Can Japanese and Korean understand each other’s languages?

Korean and Japanese are two different languages that are used in two different countries. The countries of Japan and Korea are geographically very close to each other.  Upon their first glance, many people think two languages look similar. They assume the countries and their cultures are similar, too. The question is just how similar are the Japanese and Korean languages?

Watching the said likenesses and plausible history of the Korean movement to ancient Japan, etymologists have defined distinctive speculations proposing a hereditary connection between them. However, these investigations either need indisputable proof or were subsets of speculations that have endured expansive ruin (like renditions of the outstanding Altaic theory that for the most part attempt to aggregate the Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic dialects together). Because of the absence of an adequate recreation of Proto-Japonic and Proto-Korean, any connection between the dialects that may have existed may never be decisively demonstrated.

Well, they are closer to each other than they are to any other languages. They are remarkably similar in some ways, but in another way, their also very different and they are certainly not mutually intelligible. That’s why there are fewer chances that they can understand each other’s languages.  

The Differences between Japanese and Korean

The Japanese and Korean might have these similarities. But there are factors that will convince you that they are different:

1. Syntax and Grammar

When it comes to syntax, Japanese and Korean are very similar. Japanese and Korean can often be translated word for word with each word and one sentence having an equivalent in the other.

Let’s look up a couple of Korean and Japanese sentences side-by-side, and we can see the similarities:

  1. English: I am a student
  2. Korean: Naneun (haksaeng-ida) – 나는학생이다.
  3. Japanese: watashiwagakusei-desu – わたしはがくせいで

You can see that these sentences are translatable word by word. Each word in the first sentence has an equivalent in the second sentence in the exact the same position, so they are directly translatable.

One thing I want to point out is the topic marker. It’s the second word of each sentence, and it’s kind of unique to Japanese and Korean. Topic marker points out the topic of the sentence that’s different from the grammatical subject that is the term used to describe the nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases that occur before the verb in a sentence.

Another thing that I want to point out is the last word in each sentence in Korean its ida 이다 and in Japanese its desu ですIn both cases, it’s like a copula (to be) like the word is in English. In both Korean and Japanese, it’s a standalone word that isusually placedat the end of the sentence.

Another example is:

  1. English: I drink water.
  2. Korean: naneunmuleulmasinda 나는물을 마신
  3. Japanese: watashiwamizu wo nomimasu 私は水を飲みま

Again we notice that the topic marker is the second word in each sentence. But the more important thing that I want to point out here is the SOV word order (subject-object-verb). We can see that the subject is I, watashi in Japanese and na in Korean. Then we have the object next is water, in Korean its mul and Japanese its mizu. And then we have the verb in the end. In Korean,it ismasinda and in Japanese its nomimasu. But before the verb, there’s an interesting little word that we don’t have in English, and that is an object marker. That’s another unique thing that we find in both Japanese and Korean used in exactly the same way and the same position in the sentence.

2. Vocabulary

Even though the grammar and sentence structure of the two languages are remarkably similar, the vocabulary is curiously different. If the Japanese speaker heard Korean being spoken without any prior exposure, they probably wouldn’t understand any of the words at all. Perhaps they might pick up a familiar word here and there, but that doesn’t mean those words are related to their language.

Korean and Japanese both inherited many loanwords from Chinese. Approximately 60% of the vocabulary of their language originated from the Chinese.

So, why are their languages not mutually comprehensible,given that they both have a lot of Chinese loanwords? Well, it’s important to know that for both languages in daily conversation and informal speech, the Chinese loanwords are not used as much as they are in writing. Also, Chinese loanwords are different in both languages. They entered the language in the form of Chinese characters, but the pronunciation of those characters became adapted to fit in among the logical system of both languages.

So, let’s look atsome examples.The first example is the name of those characters themselves.

  1. Chinese: hánzì
  2. Korean: hanja
  3. Japanese: kan ji

You can see that the pronunciation started as hánzì, but it diverged and became different in Korean and Japanese even though it’s the same two characters.

Some other examples:

  1. English: Photograph
  2. Korean: sa-jin 
  3. Japanese: sha-shin 

The word for the singer:

  1. English: Singer
  2. Korean: ka-su 
  3. Japanese: ka-shu 

The word for a promise:

  1. English: Promise
  2. Korean: yag-so(g) 
  3. Japanese: yaku-soku 

Those examples sound quite similar, but sometimes they’requite different. If we look at the Romanized words, sometimes we can see the similarities.

