Korean and Japanese Languages: Similarities and Differences

Learn about the intriguing similarities and differences between Korean and Japanese languages, their shared history and unique linguistic characteristics.


Korean and Japanese, two languages spoken in East Asia, offer a fascinating glimpse into the interplay of culture, history, and linguistics. While distinct languages with unique characteristics, they share some intriguing similarities and notable differences.

Notable Differences

Language Origins

One fundamental difference between Korean and Japanese lies in their linguistic origins. Korean is classified as a language isolate, which means it has no known relationship to any other language. On the other hand, Japanese is considered an Altaic language, but its classification remains debated. This contrast in language families highlights the distinctiveness of Korean, whereas Japanese exhibits some similarities with other languages in the region.

Writing Systems

Perhaps one of the most striking differences between Korean and Japanese is their writing systems. Korean uses Hangul, an alphabetic script created in the 15th century. Hangul is known for its logical and straightforward design, making it relatively easy to learn. Japanese, however, employs three scripts: Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana, and Katakana. Kanji is logographic and comprises thousands of characters, making it complex and challenging to master. Hiragana and Katakana are syllabaries used for native Japanese words and loanwords, respectively. This intricate writing system reflects Japan's historical borrowing of Chinese characters and the coexistence of native and foreign influences.

Grammar and Sentence Structure

Another significant distinction between the two languages is their grammar and sentence structure. Korean is an agglutinative language, which means it adds suffixes to root words to convey various grammatical meanings. It uses subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, placing the verb at the end of the sentence. Japanese, on the other hand, is also agglutinative but has a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order like Korean. While they share this common word order, the specific grammatical rules and particles used in each language differ, creating unique challenges for learners.

Pronunciation and Phonetics

Korean and Japanese phonetics showcase further distinctions. Korean has a relatively simple and consistent phonetic system, with a limited number of consonants and vowels. In contrast, Japanese exhibits a more complex system with a broader range of sounds. Additionally, Japanese pronunciation often involves mora-timing, where each syllable takes roughly the same time to pronounce, whereas Korean follows a syllable-timing pattern. These differences can pose challenges for learners striving to achieve accurate pronunciation.

Cultural Influences

The historical and cultural influences on Korean and Japanese languages are evident. Korean has a close connection to Chinese due to centuries of linguistic and cultural exchange, which is reflected in the presence of Chinese loanwords and the use of Chinese characters in Korean texts. Japanese, too, borrowed extensively from Chinese, especially in the form of Kanji characters. However, Japan's isolation during the Edo period led to the development of a unique language and culture, distinct from its Chinese roots.

Shared Similarities

There are some similarities between the Korean and Japanese languages, although they are distinct languages with different linguistic roots. These similarities are often due to historical and cultural interactions between the two countries. Here are some of the notable similarities:

  • Loanwords from Chinese: Both Korean and Japanese have borrowed a significant number of words from the Chinese language. These loanwords, known as Sino-Korean words in Korean and Kanji in Japanese, are often related to academic, technical, or formal vocabulary. While the pronunciation may differ, the characters themselves often retain similar meanings.

  • Writing Systems: Although Korean and Japanese have their own unique writing systems (Hangul for Korean and a combination of Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana for Japanese), the presence of Chinese characters in both languages creates a visual similarity. Both languages have incorporated Chinese characters into their writing systems, albeit to varying degrees and with some differences in usage.

  • Grammar Structure: Both languages share some similarities in their sentence structure. They both follow a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, which means the subject of a sentence typically comes first, followed by the object and then the verb. This similarity in word order sets them apart from many other languages, such as English, which typically follow a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order.

  • Politeness Levels: Korean and Japanese both have elaborate systems of politeness levels or honorifics. These systems are used to show respect or formality in speech and writing. In both languages, the choice of honorifics can significantly impact communication, and there are parallels in how they are used to convey politeness.

  • Cultural Influence: Both Korea and Japan have a history of cultural exchange and influence, including the spread of Buddhism, which introduced religious and philosophical terminology shared between the languages. Additionally, cultural practices, such as tea ceremonies and traditional clothing, have contributed to shared vocabulary and concepts.

  • Onomatopoeia: Both Korean and Japanese languages make extensive use of onomatopoeia, words that imitate sounds. While the specific onomatopoeic words may differ, the use of these words to describe sounds and actions is a common linguistic feature in both languages.

It's important to note that while there are these similarities, Korean and Japanese remain distinct languages with unique grammar, phonetics, and vocabulary. The similarities often result from historical interactions and cultural exchanges, but the two languages are not mutually intelligible, and learning one does not necessarily mean fluency in the other.


Korean and Japanese languages are intricate and fascinating, each reflecting the rich histories and cultures of their speakers. While they share certain similarities as East Asian languages, their linguistic origins, writing systems, grammar, pronunciation, and cultural influences set them apart. Learning Korean or Japanese is not just a linguistic endeavor but a journey into the heart of two distinct worlds. As language learners engage with these differences, they gain deeper insights into the societies and histories that have shaped these languages over centuries.

Why learn Korean online with us?
Check out the top 5 reasons people take online Korean lessons with us...
Free trial lessons
Builds confidence
Personal to you
Flexible lesson times
Experienced teachers

Top Online Korean Tutors
Yun Jong
Sessions : 193
 100% Positive
Sessions : 195
 100% Positive
Hae J
Sessions : 1638
 100% Positive
Sessions : 734
 100% Positive
Sessions : 5
 100% Positive
Sessions : 0
 Not Rated

Discover a better way to learn Korean online.

Regular conversation practice is the key to fluency. There's no better way to build confidence, develop comprehension skills and an authentic accent. It's fun, effective and guaranteed to get you talking.

Start for free today. We've helped thousands of students learn a new language online and we can help you too.

A very effective E-Learning system delivering one to one tuition by putting you in direct touch with native speakers worldwide.
I needed a more intensive approach, and luckily I came across Verbalplanet. This service provided the framework and the means for an incredible educational experience.

John Reese

Award winning language training that's worth talking about. Find a language tutor anywhere in the world then arrange a mutually convenient time to have your lessons.

Get Started Today
Bring Learning Korean to Life

Native teachers

Great pricing

Ultimate flexibility

© 2020 Verbalplanet.com