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Should you learn Japanese or Korean? First, find out what is the difference between Japanese and Korean when it comes to learning them.

The major differences between the Japanese and Korean languages lie in the following aspects:

  • Writing systems and Alphabets 
  • Pronunciation 
  • Vocabulary 
  • Popularity 
  • Language Difficulty Level
  • Pros and Cons 

If you are contemplating what to learn first between Japanese and Korean, check out the comparisons below to make an informed decision. 

What is the difference between Japanese and Korean: A Trip Down the Memory Lane 

To begin officially, let us first visit the eventful world of history. By doing so, you can understand the similarities and differences between the Japanese and Korean languages. 

In the past, Japanese-Korea relations did not have a good start. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Due to this, the existence of Korean culture was threatened by the empire of Japan. Countless lives of the victims suffered and were lost.

When World War II ended in 1945, Japan surrendered its colonies, including Korea. However, the freedom of Koreans was cut off by the invasion of the Soviet Union. The peninsula’s division started when the Soviet Union settled in the North while the United States inhabited the South. That was the start of the Cold War.

Due to decades of conflict, it was impossible to come together again. This event led to the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North and the Republic of Korea in the South. Later on, North Korea tried to take over South Korea. The Korean War concluded when an agreement between countries was signed in 1953. 

After a series of unfortunate events, Japan and the Republic of Korea signed an agreement in 1965. To settle the conflicts in property, claims, and economy, Korea was given $300 million by Japan. However, there are still lingering current tensions between them until now. 

Concept of Commonalities 

Because Japan and Korea are located close to each other, it is no wonder they share some things in common. Their geography allows them to have historical interactions and influence each other. Furthermore, food, medicine, clothes, and other products are being shared due to business and trade, which made the exchange between these countries possible.

Japanese and Koreans have cultural similarities like ‘bowing’ culture, food, drinking habits, and work ethics. They also have the influences of Chinese culture and language. 

The grammar structure of Japanese and Korean languages are similar because they both use the same particles and sentence construction. Both languages utilize subject-object-verb structure. In addition, Japanese and Koreans use honorifics to show their respect toward the people they communicate with. 

Although vocabulary is one of the common answers to the question of what is the difference between learning Japanese and Korean, some words are alike. These words usually came from the Chinese language and other foreign words in the English language.

One of the Japanese writing systems, called Kanji, and the Chinese characters written in Korean, hanja, are both derived from the Chinese. 

Pointing out the Difference between Japanese and Korean

Despite having a lot of things to relate to, it is common for Japan and Korea to have differences. They are different countries with different people; therefore, they have different cultures and languages.

So, what is the difference between learning Japanese and Korean when it comes to learning them?

The following details make the difference between the two languages truly evident.

1. Writing systems and alphabets

The Korean language is written in hangul, containing 24 basic letters, 14 consonants, and 10 vowels. Along with hangul, some South Koreans still use hanja, which are known to be words that were borrowed from the Chinese. On the other hand, hanja was replaced with native Korean words by North Korea in its textbooks. 

Notably, writing in Japanese is more complicated. It uses three writing systems, namely hiragana, katakana, and Kanji. 

Hiragana and katakana are known as ‘kanamoji’ because they are not letters but syllable sounds. Each of them has 46 characters that are pronounced as syllables. The former is written in a curvy-like manner, while the latter has angular strokes. 

Meanwhile, Kanji is the most challenging Japanese writing style to learn. It is inspired by Chinese characters in which every character is considered one word. It has over 50,000 characters –2,000 to 3,000 are for everyday use, mainly in newspapers.

2. Vocabulary

Even though some words in the Japanese and Korean languages sound so similar, they are not the same. 

When Koreans go to Japan, they can’t communicate with Japanese locals using the Korean language. The same thing will happen to Japanese people if they go to South Korea and speak their native language.

You must learn 10,000 words before being considered fluent in Korean. Meanwhile, you need to know 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese words to be fluent in Japanese. 

3. Pronunciation 

If you search for the answer to the question of what is the difference between learning Japanese and Korean, pronunciation can also be one of the top results. 

It is more difficult to speak in Korean because it has more vowels, making it possible to have more sounds than the Japanese language. The latter is spoken the same way it is written. 

4. Popularity 

All languages are great languages. Aside from English, Japanese and Korean languages are usually the top choices of people who want to learn a new language. 

In terms of popularity, due to Japan’s current population of 125 million, there are more Japanese-speaking people. Furthermore, the influence of Japan’s music and anime can also be part of why the language is more popular in many other countries. 

In contrast, Korea has about 78 million locals in both the North and South. However, despite its small population, the Korean language is still famous to foreigners because of the entertainment industry, like Korean Drama and Korean Pop music.

5. Difficulty 

In terms of how challenging it is to learn a new language, what is the difference between learning Japanese and Korean?

Since there are more characters in the Japanese language, Korean is much easier to learn, especially for English speakers. However, the pronunciation of Korean words may be tricky. Moreover, when speaking in Korean, you must mind your words and change your sentences according to whom you are talking. It is a hierarchical language, so you must be careful not to offend anyone. 

