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Korean Translation Tip: When a Korean "Yes" Means "No", and a "No" Means "Yes"

It’s been several months since my last Korean translation tip because, well, I’ve been busy translating… and have also spent this time working hard to improve my skills and credentials. I'm proud to say that this effort has resulted in an upgraded resume. Ta-da! - You can download it here.

I'm also proud that this Korean Translation Tips series is pushing four years now. Today’s tip is #38! (Check out my resume for links to the other thirty-seven.)

So, before we start today's tip, I have a question....

You didn’t stop and look at my resume when you read the first paragraph a moment ago, did you?

If you did, then in English you’d say “Yes, I did,” and if you didn’t, you’d say “No, I didn’t”.

But that’s not how a Korean would reply.

A Korean would say, “No, I did,” or “Yes, I didn’t”.

Confused? This difference happens because I asked a negative question.

When we reply in English, we ignore the fact that the question was negative and pretend it was positive. But in Korean, the answer strictly follows the logic of the question. If I asked you if you didn’t look at the resume and you, in fact, didn’t look at it, then, yes, you didn’t look at it. Right?

Is my explanation clear now?

In translation, this little twist means that “yes/no” responses to negative English questions are translated to “no/yes” answers in Korean (or vice-versa), and a translator must be careful to get this right. In fact, regardless of the translation direction (i.e. EN>KO or KO>EN), sometimes the simplest solution is to just rewrite the question in the target language to get rid of the ambiguous negative construct.

BTW, yes, Koreans ask negative Korean questions ALL THE TIME and this frequently confuses non-Koreans (at least it confuses me!).

Korean Translation Tip - The logic in answering a negative yes/no question is reversed between English and Korean. This occasionally trips up careless translators. A good proofreader will be on the lookout to double-check, but the client can also help in advance by writing the source without negative yes/no questions.

I bet Korean/English isn’t the only language pair with this negative yes/no question reversal. How about the languages you speak? Do you face this issue?

Korean Translation Tip: Ornery Koreans Write Things Backward

In spite of the titles of this article, most Koreans are not ornery, nor do they do things backward. They just write differently than we do in English.

Here are some examples.

Fractions and page numbers

Koreans don’t say “two-thirds” or “page two of three”; they say “of three, two” and “of three pages, the second page”. Fortunately, this only applies when spoken and written out in long form. If you’re just writing  numerals, then nothing changes.

This means the simplest solution when translating is to add a forward slash. In other words, translate both “Page 3 of 5” and "three-fifths" to "3/5". Otherwise, you'll have to write it as "5 페이지 중 3 페이지" and "5분의 3".

Korean Translation Tip – If it’s imperative that numbers from an English source stay in the same order in Korean for fractions and pages, then convert them to numerals. This is especially relevant with codes that auto-update, such as page numbering in Word. Otherwise, you'll find yourself making this Google-esque mistake!


Korean dates are written "year/month/day". It’s not usually a big deal to switch things around during translation, but in some cases, this can get complicated. We recently had to translate the following:

"Dates should be entered as ddmmmyyyy (Example: 14SEP2016)"

Unfortunately, we had no choice but to translate this with a long explanation that reads in English as:

"Dates must be entered in the day/month/year format, where the date is entered with two digits, the month with the three-letter English abbreviation in capital letters and the year with four digits (14SEP2016)."

Whew… That was a mouthful!

Korean Translation Tip – It’s easy to understand and translate Korean dates if you know the sequence, but don’t take it for granted that your Korean audience will be used to the English format for filling out forms.


Korean addresses are written in Korean starting from the largest units (country, province, city...) and moving to the smallest units (...street, building, house or office number), but the other way around in English.

Here’s how our address in Korea looks when written in English:

#2406 Chungang Heightsville, 23, Ansancheonseo-Ro

Danwon-Gu, Ansan-Si, Gyeonggi-Do 15361 Republic of Korea

This is the English rendering of it from Korean:

Republic of Korea, Gyeonggi-Do, Ansan-Si, Danweon-Gu

Ansancheonseo-Ro 23, Chungang Heightsville #2406 (15361)

Kind of weird, huh? Here's an article on it.

