Speak Japanese? Speak Korean, too!

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In the first few months of being in Japan, my husband was hard at work, learning Japanese. I, on the other hand, could not discipline myself to do so. One day we were waiting for a train and there was an announcement. I turned to my husband and said, “The train’s arriving.” He looked at me confused replying, “How did you know? That was in Japanese.”

I knew because I heard the Japanese word “tochaku” which sounds like the Korean word “dochag” – which both mean “arrival”.

Nevertheless, my husband felt a pang of envy as he had spent his days studying while I effortlessly learned new words because of my Korean fluency. It just wasn’t fair!

There are many words that are similar between Korean and Japanese. I learned this through talking with friends, watching Japanese TV, and reading Korean-translated signs in Tokyo.

Learn the following words, and you’ve got them down for both languages. I love efficient learning!

English word – Japanese / Korean

Arrival – とうちゃく tochaku / 도착 dochag

Above – うえ ue / 위의 wi-e

Photo – しゃしん shashin / 사진 sajin

Promise – やくそく yakusoku / 약속 yagsog

Calculation – けいさん keisan / 계산 gyesan

Electric fan – せんぷき senpuki / 선풍기 seonpung-gi

TV – てれび terebi / 텔레비 tellebi

Cooking – りょり ryori / 요리 yoli

Earthquake – じしん jishin / 지진 jijin

Newspaper – しんぶん shinbun / 신문 shinmun

Time – じかん jikan / 시간 shigan

Honestly – しょうじき shoujiki / 솔지키 soljiki

Bag, purse – かばん kaban / 가방 gabang

Family – かぞく kazoku / 가족 gajog

Part-time job – あるばいと arubaito / 아르바이트 aleubaiteu

Handshake – あくしゅ akushu / 악수 agsu

Tea – おちゃ o-cha / 차 cha

Mood (feeling) – きぶん kibun / 기분 gibun

Convenient, easy – かんたん kantan / 간단 gandan

If you know the above words in Japanese, now you know them in Korean, too! And, of course, vice versa. I still don’t speak Japanese perfectly, but I have used every one of these words to help me connect and communicate with others in Japan.

Topics:  

Traveling, eating, writing through Nihon.
  • skatejam7 says:

    There’s hella う missing from this list
    electric fan is せんぷうき
    cooking is りょうり

    Anyway here’s a bonus word that’s exactly the same 準備 【じゅんび】 준비 – preparation
    They use it in a similar way too
    준비 됐어요? = 準備はいいですか = are you ready?

  • etwit says:

    I will add this word: revenge​ – ふくしゅう Fukushū / 복수 bogsu

  • Nouy says:

    The comparison between Sino-Japanese words and Sino-Korean words has long stopped being interesting because they stem from Chinese pronunciation so no real mystery there. What we want to see in a comparision of grammar.

  • Shikigo-Star says:

    i’ve discovered this too by watching a lot of anime and kdramas.
    My discoveries:

    Eng [kor / jap]

    objective [mogjeog / mokuteki]
    hospital [byeong-won / byoin]
    however [gueredo / keredo]
    moment [sungan / shunkan]
    memory [giog / kioku]
    family [gajog / kazoku]
    human [ingan / ningen]
    contract [gyeyag / keiyaku]
    promise [yagsog / yakusoku]
    reason [iyu / riyu]

  • Leon says:

    Well there you go, I’ve added the Chinese variation on this – Basically some Japanese and Korean sounds like heavily accented Chinese to me.
    eg:
    t for d (swap japanese syllabols starting with t with “d” sounds and you get Chinese
    sh for ‘x’ or ‘z’ or ‘zh’
    k for j
    p for f
    j for z

    Arrival – とうちゃく tochaku / 도착 dochag / dao’da 到达 (to -> do -> dao)

    Photo – しゃしん shashin / 사진 sajin / xie’zhen 写真 (sh ->x, sh -> zh)

    Promise – やくそく yakusoku / 약속 yagsog / yue’su 约束

    Calculation – けいさん keisan / 계산 gyesan / ji’suan 计算

    Electric fan – せんぷき senpuki / 선풍기 seonpung-gi / 扇风 shan’feng (it’s not usuaully written like this but if the kanji were written out, it would still make sense)

