Japanese or Korean: Which is Easier to Learn?

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between Japanese and Korean and find out which language is easier to learn!

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People often ask: Is it easier to learn Japanese or Korean? The two languages share some similarities, but they are also different, so people often wonder whether one is easier or more difficult to learn.

In this article, we will take a look at the similarities and differences between the two languages and give you our final verdict on which language is easier to learn.

We will focus our analysis on the following categories:

  • The writing system
  • Pronunciation
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Formality
  • Final verdict

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The writing system

Japanese uses three writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana is mainly used to write native Japanese words and grammatical words. Katakana is used to write foreign words, loan words, and onomatopoeia sounds. Kanji are Chinese characters, and the use of Kanji is very common in Japanese.

Both Hiragana and Katakana have 46 characters, and while the total number of Kanji characters runs into thousands, learning a few hundred will help you to master the beginner level Japanese.

The other writing in Japanese is Romaji. Romaji is the use of the Roman alphabet to represent the sounds of Japanese. While Japanese people generally don’t use Romaji to write Japanese, they do use Romaji to type Japanese on computers and mobile devices. This is because of the extensive number of characters in the Japanese writing system, so it’s easier to type Japanese using the 26 letters in the Roman alphabet.

The writing system of Korean is called Hangul (Hangeul), and similar to the Roman alphabet, it’s made up of consonants and vowels. Hangul has 19 consonant letters and 21 vowel letters. There are 14 basic consonants and 10 basic vowels, and combining the basic consonants and vowels, you can form the other complex consonants and vowels.

The basic idea of Hangul is to combine the letters of Hangul to form syllables - similar to the Roman alphabet. However, instead of writing the letters in a linear fashion like the Roman alphabet, Hangul is written in blocks of syllables.

So the most common family name in Korea, ‘Kim’, is written like this:

‘김’. 김 is made up of 3 letters - ㄱ [g], ㅣ[i], ㅁ [m].

Once you have learned all the letters in Hangul, you can read Korean, though at first you won’t be able to understand what you are reading.

Koreans also don't use romanization. The romanization system is mainly used to write the names of Korean places on road signs for travelers. Koreans do not romanize Hangul, so romanization is not something you can rely on when you are learning Korean. It’s important that you first learn Hangul when you start learning Korean.

Our Verdict

To learn the writing system, Korean is easier. Purely on numbers, Hangul is much easier to learn than learning to read and write in Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. For Hangul, you only need to learn 40 letter combinations, but for Japanese, there are far more.


Although you have to learn hundreds, if not thousands, of different characters in Japanese, the sound of Japanese is limited. At its most basic level, Japanese has 15 consonant sounds and 5 vowel sounds (a, i, u, e, o). We can also use diacritics to form voiced sounds, combine the characters to form different syllabic sounds and also long vowel sounds. However, in general, the fact that there are only 5 vowel sounds makes pronouncing Japanese words relatively easy.

Korean has 18 consonant sounds as although there are 19 consonant letters, consonant ㅇ is a silent consonant. Also, Korean has 17 vowel sounds as even though there are 21 vowel letters, some vowels are pronounced the same way. For example, ㅔ & ㅐ are both pronounced as [e], ㅖ & ㅒ are pronounced as [ye], and ㅚ, ㅙ, ㅞ are all pronounced as [we]. Korean consonants are also subtly different from English consonant sounds, which makes it tricky to learn the correct sounds.

For example the consonant ㄱ is a sound between the English /g/ and /k/ sound, and the consonant ‘ㄹ’ can be pronounced as ‘L’ or ‘R’ depending on other sounds nearby, so these subtle differences can cause problems for many learners. Additionally, Korean has many vowel sounds which are unfamiliar to English speakers, such as ‘ㅢ’ which is often romanized as ‘eui’, so the combination of subtly different consonant sounds and unfamiliar vowel sounds can make Korean pronunciation difficult.

Another aspect of Korean pronunciation which people often overlook is the sound changes. Depending on other sounds nearby, many Korean consonants (and at times vowels) can be pronounced as an entirely different sound, so the rules on sound change are something you need to learn as a Korean learner.

Our verdict

When it comes to pronunciation, Japanese is easier to learn. Japanese has fewer sounds to learn, and many of the sounds are already familiar to English speakers.

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Many Japanese and Korean words stem from Chinese language, and some words are actually pronounced in a similar way. For example, the word for furniture in Japanese is 家具 [kagu] and in Korean, it’s 가구 [ga-gu]. Also, the word for library in Japanese is 図書館 [toshokan] and in Korean, it’s 도서관 [do-seo-gwan].

Another similar feature of both Japanese and Korean is that both languages have a lot of loan words, especially from English.

For example, the word for chocolate in Japanese is チョコレート [chocoreto], and in Korean, it’s 초콜릿 [cho-ko-lit].

Another example is the word ‘sandwich’. In Japanese, it’s サンドイッチ [sandoitchi] and in Korean, it’s 샌드위치 [saen-deu-wi-chi].

If you’re a native English speaker, hearing these words pronounced in Japanese and Korean takes a bit of getting used to, but it can make learning vocabulary a little easier.

There are also similarities in how certain words are used. For example, to say ‘this’ and ‘that’, there are three words for both languages. One is used to refer to something close to the speaker, one for something close to the listener, and another to refer to something far from both the speaker and the listener.

