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The Days of the Week in Japanese and Korean

With all the talk about holidays and calendars on my blog, I happened to remember something very interesting about the days of the week in Japanese and Korean.  In many ways, Japanese and Korean are similar, and in other ways, they are nothing alike at all.  However, when I first came to Korea, and my Korean friends were quizzing me because they were curious about how much Korean I had learned, they were amazed because I had learned the days of the week in Korean so quickly!  I felt like I had cheated. It wasn’t that much work for me.  A lot of Korean has been a lot of work, but the days of the week just weren’t because I spoke Japanese before I spoke Korean. The Koreans didn’t realize that the days of the week in Korean, although not completely the same, were extremely similar. I made a chart for you of the days of the week in both languages, and I will explain it to you.

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The first column is in Japanese, the second one is Korean, and then I know you recognize the last column as English.

To begin with, the first column:  There are actually two different ways of writing used to write the Japanese days of the week. They use kanji and hiragana.  The smaller letters are hiragana, the Japanese alphabet. The smaller letters are the same on every day of the week meaning”day of the week.”  The way it is pronounced is “yoh-obee.”  The first characters you see, the kanji, come from Chinese, and the Koreans also use these on their calendars, but with a a little different pronunciation.  Sunday in Japanese is Neechee-yoh-obee. If the Japanese were to write it in our letters, they would probably write “nichiyobi.”  I was used to writing things like this because of the Latin languages I speak and the Japanese way of doing things until I came to Korea, and they would write it in English the first way, and I realized that many English speakers would understand putting two “ee”s instead of an “i.”  The meaning of Nichiyobi is “sun day.”

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If you go on to the Korean for Sunday, the Koreans would use the same Chinese character that the Japanese use, but they would pronounce it differently.  The Korean letters say “eel-yoh-eel.”  “Yoh-eel” means day of the week in Korean.  Already there are similarities between “yoh-obee” and “yo-eel.”  Also the meaning of “neechee” and “eel” is the same:  sun.

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Next, go on to Monday.  The Chinese character in the Japanese column is “getsu” meaning “moon.”  I have already told you what “yoh-obee,”  the next letters mean, day of the week.  If we look at the Korean for Monday, it is pronounced “wol-yoh-eel.”  That “wol” also means moon, and if you see it written on a calendar, they will use the same Chinese character that the Japanese uses. They will just pronounce it differently.  And again, the “yo-eel” means day of the week.

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Now, we will talk about Tuesday.  In the first column, the Japanese, the kani (kanjee),  the Chinese character is pronounced “kah,” and as before, the hiragana, the smaller letters that end the word, are “yoh-obee.”  “Kah” means fire, so Tuesday is fire day.  If we look at the Korean, the Korean letters are pronounced “hwah-yoh-eel.”  That “hwah” also means fire, and if you see it on a Korean calendar, they will use the same Chinese character the Japanese use.  The Koreans call these Chinese characters hanja.

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The next one gets even easier, Wednesday.  Again, the pronunciation in Japanese is “soo-yoh-obee.”  The “soo” means water.  Any time you see that Chinese character in Japan or Korea, it means water.  In fact, it means the same thing in China too.  In Korean, Wednesday is pronounced “soo-yoh-eel.”  Now that you are beginning to see how close names of the week can be in Korean and Japanese, can you see why I felt like I was cheating.  Not all of Korean was this easy for me, but the days of the week were.  You pronounce the first part of the work exactly the same for Wednesday in both languages, and they mean the same thing too.

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After that, it is still easy.  The Japanese for Thursday is “moh-koo-yoh-obee.”  The “moh-koo” part is the kanji, the Chinese character part that is used also in Korean.  The Koreans call Thursday “Mok-yoh-eel.”  The Chinese character part is pronounced almost the same as the Japanese pronunciation.  This Chinese character means “tree” or “wood,” and it has the same meaning in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.

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Let’s go on to Friday.  The Chinese character for Friday in Japanese is pronounced “keen,” and then they add “yoh-obee,” which you know by now means “day of the week.”  The Koreans use the same Chinese character on their calendars, and they pronounce it “koom” or “goom.”  The Korean word for Friday is “goom-yoh-eel.”  In Korean, the “k” sound and the “g” sound are often blended.  The letter they use for this is pronounced “k” by one person, but the next person might pronounce it “g.”  Regardless, “koom” and “keen,” are similar, and they both mean gold, money, or metal.  You can think of Friday in Korea and Japan as “gold day.”

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Lastly, Saturday in Japanese is “doh-oh-yoh-obee.”  In Korean, it is “toh-yoh-eel.”  They both use the same Chinese character, and then add the word in each language for “day of the week.”  This Chinese character means “earth.”  In Japan and Korea, Saturday is “earth day.”  There is a similarity between “doh” and “toh.”  It is just a matter of how you breathe, but you put your tongue in the same place.  This means, when I speak Korean, sometimes, I forget and say “doh-yoh-eel” combining Japanese and Korean because I learned the Korean easier because I knew the Japanese first.

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As you can see, the days of the week in Korean and Japanese have a lot of similarities.  It made the days of the week easier for me to learn in Korean because I knew them in Japanese first.  There are other similarities between Korean and Japanese, but not as many as I would wish.  Don’t be fooled. They are two completely separate languages. Romanian, Spanish, and Portuguese are much closer than Japanese and Korean.  The Japanese grammatical patterns mirror the Korean grammatical patterns, but very few words in Korean are as easy to learn as Japanese words.  Japanese writing is hard, but basic conversation is not very hard. However, Korean basic conversation is a monster!  Korean words are much more complicated than Japanese words.  For the most part, the Koreans don’t use the Chinese characters anymore, and as a foreigner, I am glad because the Chinese characters are what I found hard about Japanese. In Japan, many books you pick up have kanji and the Japanese pronunciation beside it. Otherwise, I am in trouble trying to read something in Japanese.  In Korea, for every word, there is a Chinese pronunciation that is no longer used in China and a Korean pronunciation.  If you can figure out the Chinese pronunciation  and meaning of syllables, it makes learning Korean a little easier, but it is hard because in everyday conversation, they use the Korean and the Chinese pronunciation mixed together. It is like you are learning two very complicated languages at once when you learn Korean.  The Japanese use the Japanese pronunciation for their Chinese characters. However, it is interesting to note the similarities between Japanese and Korean. The Koreans who have trouble learning English have a much easier time trying to learn to speak Japanese.

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