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Korean Translation Tip: Translating Greetings to Koreans Can Be Particularly Tricky

Let’s suppose you work at an elite prep school in the US with some Koreans in the student body. When the parents of one of the kids, Young-Hee, filled out the application form for their child, they entered their own names as Dong-Hyuk Kim and Eun-Hee Huh.

And now, let’s suppose you want to send the parents a letter for some reason.

You’ve got a problem...

First, Korean women don’t take their husband’s last name. So, you can’t properly write something like “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kim”.

Second, Koreans don’t start their letters out with the Korean version of “Dear” unless they are feeling very friendly.

Third, Koreans generally address other adults formally by their job titles in addition to or in lieu of names.

There are actually quite a few additional considerations which could come into play in formal correspondence, but I’ll first offer you a one-size-fits-all solution to this particular problem...

Best Practices Tip - If unsure how to address the parents of a Korean child, address them as parents.

Thus, if you would have written “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kim,” in English, then in Korean, write the Korean translation of "To the parents of Young-Hee," as follows:

“영희 부모님께,”

You could even add “안녕하세요?” after it (remember that lesson?)

Anyway, if you don’t have the easy solution of addressing the recipients as the parents of their child, then it might be necessary for your translation team to come up with a workaround if you don’t have the information necessary to do it completely Korean style.

The most straightforward way would simply be to address each parent individually as follows:

“Dear Mr. Dong-Hyuk Kim and Mrs. Eun-Hee Huh,”
“김동혁 님, 그리고 허은희 님께,"

But that won’t work in every case either...

On a recent job, a couple of the parents were holders of a doctorate degree. But the way to address them differs if they’re a professor, a medical doctor or just Ph.D.-holder without being a professor (all information we didn’t have available).

Our solution was to transliterate the word “doctor” into Korean as follows:

“Dear Dr. Dong-Hyuk Kim and Dr. Eun-Hee Huh,”
“닥터 김동혁 님, 그리고 닥터 허은희 님께,”

This is not the way it would be done in Korean, but the Korean recipients will understand why this approach was taken, will perfectly understand the meaning of the English word “doctor” transliterated to Korean and will appreciate the effort.

There’s actually a quiz here about Korean job titles taken from a lecture in my KBC Professional Certification Program.

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