Polyglot Learning: Similar Words in Chinese and Korean

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Korean language is much more related to Chinese than one might think. Korean is also very closely related to Japanese, probably even more than Chinese, but Chinese words actually make up about 60% of the Korean vocabulary, though in actual speech (especially informally) native Korean words are more common.

Chinese words used in Korean are referred to as Hanja, which is the Korean name for Chinese characters (hànzì). Before moving to Korea, I studied Mandarin Chinese and lived in China. When I came to Korea, I noticed a lot of Korean words sound exactly the same or very similar to the Chinese word. Therefore, if you speak Chinese, you have a clear advantage in learning Korean!

Although a phonetic Korean alphabet, now known as hangul, had been created by a team of scholars commissioned in the 1440s by King Sejong the Great, it did not come into widespread use until the late 19th and early 20th century. Thus, until that time it was necessary to be fluent in reading and writing hanja in order to be literate in Korean, as the vast majority of Korean literature and most other Korean documents were written in hanja. Today, a good working knowledge of Chinese characters is still important for anyone who wishes to study older texts (up to about the 1990s), or anyone who wishes to read scholarly texts in the humanities. Learning a certain number of hanja is very helpful to understanding the etymology of Sinokorean words, and to enlarging one’s Korean vocabulary. Hanja are not used to write native Korean words, which are always rendered in hangul, and even words of Chinese origin — hanja-eo (한자어, 漢字語) — are written with the hangul alphabet most of the time. – Wikipedia

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Polyglot learning describes learning several languages at the same time. Similar languages or similar words can be learned much easier when studying them together as pairs. I tried this strategy with the words below and it works incredibly well!

Here is a List of Similar Words In Chinese And Korean


Korean: 운동 (undong)

Chinese: 运动 (yùndòng)


Korean: 동의 (dong-ui)

Chinese: 同意 (tóngyì)


Korean: 신용 카드 (sin-yong kadeu)

Chinese: 信用卡 (xìnyòngkǎ)


Korean: 도서관 (doseogwan)

Chinese: 图书馆 (túshū guǎn)

NOTE: Korean also uses the English word library: 라이브러리 (laibeuleoli)


Korean: 용기 (yong-gi)

Chinese: 勇气 (yǒngqì)


Korean: 승리 (seungri)

Chinese: 胜利 (shènglì)


Korean: 피부 (pibu)

Chinese: 皮肤 (pífū)


Korean: 인상 (insang)

Chinese: 印象 (yìnxiàng)


Korean: 내용 (naeyong)

Chinese: 内容 (nèiróng)


Korean: 전부 (jeonbu)

Chinese: 全部 (quánbù)


Korean: 안전 (anjeon)

Chinese: 安全 (Ānquán)


Korean: 신분증 (sinbunjeung)

Chinese: 身份证 (shēnfèn zhèng)


Korean: 관광 (gwangwang)

Chinese: 观光 (guānguāng)


Korean: 시장 (sijang)

Chinese: 市场 (shìchǎng)


Korean: 은행 (eunhaeng)

Chinese: 银行 (yínháng)


Korean: 준비 (junbi)

Chinese: 准备 (zhǔnbèi)


Korean: 공룡 (gonglyong)

Chinese: 恐龙 (kǒnglóng)


Korean: 빙산 (bingsan)

Chinese: 冰山 (bīngshān)


Korean: 감동 (gamdong)

Chinese: 感動 (gǎndòng)


Korean: 기대 (gidae)

Chinese: 期待 (qídài)


Korean: 시장 (sijang)

Chinese: 市長 (shìzhǎng)


Korean: 신문 (shinmun)

Chinese: 新闻 (xīnwén)


Korean: 자동 (jadong)

Chinese: 自动 (zìdòng)


Korean: 뇌 (noe)

Chinese: 脑 (nǎo)


Korean: 일기 (ilgi)

Chinese: 日记 (rìjì)


Korean: 만찬 (manchan)

Chinese: 晚餐 (wǎncān)


Korean: 관심 (gwansim)

Chinese: 关心 (guānxīn)


Korean: 건배 (geonbae)

Chinese: 干杯 (gānbēi)


Korean: 왕 (wang)

Chinese: 王 (wáng)


Korean: 공주 (gongju)

Chinese: 公主 (gōngzhǔ)


Korean: 반 (ban)

Chinese: 半 (bàn)


Korean: 완전 (wanjeon)

Chinese: 完全 (wánquán)


Korean: 시간 (shigan)

Chinese: 时间 (shíjiān)


Korean: 차 (tea)

Chinese: 茶 (chá)


Have you studied using the polyglot method?