    Earthquake – じしん jishin / 지진 jijin / di’zhen 地震

    Newspaper – しんぶん shinbun / 신문 shinmun / xin’wen 新闻

    Time – じかん jikan / 시간 shigan / shi’jian 时间 / shi’jian 时间

    Honestly – しょうじき shoujiki / 솔지키 soljiki / zheng’zhi 正直

    Family – かぞく kazoku / 가족 gajog / jia’zu 家族

    Handshake – あくしゅ akushu / 악수 agsu / wo’shou 握手

    Tea – おちゃ o-cha / 차 cha / cha 茶

    Mood (feeling) – きぶん kibun / 기분 gibun / qi’fen 气氛

    Convenient, easy – かんたん kantan / 간단 gandan / jian’dan 简单

    • Edwin says:

      I say its more like cantonese.
      Easy – 簡單 gan dan
      Handshake- 握手 ak sou
      Family – 家族 ga jok
      Time – 時間 si gan

  • Nagarjuna Asam says:

    Handful of similar or even same words don’t mean you can speak one language by learning another. If you look closely, you’ll find many more pairs in German-English or Spanish-Italian for example.

  • Holly Bronte says:

    Try wanikani for kanji , spaced repetition and although starts slow, boy it gets quick soon!!! My kanji skill has gone up massively because of using it and has increased my vocab too xx

  • Barnaby Jones says:

    Or perhaps the other way round, China and Japan should stop using kanji, and use phonetic script only. That would make it a lot easier for non-Chinese/non-Japanese to learn these languages.

    It’s often said that kanji are simply ‘needed’ to express the difference in otherwise similar words, but when speaking, you can’t see what kanji someone is thinking, can you? Also, korean does fine without kanji…..

    • Ed says:

      Its the way japanese works that makes it unable to be written out. There is no seperations between vocabs and it has to be written in kanji, besides, its cultural preservatation to keep the kanji. Every single kanji has its own meaning and that is unique, opposed to english.

      • Barnaby Jones says:

        Well we can start by adding spaces between hiragana words. Children’s books even have furigana, so the next step is to leave out the kanji. But I agree that makes it still quite hard to read because many words in Japanese are pronounced the same way.

        • hunku says:

          Why would the Japanese have to stop using Kanji? Any logical and rational reason for that? It sounds as stupid as telling English people to stop using the Roman alphabet.

          By the way, Japanese texts, in my very personal opinion, simply look beautiful with their interaction of Kanji and Hiragana. My eyes feel delighted upon seeing both writing systems (and even Katakana if found) interacting in texts.

  • lulumilk says:

    Good topic! i learning japanese. Your article make me want learn korean!

  • Martin McNickle says:

    Most of the words you’re describing come from Sino-Korean, and On-yomi Japanese. Of course they would sound similar, as they were adopted from ancient Chinese, with adjustments made for Korean and Japanese phonology.

    • Anthony Rummery says:

      indeed. Take, for example, the word for ‘easy/convenient’ (as synonyms for ‘simple’ which is more accurate for Japanese and Korean) which are derived from Han Chinese as 简单 Jian Dan.

    • Guest says:

      Well there’s that, however that doesn’t explain the wide range of grammatical similarities between the two languages that they don’t share with Chinese.

    • GeneralObvious says:

      I was thinking the same thing.

  • zachsarette says:

    Koreans still use the Chinese characters. Though, not anywhere near as often as Japanese does. It’s used in mainly higher level things such as news papers, TV news, and signs for place names. Students have to study Hanja (chinese characters adapted to Korean) in middle school. And there are picture books in Korea that teach Hanja and their reading to youngsters as well. 🙂
    Also, Korean has MOSTLY chinese roots. It will be only harder for you not because of the vocabulary, but only because of the grammatical structure, pronunciation, and register to some degree as a Chinese speaker.

    • Holly Bronte says:

      Kanji also massively helps when learning Japanese vocabulary, you can often guess a word’s meaning by the kanji it is written with, easier than trying to memorise. Since I have learnt kanji I also make less mistakes in my writing and speaking. I was anti kanji when I started and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just use hiragana but now I am a convert!

      • Sanxiu Yang says:

        Same for me! I love Hanzi/kanji because, like you said, you can guess the meaning even though you don’t know the word. However, you can’t always guess the reading based on the radicals… X3 On the other hand, it’s “easy” to read Korean but you don’t have any clue about the meaning unless you learned the meaning beforhand! XD

  • Korea21c says:

    Grammar. Korea and Japan.

  • Korea21c says:

    Korean and Japanese ( Grammar are same).