It would be best if you braced yourself to learn a new language because it takes a lot of time. 

After at least three months of studying Korean, you can probably converse with a native speaker already. If you practice for about 7 to 10 hours a week, you might be fluent in the language in one year. Meanwhile, studying the Japanese language requires a lot of effort and time to learn. It might take an average of two to three years to learn it fully. 

But it depends on the individual on how long it will take. What is discussed above was only an estimation. You do not need to rush. Enjoy it as you learn.

If you plan to learn the Japanese and Korean languages simultaneously, it is not advisable to do so. Learning these languages at the same time can confuse you, therefore, consumes more time and energy. Consider learning it one at a time. 

6. Pros and Cons

It is important to take note of the advantages and disadvantages you should expect while studying a new language. Let us highlight the possible response of what is the difference between learning Japanese and Korean. 

One of the pros of learning Japanese is watching your favorite anime show without subtitles. This language has easier pronunciation. Furthermore, you can learn a lot about how rich Japanese culture is. You can enroll in Japanese universities or be hired for a high-paying job in Japan.  

Meanwhile, when you learn Korean, you can make friends with Koreans easily. You might even get your favorite Korean celebrity or artist to be your significant other. Who knows? 

Likewise, when you learn the Japanese language, another advantage of studying the Korean language is the possibility of being accepted to universities in Korea or working in the country. However, when it comes to job opportunities, Japan is ahead of the game. 

As we have established its pros, it is time for its cons. 

It is time-consuming to learn the Japanese language because it has numerous characters. It might not be easy to distinguish the characters from each other. Also, it lacks spaces between the words, which makes it even more challenging. 

Meanwhile, learning Korean pronunciation takes a lot of work. The different honorifics used can also be confusing and complicated. 

Ways How to Learn a New Language

Being able to study a new language also helps you to learn about the country where it originated. It also provides knowledge about its culture and lets you connect with people. 

The advantage of learning a new language is the great opportunity that might be waiting for you in various countries. This opportunity might be related to school, work, or social life. Maybe the one destined for you lives on a different side of the world.

Here are some things that can help you learn a new language:

Language school 

Enrolling in a language school is a great idea if you want to learn a new language. 

There are various schools to choose from. You have to have the patience to find what is best for you. It can be an actual school with a designated building or campus. You can also learn online through modules and online classes. For instance, you can Learn English online for free with Denwa Sensei. Just surf the net, and you might also find free programs for learning Japanese and Korean languages. 

You can also find a private tutor who can help you study. Usually, they have the ones who have more flexible time to teach you. If you have a lot of things to do on the weekdays, private tutors can adjust their teaching schedules to weekends.

Textbooks, and online resources 

Reading can improve your writing. It widens your vocabulary and helps you remember the letters or characters of the alphabet of the language you are studying. 

You can read books or online sources. Dictionaries are the best way to go. Audiobooks can also help, especially if you are an auditory learner. Music lyrics can help, too.

Movies and TV shows

Television shows and films with subtitles can also help you learn a new language. You not only listen but can also read what they are saying through the subtitles. This way, you can practice your pronunciation.

Because of this, it is a great idea to keep watching anime and Korean dramas. However, staying awake late at night is not advisable to finish watching movies with long run times and television shows with many episodes and seasons. Even short video clips can also help you.


You need to practice your speaking and writing skills regularly to be fluent in the language you are studying. Take time to practice every day or even every week.

Having someone to talk to can be a great help, especially if they are a native speaker of the language you are learning. If you have a great relationship with them, they can even offer to help you personally. Thus, you will have a new friend during the process. As the old adage goes, practice makes it perfect. Keep hope. You will get there eventually.

Wrapping Up

A lot of people want to learn a new language. It is common for motivated people to include that in their bucket list. It is also not surprising that some people even add it to their New Year’s resolution.

There are times when you would get determined to learn new languages. Because of such eagerness and excitement, choosing which language to study becomes challenging. This urge causes them a dilemma which can lead them to waste time contemplating other unimportant things than learning a new language.

What is the learning difference between Japanese and Korean is a common question in making such a decision. It is no wonder that it is one of the top inquiries on internet search engines. You may have found this article online and are currently reading it because you are in the middle of making a choice. 

To wrap up, the Japanese language is more popular than Korean. However, it is also very hard to learn. It is more complicated than the language of Korea. The Korean language has fewer letters written in Hangul, but the pronunciation of the words is more challenging. Meanwhile, the Japanese language has many characters you must remember but is easier to pronounce. 

Also, it’s worth noting that Japanese and Korean people are very respectful. They even use honorifics in their languages to express their respect for the people they communicate with. At the end of the day, you are the only one who has the final say on what language you want to learn. It is your life; therefore, it is your decision. The most important thing to remember is for you to keep your motivation so that you can continue learning. Good luck with your studies, and enjoy the process. 

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