Leave a comment below.

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  1. Ruth Elisabeth on September 29, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Although a looser connection (ie. the Chinese influence on both languages), I’ve found my Vietnamese vocabulary comes in handy for learning Korean. I first noticed it with the Korean word 남자 which was super easy to remember since “nam” means male in Vietnamese.

    About 1/3 of your list have a similar-sounding word in Vietnamese too.

    • lindalindsch on September 29, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      Oh that is really cool! Maybe I should start learning Vietnamese as well! 😉

      • Ruth Elisabeth on September 29, 2014 at 5:59 pm

        If you do, seems like you’ll already have quite a headstart!

  2. Melody on September 29, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    That is soo cool, I have always been trying to search the similarities between the two languages. Thanks 🙂 One more I had found was for umbrella :

    Chinese : 雨伞 yusan
    Korean: 우산 usan

    I first studied korean and now I am studying chinese. But the more I learn chinese the more I forget about korean ㅠ.ㅠ I mix up the words it’s so frustrating.

    • lindalindsch on September 29, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      YES! I totally forgot about 雨伞/우산! thanks for mentioning!

      Glad you find this post helpful! 🙂

  3. Panda@Play on October 2, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I think that I know a Japanese word from the movie “Pearl Harbour” where a Japanese sailor reported to the general in Japanese on the result after the 1st air strike. He started with sth like “Shukan, blah blah”. After a while, I suddenly realised that he must mean “boss/head/superior/Sir”, because it’s pronounced as “Shou Zhang (“首長”) in Mandarin Chinese and sth like “ShouGan” in some regional dialects such as Cantonese. Probably Korean one sounds similar as well?

    Both Korea and Vietnam(the Northern part) were a part of Imperial China in Qin Dynasty (the first emperor of China) 2,200 years ago – try google the Han Empire map. Even though they were officially in and off Imperial China many times during the history, both were the models of vassal states of Imperial China until the modern era started when the Europeans came along. Korea was the best model actually by having copied everything Han Chinese (Confucius culture, family values, philosophies, languages, national dresses, architecture, all technologies, government bureaucracy…anything) they could grasp into Korea with no or a little localisation. Japan, in turn, copied some of directly from China, but mostly through by copying Korea.

    That perhaps explains a bit about linguistic links amongst the three, with Korea serving as the 1-way-bridge of China to Japan historically. So for outsiders Korea, rather than China, is closer to Japan; while Korea, rather than Japan, is closer to China.

    Contrary to the conventional belief, that’s why Korea was actually a more advanced society than Japan for > 95% of the last 2,000 years, since China was the most advanced meantime. For that matter, the most recent 3 or 4 generations we are witnessing were the only time in the entire history when Japan is a more advanced society than China.

    That’s why Korea is honourablely nicknamed 1 of 4 “little Asian dragons” (i.e. traditionally, “dragon” is the exclusive symbol of Han Chinese), with other 3 dragons, Taiwan, Singapore and Hk all being ethnic Chinese.

    That’s why the current “Korean Wave” such as TV soaps, Kpop, korean fashions, etc, has so large followers in China so easily, simply because there is almost zero culture barrier as the Chinese take Korea’s almost as China’s own.

    That’s also why today’s PRC, claiming the heritage of good n old China, sent Chinese armies only twice into foreign lands after WWII: One was to Korea during Korean War, to defend Koreans from foreign invaders(Americans); the other was to Vietnam during Vietnam War, to offer full-on logistic and military command support to the Viets against foreign invaders (Americans again). From the perspectives of PRC, North Korea and Vietnam, those were “natural” acts, because they all thought, and still think today actually (without admitting it in public though), that China was their “master” country and should be ultimately responsible whenever foreigners invade them.

    Also look at the most obvious – their national flags and capital cities: It’s no coincidence that Korean flag with Chinese Ying Yang Tai Ii at its centre and Vietnam’s flag a simplified PRC one missing only 4 stars (… when China started economic reform in the 80s, it’s “Open Door Policy”, such is called in Vietnam today). You know, just like the dragon sign, character “Han”, named after China’s great Han Dynasty , historically has always referred to “Han Chinese” or its close derivatives. Now do you feel strange that Korean capital city had always been called 漢城(literally Han City”, some Korean nationalists would try to “argue”it’s because it’s after the name of a nearby river called “Han River”…lol) historically until several years ago, when Korean nationalists quickly changed it into a rather strange首爾(Seoul) during their economy take-off period. Likewise, Vietnam’s capital city had always been called Hannoi – no need to explain further I guess?