Korean Translation Tip - When translating English business cards to Korean, if your client wants the address translated to Korean (and most Western clients do!), then turn the order around.


The Korean for "AM" is "오전" and for "PM" is "오후", but these are added before the number, not after. So "8 o'clock AM" is written "오전 8시" and "8 o'clock PM" is "오후 8시".

Korean Translation Tip - You can get away without translating AM and PM to Korean; they are understandable by many Koreans in English. However, if you do translate them, then you have to put the Korean equivalents IN FRONT of the numbers, not AFTER.

Sentence Structure

Considering how different the sentence structures are between Western languages and Korean, is it any wonder that Korean is written the other way around in the above examples? In fact, sometimes it seems Korean and English are polar opposites. If you need a refresher on this point, check out these two one-minute videos from past tips.

Korean Translation Tip: Handle Korean Line Breaks Like a Pro

With the robust multilingual support in Adobe Indesign and recent versions of other design packages, many clients are opting to handle Korean layout in-house.

Unfortunately, people with absolutely no knowledge of Korean can really butcher a layout job.

My Korean Translation Tips have addressed some of the most egregious mistakes and easy-to-fix issues, including Tip #16 (Cardinal Rules of Layout), #26 (Korean Font Differences), #31 (PowerPoint Tips), #29 (Spacing Issues in Word) and #32 (More Font Handling).

But line breaks are also a point of concern.

Suppose you've got this source text:


And your Korean translation team delivers this fill-in-the-blank translation of it in Word:


Don't lay it out into your design program like this:


Or like this:


Or even like this:


These are not uncommon issues; they happen all the time, especially when Korean text is mixed with punctuation and English.

Korean Translation Tip, Part I - Hire us to do the most professional layout for you, or at least have us do an in-context proof of the text after you do the layout.

Korean Translation Tip, Part II - If you ignore the first half of this tip, be sure after layout to check all lines that start or end with punctuation and/or English to verify that the text matches the way the translation was delivered to you.

** BONUS - Do you see above that there are four fill-in-the-blank lines in both the source English and translated Korean? They aren't in the same sequence in the two languages! Want to know why? Check out this article and you'll understand: Tip #34 (Why You Can't Translate Phrase-by-Phrase Between English and Korean)

Korean Translation Tip: Why You Can't Translate Phrase-by-Phrase Between English and Korean, Part II

Last month I posted a short video illustrating how you can't mix-and-match sentence fragments to make proper sentences between English and Korean.

A few people pointed out that this often works with English and Western languages, and so they weren't sure why I would trouble them with a video like this for Korean.

In response, I've put together another one here to emphasize how different Korean is from English and to put this matter to rest, once and for all.

Korean Translation Tip - Just because you can translate phrase-by-phrase between Western languages does not mean you can do it between Western and Asian languages.

Issues in Calculating Rates for KO>EN Translation Jobs, Revisited

Several years ago I posted an article about why I don't generally offer per-word rates for Korean>English translation. The following is from a recent email to a client, explaining things in a bit more detail.