Our verdict

It’s a tie. Vocabulary is where the two languages share certain similarities, and whether you decide to learn Japanese or Korean, you just have to learn all the common everyday words from scratch.


When it comes to grammar, Japanese and Korean share a number of similarities. First, the word order is the same. The basic word order for both languages is ‘subject + object + verb (SOV)’, and the use of particles is also quite similar between the two languages.

However, there are also certain differences, and in general, Japanese grammar is, in some ways, a little easier to learn. For example, in Japanese, there is no separate future tense, and to refer to future events, we can just use the present tense form.

For example, the present tense form of ‘to go’ is 行きます [ikimasu], and we can use this verb to say ‘I go somewhere’ or ‘I will go to somewhere’.

On the other hand, Korean has both present and future forms, and there are also different ways of saying ‘will go’ - we can say 갈 거예요 [gal geo-ye-yo] and 갈게요 [gal-ge-yo]. Both mean ‘I will go’, but their nuance is a little different.

Additionally, Korean conjugation rules can be more complicated. For example, the word for ‘to be cute’ in Korean is 귀엽다 [gwi-yeop-da], and to change this verb into formal forms, we need to learn how it changes to 귀엽습니다 [gwi-yeop-seum-ni-da] or 귀여워요 [gwi-yeo-wo-yo], which can be tricky to learn.

However, in Japanese, it’s a little simpler. The word for ‘cute’ is かわいい [kawaii] and to make this into its formal form, we can simply add です [desu] which means to be, so the combined form かわいいです [kawaiidesu] is the polite form of ‘to be cute’. We can make all adjectives into formal forms by adding です [desu].

Our verdict

This was a close one, but we think Japanese grammar is a little easier to learn. Certain rules on verb tenses and also how we conjugate words are a little more straight forward.


Both Japanese and Korean society are very hierarchical, and this means that how we speak and behave with our friends and how we behave and speak with people with seniority are different.

In Korean, we generally express different levels of formality by conjugating verbs into different forms, and in all, there are 7 different speech levels. Of the 7, 2 are quite archaic and generally only used in Korean period dramas, 1 is rarely used and only used by certain groups of people, and 4 are commonly used in modern Korean.

As well as learning how to conjugate the verbs, you also need to learn how each speech level is used, and this can be quite tricky as there are a lot of gray areas. You need to learn how different hierarchies form and the rules on how different speech levels are used, depending on who you’re talking to.

Unlike Korean, Japanese doesn’t have so many speech levels, and for the most part, in order to conjugate verbs into polite forms, you can add either ‘desu’ to nouns and adjectives or ‘masu’ to verbs. So Japanese is a little simpler.

However, where it gets rather complicated with Japanese is the honorific speech. Honorific speech is words and expressions we use to show respect. Korean also has honorific speech.

For example, the standard verb for ‘to eat’ is 먹다 [meok-da], but the honorific form is 드시다 [deu-shi-da], and we use the honorific form when we talk about people with seniority eating, such as our parents. However, in Korean, there is only a limited number of honorific forms, whereas in Japanese, it is much more extensive and more complicated.

In Japanese, honorific speech can be divided into respectful language and humble language. Respectful language is used to describe the actions of those with seniority. For example, similar to Korean, Japanese also has a standard verb for ‘to eat’, and also the honorific, respectful word. The standard verb for ‘to eat’ is 食べる [taberu], but when we talk about our parents eating, we need to use the honorific form to be more respectful, and that is 召し上がる [meshiagaru].

However, as well as respectful language, Japanese also has an extensive range of humble language which is used to describe our own actions when speaking to those with seniority, and it is this use of humble language which differentiates Japanese from Korean. For example, the standard verb for ‘to receive’ is もらう [morau], but when we receive something from someone with seniority, we use the humble form, and that is いただく [itadaku].

Our verdict

In this category, Korean is easier. While there are more speech levels in Korean, once you have mastered the conjugation patterns, you just need to learn the rules on how to use the verbs. However, in Japanese, honorific language has many different forms and the rules on how we use these word forms can get quite complex.

Final verdict: Japanese or Korean?

So which is the easier language to learn? Japanese or Korean? Our conclusion is that Korean is easier to learn… but only just.

As a beginner, we actually think it’s easier to learn Japanese. Although learning Hiragana and Katakana can be a little challenging, pronunciation of Japanese is relatively simple and the grammar rules are not too complicated. You can also rely on using Romaji as a beginner, which is not something you can do with Korean.

However, one advantage Korean has is that Hangul is relatively easy to learn, and once you have learned Hangul, you can start reading Korean. Nevertheless, even at the beginner level, Korean grammar can be a little tricky and the sounds of Korean are difficult to grasp for most English speakers.

Where Korean gets easier is when you move beyond beginner learner. For Japanese, the complex rules on how honorific language is used can be tricky to master, and then there is Kanji. Learning Kanji characters can be challenging, and without learning Kanji, it’s impossible to read or understand Japanese. At intermediate level, you will need to learn about 600-700 Kanji characters. Korean grammar is more difficult than Japanese, but there is a set number of patterns on how verbs are conjugated, so once you reach intermediate level, learning conjugation rules should be much easier.

Now, if you’re wondering ‘Which language should I learn? Japanese or Korean?’, difficulty is really not that different, but if you want to get a taste of what it’s like to learn either Japanese or Korean, then head over to the Busuu app and try both the Japanese and the Korean courses!

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