Should I learn Japanese or Korean?

Chika Nakagawa
Published: 8 August 2023
The national flags of Korea and Japan

There's been a huge growth in interest in Japanese culture and Korean culture in the UK over the last decade.

The growing impact of these two cultures is impossible to miss. Fancy stopping for lunch? Grab a bite at Itsu or Wagamama. Need to update your wardrobe? Head over to fashion chain, Uniqlo! Need something to watch on Netflix? There are thousands of Japanese and Korean shows including recent hits such as Squid Game and Alice In Borderland. And if you need let off steam after work, try an aikido or taekwondo workout.

Is it better to learn Japanese or Korean?

With all things Japanese and Korean hitting the cultural zeitgeist, there has never been a better time to go one step further and start learning these two fascinating languages.

Aside from the enthralling food, film and music emerging from these two countries, there’s also a strong professional incentive to consider taking up these two languages. Japanese and Korean are two of the world’s fastest growing languages – and that’s primarily because of their growing importance in the world of business.

Japan is the world’s third largest economy, whilst South Korea is home to some of the world's most cutting edge brands including Samsung, Hyundai and LG. As technology continues to revolutionise our lives, these markets are likely to grow even stronger in the coming years.

Here are a few more reasons to consider learning Japanese and Korean

Image of Japanese sushiImage of Japanese sushi

Why learn Japanese?

Wondering why Japanese culture has become so influential in the UK in recent times?

Interestingly, much of it has to do with childhood nostalgia. Think of many of the UK’s favourite Christmas toys over the past four decades, and many of them have a strong Japanese connection.

From Transformers and Tamagotchis to Power Rangers and more recently Pokémon, nearly every child growing up in the UK has a fond childhood memory of at least one Japanese cultural touchstone – so it’s little surprise that more and more people are choosing to explore Japanese as they grow older.

More recently, the growth in availability of Manga comics and the critically acclaimed films of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have helped continue the Japanese cultural phenomenon currently sweeping the UK.

Japanese food is amazing

Food is another leading factor in why Japan’s influence both culturally and linguistically is in the ascendancy. The rise of popular chain restaurants, and availability of healthy, convenient lunches for the busy Londoner have certainly played their part in growing the popularity of Japanese food in the capital.

Interestingly, many of the most famous Japanese chains that have popped up on streets across the capital only date back to the mid-1990s, and one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets recently revealed it now sells 90,000 packs of sushi a week.

This suggests the time where Japanese food was considered an ‘exotic’ meal choice for hungry Brits is now long past – it’s now a simple fact of many people’s daily routine.

Japanese industry is booming

The growing needs of the business world are another huge reason behind the Japanese language’s rise in popularity. Japanese companies employ around 140,000 people in the UK, so unsurprisingly, there has been a surge in uptake in people learning the language for career development over recent years.

Proficiency in Japanese is becoming particularly important for anyone who wants to pursue a career within one of the country’s ‘boom’ sectors – science, technology or robotics.

Tokyo 2021

And finally, interest in Japanese culture and Japanese language courses showed no signs of letting up this year when Japan was at the centre of the world’s attention with Tokyo hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The games took place at multiple locations across the city and featured Intel drones, driverless cars and support robots, not to mention turning old mobile phones into medals, making the games the most ‘high tech’ of all time. Finishing 3rd overall in the medal table and 11th in the Paralympic medal table, the Olympics provided another example of Japan’s achievements in the field of technology, but also in the less talked about area of sport.

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Why learn Korean?

Korean may not have quite the global reach of Japanese, yet it’s still a language spoken by over 77 million people around the world. To put that in perspective, that’s only 1 million less than the number of people who speak German.

Explore Korean culture in the UK

London alone plays host to Europe’s largest Korean community in the UK – with the suburb of New Malden alone thought to be home to some 20,000 Koreans. It’s just one of the reasons why Korean food and culture is particularly prevalent across the capital.

For foodies across the UK, Korean cuisine continues to capture the imagination – with Korean barbecue meats, kimchi and Bibimbap all popular national dishes available at restaurants across the country.

The rise of K-Pop

Korean music (K-Pop) has also exploded on the national consciousness in recent years. This was primarily the result of Psy’s global smash hit ‘Gangnam Style’ topping the UK Charts in 2012 and becoming the 13th most downloaded single of all time in the UK. Since then, K-Pop group BTS has grown into the biggest band in the world.

Trying to understand song lyrics often help to pique curiosity amongst many people looking to learn a language – and the popularity of K-Pop bands such as BTS have certainly led more people to take a look at Korean language courses.

BTS performing "Butter" at the American Music Awards in 2021.

Enjoy the excellence on K-drama and Korean cinema

Korea has also enjoyed a renaissance in the popularity of its cinema over the last 20 years, with films such as Forgotten, The Host, Okja, Train to Busan and Parasite all receiving positive critical acclaim. Recently, the dystopian TV drama Squid Game has turned out to be Netflix’s biggest debut hit, reaching 111 million viewers worldwide.

Keep up with the political conversation

Politically, the ongoing tensions between North and South Korea have also brought more worldwide attention and interest to this region. Kim Jong-Un's escalation of threats to both South Korea and the United States in recent years has helped raise international consciousness of the delicate political climate that has dominated this region over the last few decades.

Booming business and career opportunities

As with Japanese, technology and business travel is one factor that has helped sparked a rise in interest in learning Korean in recent decades.

Korean business etiquette places an extremely high value on personally getting to know business clients and partners. With South Korea home to some of the world’s most innovative technology companies, the country is on the brink of becoming one of the world’s top 10 economies. For many employees working in the technology sector or regularly travelling to the region for work, signing up for Korean courses can be incredibly helpful in making strong industry connections.

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Should I learn Japanese or Korean?