  1. English: Telephone
  2. Korean: jeon-hwa 
  3. Japanese: den-wa 

So, those words came from the same characters, but again they rendered differently in pronunciation. The next example is:

  1. English: School
  2. Korean: hag-gyou 
  3. Japanese: gak-kou 

Another example:

  1. English: University
  2. Korean: dae-ha(g) 
  3. Japanese: dai-gaku 

Another example:

  1. English: tofu
  2. Korean: du-bu 
  3. Japanese: tou-fu 

Another example:

  1. English: spa/hot spring
  2. Korean: on-cheon 
  3. Japanese: on-sen 

Again, you can see that sometimes words are related, but when you’re listening to the language being spoken, you probably wouldn’t be able to catch those words.

Chinese loanwords aside, there are also some Japanese loanwords that have enteredinto the Korean language.

Example of Japanese loanwords in the Korean language:

  1. English: cheers
  2. Korean: geong-bae 
  3. Japanese: kan-pai 

The word for bag:

  1. English: bag
  2. Korean:  ga-bang 가뱅
  3. Japanese: ka-ban 

There are also a lot of words that are native to both Korean and Japanese that might be related to each other.

Example the word island:

  1. Korean: se-om 
  2. Japanese: shima 

Example the word village:

  1. Korean: ma-eul 
  2. Japanese: mura 

There are a lot of words that I don’t think are connected but that linguists think it might be connected. Interestingly though, some of the grammatical elements have a very similar pronunciation in the two languages.

For example, the word above:

  1. Korean: wi-ei 위에
  2. Japanese: u-e 

So basically, Korean and Japanese have a lot of vocabulary that is related but not the same. It’s probably enough to help you remember that word if you study it, but not necessarily enough to pick up that word when you hear it in a conversation. And of course, most of the spoken vocabulary seems to be unrelated, or they’re words that have very ancient connections to each other.

3. Pronunciation

Now let’s look at the different pronunciation of the two languages. In some basic ways, they are similar, but the way the phonetic sounds are arranged to form syllables is different in the two languages.

Typically, in Japanese, two syllables have to end in a vowel. You cannot have a word that ends in a solid consonant like a cut. It has to be something like cutto with a vowel added to the end.

But, in Korean, you can have a consonant at the end of the syllable. That’s why in one of the words that we compared before the word promise:

  1. Korean: yag-so(g) 
  2. Japanese: yaku-soku 

Another difference is that in Japanese, the pronunciation of consonants doesn’t change depending on their position in the word. They are always the same. But, in Korean, some consonants can change depending on whether they are at the beginning of the word, in the middle, or at the end of a word. Korean also has a greater variety of vowels and diphthongs.

So, in general, Korean pronunciation is more complex than Japanese pronunciation.

4. Writings

One thing that is completely different between the languages is the Writing Systems.

The Japanese writingsystem usesacombination of Chinese characters and two syllabaries. Those syllabaries that consist represent entire syllables rather than just individual phonetic sound. The Japanese writing system is quite complex since you need to learn about 2000 kanjis to be able to read. And, in the adult level, it can take a lot of time and effort to learn.

Korean, on the other hand, is written in the Hangul alphabet, which is one of the simplest writing systems in the world. Korean used to use Hanja Chinese characters in the same way that Japanese uses Kanji in combination with hiragana and katakana. But they’ve gone away from that now that they are using the simplified writing system of hangul.

The Hangul Alphabet consists of individual phonetics symbols that arranged together to create its syllables. .It’s the H, A,  N,  G,  U, and  L to create this little word 한글.

Whereas in Japanese that requires you to learn 92 syllabary symbols and 2000 kanji, in Korean, you just have to learn 24 phonetic symbols, then you can use those to represent any new words that you learn.

5. Honorifics

The two dialects have a comparatively comprehensive, staggered frameworks of honorifics. They are referred to as the two most expanded honorific frameworks and may be unrivaled by some other dialects. It has been contended that specific honorific words may share a common source. Exceptionally, the honorifics depend vigorously on changing action word conjugations as opposed to just utilizing t-v distinction or other normal strategies for meaning honorifics.

