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Should You Learn Korean or Japanese?

It is not a foreign thing anymore to learn Korean or Japanese, the language of 2 countries that introduced us to anime, cosplay, K-drama and K-pop. These countries are also rich in culture which makes people admire them the most in Asia. These 2 countries are also one of the fast-pacing developing countries in the world which makes them popular not just in Asia, but all over the world. 

Now, this post is dedicated to language enthusiasts who are keen to learn more languages and contemplating which one to learn. Korean or Japanese?

But, take note that the language proficiency is depending on your background, are you an English speaker or non-English speaker (Which mean English is your second language).

Hopefully by the end of reading this post, you will have some insights on what language you should learn first!

1. Reading and Writing

Hangeul is a writing system that has only one alphabet system. Ever since Hangeul was created by King Sejong, Hanja (it’s old alphabets that use chinese alphabets) was not used anymore.

Hangeul have  24 alphabets (14 consonants and 10 vowels) with additional of 5 consonants and 11 vowels, a total of 40 alphabets (Excluding the double consonants!). Hangeul is easier to read compared to Japanese languages as the strokes are simple and it was created based on the vocal organ.

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Why Japanese is harder to read and write? 

It is because they have 3 writing systems which are Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Kanji does not have an alphabet, but it is an ideogram which is similar and adopted from Chinese characters. Whereas Hiragana and Katakana both have 46 alphabets. 

Now, let’s look deeper into it!

Kanji Kanji is an ideogram which means that it has its own meaning even with one letter. This is similar to Chinese characters. By combining the characters, more words can be created. Unlike Chinese characters, Kanji cannot be written wholly on its own and usually written with Hiragana

So, for those who know how to read and write in Chinese, learning Japanese will be an easy-peasy for you and you will be quick to pick up the language!

Image source: japanguide

Hiragana Hiragana is a simplified form of Kanji. There are 46 hiragana letters called Gojuon.

Learn the Japanese Alphabet with the Free eBook - JapanesePod101
Image source: japanesepod101

Katakana Katana usually used for foreign words such as loanwords, scientific name of onomatopoeia.

Learn the Japanese Alphabet with the Free eBook - JapanesePod101
Image source: japanesepod101


2. Pronunciation

In terms of pronunciation, for your fact, Korean pronunciation is slightly harder for English speakers compared to Japanese. 


Japanese pronunciation is simple as most of them using a,e,i,o,u. Moreover, the consonants are also easier as it is similar to English such as ‘Wa’,’Ta’, ‘Shi’.


Whereas Korean is a bit hard to pronounce because they have 10 basic vowels and 11 additional vowels which are very not similar to English learners or other learners. So it might be challenging to learn at first. 

As for the consonants, it is a bit hard to identify because of the aspiration sounds. In Korean, for ‘g’ it has three variations of sound and the sound is not ‘g’ or ‘k’ but it is somewhere in between. 

Hard right? So here’s an example of the variation:


3. Syntax/ Sentence structure

In terms of sentence structure or the grammar, both of them have similarities in it. So if you are not familiar with both of the structures, it will still be hard for you for either of the languages. 

Korean and Japanese languages use Subject Object and Verb (SOV). For those whose native language grammar structure is with SOV then it will be easier for you, such as Urdu or Persian. 

Let see the example of Korean and Japanese language structure:

Korean (Hangeul)

할머니가 김치를 샀어요

Halmeoni ga (subject) kimchi reul (object) sass (verb) eo yo.



Obasan ga (subject) sushi o (object) katta (verb).

If you practise it hard enough, you will get the grasp of the sentence structure although it is confusing at first for English speakers and even non-English speakers.

4. Particles

Unlike Korean languages that have particles that come if the words end with either consonant or vowels (eun/neun), Japanese is a bit easier for beginners which only has one marker/particles no matter if the word ends with consonants or vowels. 

As an example: 

Korean: Kimchi (leul)/ Ban-chan (eul) [Word end with consonant and vowel need to use different particle formation]

Japanese: Sushi (o)/ Oden (o)  [Even if the word ends with a consonant, the particle is still the same]

Korean Japanese
은/는 (eun/neun)は (wa)
이/가 (i/Ga)が (ga)
을/를 (eul/leul)を(o)

As neighbours, Korean and Japanese have their similarities in a lot of their vocabularies and some of them you can even notice if you are familiar with both Japanese and Korean series, songs, or movies. These similarities will be so easy IF you are a Chinese speaker or learned Chinese before as they have similar words. 

But that’s not the case if you are an English speaker as you will need a fresh start to memorise all the vocabularies. But once, you have mastered either of the languages, it will be relatively easier for you to master the other one. 

Example of the similar words

English wordsKoreanJapanese
Library도서관 (Do-seo-gwan)図書館 (To-sho-kan)
Future미래 (Mi-lae)未来 (Mi-rai)
Bag가방 (Ga-bang)かばん (Ka-ban)
Photo사진 (Sa-jin)写真 (Sha-shin)
Newspaper신문 (Sin-mun)新聞 (Shin-bun)

So, The Outcome?

Easy or not, it all comes with your background and interest. If you watch more anime than K-drama you should try and learn Japanese as it will be easier for you to grasp the words, and same goes if you listen more to Korean songs than Japanese songs, it will be easier for you to grasp Korean languages.

However, just listening to a song or watching drama does not determine one’s interest in a language. The sole contemplation for this is to have a keen interest in that particular language, be it Korean or Japanese. 

Ludwig Wittgenstein once said:

The limits of my language are the limits of my world” 

So, instead of just learning one of them, why not both?

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