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Can Korean Understand Japanese?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Are you traveling to South Korea and wonder if Koreans can actually speak Japanese?

Well… I’ve visited South Korea over 8 times now and have spoken to thousands of Koreans. And let me tell you that the majority of Korean can’t understand Japanese.

Korean students get the option to learn Japanese in school, but it’s not a class that everyone must follow.

So there you have it.

But wait. We surveyed exactly 100 people and asked them if they could understand Japanese. And 8/100 actually did. Now, you have to take this with a grain of salt because 100 people are way too small to make a conclusion.

Let’s dive deeper.

In short: The majority of Koreans can’t understand Japanese. Only a small percentage in South Korea can actually speak and fully understand Japanese.

Is Japanese Thought in Korean School?

Ever since the 1900’s Japanese has not been a thought anymore in Korean schools. Koreans are allowed to take Japanese classes themselves, but it’s not required. 

And because Chinese and English have become more spoken in the last few decades. It seems like the Japanese tend to be forgotten.

This doesn’t mean that there are no people learning Japanese in school, but you don’t see it as often anymore. The second language that gets taught in kindergartens is English.

Even if you look at YouTube and the Koreans over there. The majority of them speak English or produce videos in English.

So, it’ll be likely like this for many years to come.

If you’re in Korea right now and want to learn Japanese there are many ways to do this:

  • Online
  • Going to classes
  • Talking to strangers

Besides these, there are many more. 

Learning a new language has never been easier. Especially, when it comes to foreign languages.

Most Common Languages Spoken in South Korea


English is the most spoken language in South Korea after Korean (Hangul) itself. For most students, it’s quite hard to learn English because they use a different alphabet for the letters.

In South Korea, they don’t use letters like A, B or C. 

Their alphabet system consists of 24 basic letters, which is quite hard to learn for foreigners. But looking at some other countries I would say that learning Korean sits somewhere in the middle.

It’s definitely not easy, but compared to others it’s okay. I’d say that anyone can learn Korean within 6 to 8 months.

Probably not fluent Korean, but you could get really close. Especially when you’re studying in Korea and have a lot of Korean friends, then it will get a lot easier.


Chinese is the 2nd most spoken language in South Korea. Both countries use similar letters, which makes it a bit easier than learning other languages.

And because Chinese and Korean use similar words it’s easier to understand. 

Like any other language, students can choose to learn Chinese. But it’s not a class that everyone takes, it’s more of an option students can choose.


Japanese is the 3rd most spoken language in South Korea. There are a lot of Japanese people in South Korea. You maybe didn’t know this but foods like sashimi and sushi are extremely popular.

Whenever you’re visiting Seoul you see these restaurants pop up everywhere. Even though not a lot of people speak Japanese in South Korea, it’s still considered to be one of the most spoken languages.

Still to this day, there are thousands of people learning Japanese in schools

The reason why Japanese is so popular in South Korea is that they’re basically neighbors. Someone from Japan can easily blend into the Korean culture without too many problems.

Should You Learn Japanese As A Korean?

If you’re living in Korea and want to learn Japanese, then it’s a no-brainer.

Learning a second language will always benefit you. It doesn’t matter whether it’s French, Chinese or Japanese.

Yes, you definitely should learn Japanese. Especially, when you like the Asian culture you’ll most likely like Japanese culture too.

As many of my Korean friends speak Japanese it’s very useful to learn. Whenever you visit any other Asian country there’s most likely someone that can speak Japanese.

Japan is a very big country, and also one of the most visited countries in the world. With things like Anime, J-pop, and Food culture it has become a phenomenon.

Why South Koreans Love To Visit Japan

If you’re Korean yourself and have never visited Japan, you’re definitely missing out. Experts say that over 80% of South Koreans between 20 and 30 have or want to visit Japan at least once.

This is a huge amount of people that visit Japan every year. And as you can see Japan is a huge tourist-friendly county that is very clean and respectful.

Compared to some other countries I’ve been to. Japan is by far one of my favorite countries to visit in my free time.

Now, if you’re visiting Japan, make sure that you take the time and experience every little bit.

From food to tourist attractions, and even the smaller countrysides. These are very underrated and extremely cheap.

A study shows that year over year before the lockdown more Koreans started visiting Japan. It looked like this graph was growing and growing, but then it slowed down.

Now, that most countries allow foreigners back into their country it’ll likely pick up again.

Final Thoughts

After all, most Koreans can’t really understand Japanese. It’s not taught in school anymore and the people that do understand Japanese are either following a class or are self-taught.

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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