages. This means that most of what is written in Japanese is in Hiragana or Katakana. In contrast, all Korean words are written using Hangul, with very few exceptions.


The Japanese language uses the Kana alphabet to write out each syllable. This is different from South Korea, which utilizes a system of spelling using Hangul letters instead.

A widely used set for writing Japanese are kanji characters that came over with China's dynasties centuries ago.

Pronoun Usage

Another significant difference between these two languages is the way that pronouns are used.

In general, formal pronouns are used more often in Japanese than in Korean, whereas informal pronouns are used more frequently in Korean than in Japanese.

For example, the formal first-person pronoun "watashi" is commonly used by both men and women in Japanese, whereas its informal counterpart "Boku" is primarily used by males. In contrast, "I/me" can be translated as either "nae" or "nega" in Korean, depending on whether it is being used by a male or female speaker, respectively.

It should also be noted that the plural first-person pronoun "wareware" is used far less frequently than its singular counterpart "watashi" in Japanese. Meanwhile, "we/us" can be translated as either "maneun saramdeul" or "modeun saramdeul" in Korean.

Should I Learn Japanese or Korean?

Both Korean and Japanese have pros and cons, and it can be hard to decide which of these Asian languages is right for you. But your decision comes down to personal goals and preferences.

If you're looking for a language that you can learn quickly and easily, then learn Korean today. However, if you're looking for a language that will challenge you and help you expand your skills, then learning Japanese may be the better option. No matter which language you choose, the most important thing is to dive in and start learning!