  • Richard Flanagan says:

    Wow ! I don’t speak Korean ? is that why I struggle with Japanese 🙂

    • Robertale says:

      Learning in a different language can be tough but having a friend or a partner in that language will help you better. Learning Korean will never be useful.

  • Lisa Hong says:

    Thank you all for your interest in this topic! I really just wanted to show how small this world is. Sometimes, we just have to smile at the similarities 🙂

    • Tess de la Serna says:

      Very true. I do that a lot in Spanish (Mexican Spanish in America). I don’t know the grammar but since Cebuano (Philippines) is heavily loaded with Spanish words, I can pick and put together what the gist of what I hear or read. Also, if you have experience in Latin, Spanish is easier to learn. My sister in Canada is interested in Korean but right now, I’m trying to read a kindergarten/1st grader Japanese books! ^_^

  • Tak Nakamura says:

    The reason why some words are very similar between Japanese and Korean is that during the colonization of Korea by the Japanese, Japanese introduced products and phrases to the Koreans. The Koreans adopted these words and put a slight twist to suit their dialect.

    • Robertale says:

      Mostly true, but they did not put a slight twist to their dialect, but they simply couldn’t pronounce it.

  • Pa La says:

    I heard grammar structures are pretty similar too, aren’t they?

    • Lisa Hong says:

      Yes! All of my Japanese friends would say how easy it must be for me, since I can speak Korean. But my problem is laziness…. Hehe 🙂

  • Susan Kelly says:

    Yes, and they both have similarities with Chinese. Still of these three, all of which I’ve studied, Japanese is the easiest to learn or was for me.

  • Luifa Gonzalez says:

    One day we were waiting for a train one day.

  • David Kichi says:

    Very cool thanks! Kemuri is a fun one meaning fog and frog in Korean and Japanese respectively. Mori is head and forest respectively and lastly mokkori is necklace but has a great meaning for us guys in Kansai dialect. I hope you find and post more.

    • Caleb says:

      They are close but distinctively different 🙂
      Frog in Korean is Gehguri,
      Head in Korean is Muhri.
      Pronunciation is slightly different so I don’t think those words are necessarily related in the way the ones in the read are!

      • David Kichi says:

        Good to know. Though sounds the same to me as a nonkorean speaker . Don’t be a grammar Nazi! Lol

  • Andres Felipe Cho Bae says:

    Need some revision in grammar! For instance “One day we were waiting for a train one day,” Also there are few words in Korean that are not correctly written. 1. 솔지키 > 솔직히 2. 위의>위. It’s interesting how both countries share common words 🙂

    • Lisa Hong says:

      Hi, thank you for pointing out that sentence! It actually was not the original sentence I submitted, but I think it has been fixed.

      Also, thank you for teaching me the correct Korean 🙂 I should have said I am conversationally fluent in Korean, not academically (I grew up in Los Angeles).

      Have a great day!

  • Andres Felipe Cho Bae says:

    Need some revision in grammar! For instance “One day we were waiting for a train one day,” Also there are few words in Korean that are not correctly written. 1. 솔지키 > 솔직히 2. 위의>위. It’s interesting how both countries share common words 🙂

  • .k3NiCHi says:

    *せんぷうき
    *りょうり
    Cool article!

  • zachsarette says:

    That’s because these are Chinese roots, mostly. Also a lot of borrowed words are shared between Japanese and Koreans such as “Arubaito” and “Skin-ship”. So vocabulary is shared with Chinese roots. Just like there are many french and spanish words in English that share the same roots. But the hardest part is the switch of phonology and prosody to some extent. Grammar is functionally similar, until you get into the higher reaches of grammar. Register is similar, but again different. 🙂

    • Guest says:

      This still shows a linguistic relationship especially the grammar part which is usually something that isn’t borrowed from another language compared to loan words.

  • Young Kim says:

    As a Korean American trying to study Japanese, I can relate to the similarities and on top of that, this article is supremely encouraging.

  • PeacefulLife says:

    Interesting findings! I’m fluent Japanese — I should try Korean!

    • Robertale says:

      If you’re going to study both languages, please study both cultures as they are different from the inside from a DNA point. And never think they’re the same, which is like saying all Europeans are the same, etc.

  • papiGiulio says:

    I tried studying Korean but since im still in the midst of studying Japanese it got waaaay to confusing. The only word I knew that was similar was bag. 🙂

    Maybe some day in the future when I master Japanese (if ever) ill try Korean again.

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