Can Korean Understand Japanese?

The basic answer is no. Notwithstanding, since the two dialects have courses in Chinese, a few words sound natural, hence effectively perceived. Likewise, Japanese is the least demanding language for Koreans in light of the sentence request, and punctuation of Japanese is fundamentally the same as with Korean (as discussed above).


In Korea, we call one of our memorable nations, “조선.” In Korean, it is articulated “Joseon.” In Japanese, it is “Josen.”

Furthermore, since Korea and Japan are in such a nearby locale to one another, societies are shared. These outcomes, in like manner words that Koreans utilize that are Japanese.


Some of the time, when Koreans state something is cool, we state “간지난다.” “간지” is a Japanese word. Great deals of Koreans use words that they don’t have the foggiest idea about that are Japanese.

Koreans go A LOT to Japan, and Japanese stimulation, principally anime, can turn out to be exceptionally well known in Korea. If you are a Korean and don’t know both of these animes, you’re living under a stone. These sorts of things normally make Koreans know a couple of expressions and words in Japanese.

All in all, do Koreans, for the most part, know more Japanese than the remainder of the world by and large? No doubt.

Do they mystically know a different language since they are conceived in a nation actually near Japan? The appropriate response is NO.

Can Japanese Speak and Understand Korean

No. Most Japanese individuals don’t communicate and understand Korean at all. Be that as it may, the English language is a required subject in the Japanese auxiliary instruction; albeit English training has not gone great for Japanese individuals, by and large, a great many people can comprehend somewhere around a tad of English (except, obviously, the extraordinarily elderly folks). As analysts reminded me, there is to be sure an expansion in the quantity of youthful Japanese individuals who contemplate Korean (in their interim or maybe as a second unknown dialect in school), because of the prevalence of Korean pop culture among the youthful age. Notwithstanding, there are not unreasonably a large number of them with the end goal that you could arbitrarily keep running into them in the city.

There are places with Korean signs (normally touristy spots), yet there are more English signs than there are Korean signs, so there’s no favorable official position here on the off chance that you read Korean. In shops frequented by travelers, there are regularly Korean talking staff individuals; obviously, English is quite often increasingly valuable. In any case, these are practically restrictive to Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka metropolitan territories (“Tomeihan”), and you ought to expect no Korean signs outside of this region (maybe some in Fukuoka, too, because of the vicinity to Busan).

If you can keep in touch with some hanja (Chinese characters), in any case, you may almost certainly express basic thoughts and speak with Japanese individuals utilizing them, because basically, all Japanese individuals know some kanji. The capacity to peruse Chinese characters can regularly enable you to comprehend signs, too. Be that as it may, don’t expect a lot out of this.

There are around 1 million or so Japanese Koreans (counting N/S Korean residents living in Japan, and Japanese natives of Korean plunge), however, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the ethnic Japanese, so it’s probably not a smart thought to attempt to communicate in Korean to arbitrary individuals. In any case, there is a region in Japan that has a couple of Korean ethnic enclaves, (for example, О̄kubo in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo), and you’ll obviously have karma communicating in Korean in those territories. For the most part, none of those Korea-towns appear to be well-known vacationer goals.

Do Japanese people and Koreans understand each other’s languages?

No. They are two unmistakable dialects and completely extraordinary composition frameworks (as noticed above). The similitudes identify with language structure and utilization of Chinese advance words. Since Korea and Japan acquired Chinese characters from a long time prior and kept on utilizing a considerable amount of Chinese-character based advanced words, such a large number of these words may sound comparative yet with somewhat unique elocution.

Be that as it may, it is a lot simpler for a Korean to learn Japanese than say English. It is said that a Korean can wind up capable (yet not familiar) in Japanese in about 2~3 years. While Koreans who think about learning English may take a longer time to become familiar.


To summarize all that we have talked above; Korean and Japanese may seem very similar in terms of their sentence structure and grammar. And they also both have several Chinese loanwords but the native vocabulary is quite different, and so is their pronunciation which makes these two languages mutually unintelligible.

On top of that, their writing systems are now completely different with the new modern writing. The Korean System completely avoids Chinese characters these days.

My own thought is that Japanese and Korean did originate in the same language a very long time ago, but as they were diverging over that time of perhaps about 2000 years,they became very different.