The Korean Language and South Korea from the Perspective of Japanese People and Japanese Companies

It's Easier to Learn Languages Similar to Your Own: Korean, an easy language for Japanese people

November 2, 2015

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Korean, Korean language, South Korea

Readers may remember Winter Sonata, the show that sparked Japan's Korean boom, and the subsequent K-Pop (Korean pop music) craze that took the world by storm is still a relatively recent memory. South Korea, a country with a reputation as a beauty location, is also easily accessible from Japan. K-Pop stars, traveling South Korea: there are a myriad of things that could inspire someone to study Korean. Korean is an easy language for Japanese people to learn, and South Korea is well suited as a hub for overseas business expansion. Here we look at the Korean language from the perspective of Japanese people and the South Korean market from the perspective of Japanese companies.

What is Korean?

Mention the Korean language and a lot of Japanese people think of the Korean alphabet (hangul). Most people will recognize text such as "안녕하세요" as being written in Korean, even if they have no idea what it says. It is important to realize that the Korean language and hangul are not the same thing: one is a language and the other is a writing system. You can think of the relationship as being like that between Japanese (the language) and hiragana (a writing system).

People in Korea wrote with hanzi (Chinese characters) until the mid-15th century. However, hanzi were difficult to understand and illiteracy was common. Hangul was created to be a writing system that everyone could understand. While at first glance hangul may look like some sort of code, it is actually structured very rationally to allow it to be read by anyone. Hangul characters are phonetic and are comprised of elements corresponding to each of the 10 vowels, 19 consonants, and 11 diphthongs of the Korean language. Incidentally, the Korean word above, "안녕하세요", is "annyeonghaseyo" (hello).

Languages Similar to Your Own are Easier to Master

Acquiring a foreign language is no simple task. Lots of factors need to be present, including an impetus to learn in the first place, a need and desire to continue, concentration, and the correct learning method. While fluency is unlikely to come overnight whichever language you choose, the closer a language is to your own, the easier it is to learn. In the same way that English is easier to learn for the French, Germans and other Europeans, the Korean language, which is similar to Japanese, is relatively easy for Japanese speakers to learn.

The ease of access to the local language is a big advantage to those doing business in South Korea. While official documents require proper Korean translation and localization, it is always good to have enough Korean language skills to prevent being left behind in the Korean market.

Similarities Between Japanese and Korean

Let's look at how the Japanese and Korean languages are similar. First, both languages share a common word order. For example, the Japanese sentence "Watashi wa ringo wo tabemasu", meaning "I will eat an apple" (Literally "I apple eat"), in Korean is "나(watashi)는(wa) 사과(ringo)를(wo) 먹다(taberu)." Once you know the vocabulary all you need to do is swap Japanese words for their Korean equivalents.

Another important similarity between Korean and Japanese is honorific language. Japanese people are accustomed to using honorific language when talking to superiors. This translates smoothly to Korean which also has a rich culture of honorific language.

There is a lot in common between business in Japan and South Korea, for example the relationships between superiors and subordinates and the relationships with customers. This is another reason that makes South Korea worth considering as a market for overseas expansion from Japan.

Korean: An Easy Language to Learn for Japanese Speakers; South Korea: an Important Market

The ease of learning the Korean language, South Korea's proximity to Japan, and its philosophical cultural commonalities with the rest of Asia all give it advantages for Japanese companies wanting to expand overseas. At the same time, overseas business expansion comes with various risks. You should exercise the utmost caution when translating and localizing agreements and other official documents so as to avoid running into strife later./

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