Unlearning the habit of saying no after picking it up from the Korean language

Had a perplexing moment with my Minna no Nihongo teacher yesterday. Apparently, I have been saying いいえ all the time and she struggled with telling me about it. I guess she didn’t know how tell me since Japanese folks never say things directly? In the end, what I understood from her was that Japanese people never use no and that it’s a ‘bad’ habit of mine. Of course, she didn’t say bad but it obviously was seeing her squirming in her seat trying to figure out how to tell me. :see_no_evil:

We kind of unpacked it a bit more and we realized that it came from my time in Korea. Always thought that Koreans and Japanese had similar cultures and this was the first stark difference I’ve encountered. I’m used to saying no in Korean which is pronounced as “ani” or “aniyo” for anything and everything. At the beginning of the sentence, at the end of the sentence, to ask a question, to clarify, to literally say no, in disbelief, etc. And I’ve just been swapping ani with いいえ this whole time. And now… It’s like I have to bleep myself! :zipper_mouth_face: :face_with_symbols_over_mouth: Oh gosh. That’s going to be so hard to unlearn. I have enough of a hard time differentiating vocabulary from those two languages. Thankfully, my teacher also learned some Korean so she knows whenever I’m speaking the wrong language. Now comes the cultural differences… :melting_face:

So I have two questions for anybody there who bothered to read this long post.

First question: anyone else here studied Korean before as a second/third/xx language first before they studied Japanese? I saw a few posts but didn’t really see much content or it was the other way around like moving on to Korean learning after Japanese. I’m curious to know if others like me who studied Korean first have found advantages (e.g. similar words, similar structure) or hindrances (e.g. mixing up pronunciations of similar but not exactly the same Korean words, cultural differences like saying no). And maybe any tips on how to differentiate those two.

Second question, how in the world do you say no in Japanese?


Less directly is the short answer. I don’t think Japanese people never say いいえ, but it’s definitely not as widely used as other ways to say no. That can be a bunch of different things, from “それはちょっと…” to just a negated verb to 違う to just stating the opposite to who knows what else. Just any way of negating something other than outright saying “no”.

So if someone asks you 洗濯したか? instead of answering いいえ you could say しませんでした - a bit like saying “I didn’t get around to it” instead of just “no”, which might be more polite in English as well. There’s a bunch more than I can explain here, but there are a lot of articles and videos on the subject which might be good to read or watch, or you can listen to Japanese people speaking and see how they negate things.

Or maybe your teacher could offer an explanation and some examples? Honestly just saying “Japanese people don’t say いいえ” without elaborating seems a bit unhelpful tbh, and explaining this kind of thing seems like exactly the kind of thing a teacher is for.


And maybe suck air through your teeth a bit. :slightly_smiling_face:


My coworkers sometimes say いいえ、いいえ as a “not at all” type response to ありがとう.

いや is good for when people make suggestions of what you should do and a whinny version is especially good for when the person suggests something they know you dislike


結構(です) for “no need”/“no thank you” kinda situations. (Do you need a bag? Any milk/sugar with that? etc)
At the end of a sentence/to clarify would be じゃないか “isn’t it?”
Disbelief could be expressed by へーうそ! “whaat, no way!”


You’re not alone alygator! American here. Actually, I was learning Korean and Japanese at the same time starting around 5 years ago and ended up putting Japanese on hold altogether because of the difficulties you mentioned :sweat_smile: At the time, my priority was Korean so I spent the past couple of years getting fluent, and I’m back to Japanese now as of only a few months ago. Honestly, learning Japanese is sooooo much more efficient knowing Korean and a bunch of hanja, and I don’t feel confused between the two anymore, but only because I really went ham on the Korean studying to the point where I speak it well enough to go to university in Seoul (which I did last year). If I’d tried coming back to Japanese at any time in the middle, it probably would have been a similar experience to the beginning. I feel like in my head, the two languages need to really have a disconnect big enough to not confused my Korean and Japanese personalities if that makes sense?? So that language habits don’t seep over to the “other side” in a manner of speaking. Good luck friend, I know it’s not easy.


My comment addresses this part rather than your stated questions. My first thought was could you try swapping "あの… " for those instances where now you’re putting in いいえ? The prime example I’m referring to is at the beginning of sentences. Are you perhaps using いいえ as a filler word while trying to gather your thoughts? If so, あの might be an easier word to swap in since it sounds similar to “ani”/“aniyo” in Korean.