    So both Korea and Vietnam spoke a sort of “Chinese” for literally 1,000s of years, and certainly both of their historic documents were written 100% in Chinese until very recently. An analogy: if Imperial China were Germany, then Korea would be like a city in Denmark, and Vietnam would be like a city of Poland next to the German border.

    The Northern part of Vietnam was historically nicknamed as “Little China”because there were a large wave of ethnic Chinese migrants there ( most of them left Vietnam during Vietnam War and in the 1970s). Therefore it’s no surprise of this kind of linguistic similarities.

    BTW, there is a famous Chinese joke about the recent invention of Hangul. It goes like “once upon a time, there was a Han Chinese scholar who went to Korea to teach the locals how to write. But this guy was an alcoholic and always drunk during the classes by keep writing Hanzi characters all like small round circles… there you have Hangul.”LOL.

    Seriously, Linda, don’t you realise that you’re wasting time on learning Koreans/Hangul? Hangul is almost useless and will become more so. Get the full energy into Mandarin Chinese instead, which is the elite, the core, and the spirit of the all three East Asian languages (Chinese, Korean and Japanese, and also the same in Taiwan, HK, Singapore, Malaysia). Given the economical & cultural re-emergence of China, the traditional “master” country in East Asia, as the pre-eminent country again, Korea will soon , say within 10 years max, take traditional Chinese back as Korea’s official language just like the old time, if not 1 of 2 official languages. Japanese (language) won’t change, but Vietnam would follow the similar path.

    • lindalindsch on October 29, 2014 at 8:47 am

      not sure if you even read my blog or just left a comment here like that. I am learning Korean because I have a KOREAN boyfriend, therefore I, of course, try to learn his language to talk to his parents and friends and be able to survive in Korea. Besides, you shouldn’t only learn a languages because it might be used more or the country is important in the world, instead just out of pure passion.

  4. R Zhao on August 13, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Interesting! I know that Hanja used to be used in Korea, but I had no idea that some of the words could be so similar.

    • Linda on August 25, 2015 at 9:25 pm

      right? it’s crazy!

  5. Katie Crossing on July 29, 2016 at 2:05 am

    Oh this kind of makes me less apprehensive about tackling Korean as a Chinese person! Very helpful, I didn’t even notice for example skin was so similar, and being aware of that now is helping me memorize some words

    • Linda on July 29, 2016 at 8:03 pm

      thanks Katie! I’m glad this list if helpful to you! Korean is harder to learn than Chinese I believe. Korean grammar is intense!

  6. xiumin✨ on February 11, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    I’ve always felt that TIME was oddly similar too! 🙂
    Korean: 시간 (sigan)
    Chinese: 时间

  7. Марал С. on May 2, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Also “prepare”
    Korean (junbi)
    Chinese (zhunbei) 准备

  8. Awenik Mwichti on July 5, 2017 at 3:29 am

    Japanese electricity dian and den

  9. Haising Ngoy on October 18, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    Completely/ Totally

    Korean = (wanjeon) 완전
    Chinese = (wan quan) 完全

  10. Jonathon Wight on December 9, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Also the word for “half”
    Chinese: “半”(bàn/ban)
    Korean: “반/半” (ban)

  11. Anonymous on February 9, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    Korean: 태양 taeyang
    Chinese: 太阳 Tàiyáng

    Korean: 산 san
    Chinese: 山 Shān

    • Linda on February 15, 2022 at 4:55 pm

      Perfect thank you!

  12. Lubna on February 16, 2022 at 7:56 pm


    양 yang (sheep) in korean
    羊 yàng (sheep) in Chinese
    It’s almost identical

  13. Anonymous on April 14, 2022 at 6:15 am

    ‘city’ = korean: 도시 (dosi) // chinese: 都市 (doushi)
    ‘really’ = korean: 진짜 (jinjja) // chinese: 真的 (zhende)
    ‘nervous’ = korean 긴장 (ginjang) // chinese: 紧张 (jinzhang)

    • Linda on April 19, 2022 at 4:07 pm

      Excellent! Thank you for adding these!

  14. Kristina on November 27, 2022 at 11:52 am

    There are also these words too:
    整理 (zheng li) – 정리 (jeong li) –> organize
    时差 (shi cha) – 시차 (si cha) –> time difference
    左/右 (zuo/you) – 좌/우 (jwa/woo) –> left/right
    变化 (bian hua) – 변화 (byeon hwa) –> change
    体重 (ti zhong) – 체중 (chae joong) –> body weight
    重要 (zhong yao) – 중요 (joong yo) –> important

    • Linda on November 30, 2022 at 5:43 pm

      Thank you Kristina! These are perfect!

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