What @Belthazar said. Or まぁ or ちょっと. Or agree with visible reluctance :joy:


My favourite is simply ああ、それは…

Or even just ええと… with a troubled look on your face


There’s a few ways you can avoid いいえ. Yuta covers these:

Long story short, just use the negative form of the verb in the question, simply or preceded by いや、


大丈夫です is another good one that I have adopted myself here. So instead of plain out no, it’s I’m okay.


My goodness! Thanks for all the responses everyone! All very useful which I will definitely use from here on. Just had my next class with my teacher and literally kept covering my mouth with my hand every time I’d catch myself saying いいえ。

Oops GIF - Gwen Stefani Speak No Evil Cover Mouth GIFs


Very true… She only talks to me in dumbed down Japanese though so elaborating would be difficult. But I could have used more examples definitely. Thanks for your elaboration and examples though! Super useful!

Hahahaha. I like this idea. You had me actually doing that a couple of times. :sweat_smile:

Yes I’ve finally found one person whose had a somewhat similar struggle! Thanks for the reply on here @v1llainess ! First have to applaud you for your Korean fluency! :clap: :clap: :clap: Well done!! I lived in Korea for a couple of years but never needed to use beyond the basics so I only every got to passing TOPIK 4, which is probably advanced beginner? I wish I could’ve stuck with it like you… :frowning:

Thanks for the video reference!!!


Don’t forget the head tilt to one side :laughing:


Back in 2018, I fell into the kpop hole and gradually I became interested in learning Korean. So I did. I learned a decent bit of grammar, vocabulary, etc, and I can understand a decent amount of Korean now. My interest in Korean and kpop has decreased over the years… but you never really climb out of said hole :laughing:

I’ve seen some similarities between Korean and Japanese for sure. I’m not sure why there are such similarities; maybe it’s because some words in both languages come from Chinese, or maybe it’s because of the proximity of the 3 countries.

Tbh, when I come across similar-sounding words with the same/similar meaning in the two languages, I don’t find it confusing. Maybe it’s just a me thing, but if anything, remembering the word is easier BECAUSE of the similarity. It’s fun to connect my Korean knowledge with new words I learn in Japanese. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does give me a fun little aha! moment when I find similar words!

I saw another thread that had a post that showed a bunch of similarities in the two languages. You might find it interesting.

(I’m not sure how to quote from another thread so here is the link instead)


This is an interesting thought. I take online classes twice a week and usually when the teacher asks us 質問がありますか I usually respond with いいえ unless I actually do have a question. I’ll try to build the habit of responding with something like ありません or 大丈夫です or something similar.


@one_marshmallow why hello there fellow Korean language learner!

Totally agree with you on this… Never got in to Kpop but I did get into Kdramas and it’s been so hard to let go of those! :sweat_smile: I have to say the quality of filmmaking by Koreans is way better too so it’s even harder to for me to give it up. Of course, I am happy to be corrected on this if anybody can suggest Japanese dramas that I can watch with similar quality. At least the Jdramas I’ve been watching on Netflix are just so so. And this is only limited to live action shows of course. I would still go for Japanese anime over Korean anime any day.

I have these AHA moments a lot too and I agree it is fun! But I think what’s happened with me is I’ve became complacent with it because I know there are similarities. When it comes to small differences in pronunciation, I find I always tend to go back to the Korean way of saying it rather than how it’s supposed to sound. Couple of examples:

  • 준비 and じゅんび where I would always pronounce it with a “ch” instead of a “j” sound
  • 사진 and しゃしん where I tend to combine both korean and japanese pronunciations and say “sajin” instead of “shashin”

Little nuances but I guess the fun in recognizing similarities outweighs the drawbacks. And I probably just need to be stricter with myself. :sweat_smile:

Thanks for the link to the other topic! I did come across that one too before I wrote my post and noted it was for the other way around. Learning some Japanese first before Korean. But the articles were also helpful!

Rereading one of the articles that says there’s a lot of similarities in the culture - I still can’t get over how Koreans are so different in terms of saying and using “no” in an everyday context. Like different forms of 아니요 is so often said whereas in Japanese it’s so rarely said.


the teeth-sucking sound is so ubiquitous that it should be taught as a vocabulary word in the 1st chapter of Genki 1.


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