Dear <Client>,
Here are the issues  I can think of now which make it hard to use source word/character rates on Korean>English work.
  1. The majority of the work I get for KO>EN is scanned source files in PDF format, which can't be analyzed precisely until the translation is complete. On those jobs, fixed quotes in advance or target word billing are the most reasonable. Sometimes these PDFs can be converted to Word through OCR or the native Adobe Acrobat conversion. However, for various reasons, these word counts are extremely unreliable.
  2. Even if the files are editable, I find that it takes an extra measure of care to ensure everyone's talking about the same thing when referring to Korean words/characters. To make matters worse, if the language settings in Word aren't set right, the software will count Korean words as characters (or vice versa, I can't remember which right now) and that creates confusion. At least until a few years ago, Excel also didn't count Korean words and characters correctly.
  3. Korean does not have a long tradition of using words (or even writing left-to-right), and I find that Koreans are not as consistent in their use of spacing as we are in English. Therefore, what you find is that different writing styles yield different Korean word counts, even as the final English translated word count remains unchanged. Furthermore, when clients equate Korean with Chinese and Japanese which don't use words, it adds another layer of confusion. Your colleague mentioned that internally you are assuming two Korean characters to be one word, but that is arbitrary. Korean words are calculated based on discrete units of meaning, and separated by spaces. 
  4. Different types of content return different word count expansions. For example, Korean word lists will translate to English almost at one for one. However, because Korean grammar attaches tags to words and those tags are then translated to English as separate words, the expansion rate increases the more "prose-y" a text is. The expansions vary depending on subject matter, too.
  5. As with the current job, many Korean writers, especially on technical documents, mix a lot of English words into the text. These are embedded in the Korean grammar though and can't be excluded from the word count. However, if the letters of the English words are counted as characters (which is what happens if not analyzed separately), it runs the word count way up. On today's job, there were 1,500 English words mixed in with some 4,000 Korean words. That means rejigging the word counting formula to avoid overcharging. Counting source characters also means having to do something extra with numbers, since that also runs up the count. 
For all these reasons, it is so much easier to just use the English word counts, which are predictable and universally understood. But of course, it is true that this makes it hard to quote projects in advance. One solution is simply to ask me to quote projects first, if you have the time to wait. But as I mentioned to your colleague today, I've also started offering a character rate to clients that just have to have a source-based billing structure. But since it's imprecise, it's still best if I can analyze, adjust and quote the work in advance to take account of the various issues mentioned above. Keep in mind though that if I'm taking the risks of all these unknown factors with an advance quote, I'm also going to aim a bit high; generally, my most competitive pricing is available on English-word rates.

Korean Translation Tip: Why You Can't Translate Phrase-by-Phrase Between English and Korean

We frequently get translation requests for content where the source text has been chopped up into sentence fragments. This is especially common with captions for video, since the content needs to show up on-screen in bite-sized pieces. But sometime clients even send such requests because they want to be able to rearrange words themselves later, or because they sent over bilingual files for translation in a CAT tool which were improperly translated.

In the first case, as long as the source text forms complete thoughts and the translation doesn't have to correspond 1-for-1 by sentence fragment, we can translate it. But the "mix-and-match" approach is a recipe for disaster. 

Here's a video I put together to illustrate how structurally different Korean and English are and to show why the translation of complete thoughts must be done at the sentence level.



Korean Translation Tip - If you're ever tempted to ask that English sentences and phrases be translated into Korean in the order the words appear in the English (or vice versa), please watch this video again to remind yourself that English and Korean can't be connected in such a linear way.

Korean Translation Tip: Spacing Around Parentheses in Korean Looks Funky and Inconsistent

This tip is based on a reader question about the following graphic in last month's message.

image from koreanconsulting.typepad.com

The reader asked why there isn't a space before or after the parentheses... Good question!

The answer may surprise you, but no, there should not be spaces there. The reason is hard to explain clearly without getting into complicated grammar, but the basic idea is that Korean is made up of character units functioning as standalone words, and also of character tags/markers attached to standalone words to indicate various grammatical meanings (such as subject, object, etc.).

In the case above, without the words in parenthesis, the phrase would read "Study Hard" Campaign은, where 은 is a topic marker attached to the word Campaign. Therefore, the added parenthetical text is stuck right in between the word and its tag and no space is added on either side.

Keep in mind that spaces should be added around parentheses when additional text is not being stuffed between a word and its tag. This phenomenon seems to occur almost exclusively when English and/or numbers are inserted into Korean text. The spacing around parenthesis within pure Korean text generally follows the same rules as we use in English (though Koreans get used to such usage and often go without spacing even when it should be there).

Korean Translation Tip - Correct spacing in Korean around parentheses often looks funky and inconsistent to English speakers. Feel free to bug your linguist for confirmation, but expect to get a response back saying it’s OK.

Microsoft Thanked Me for Renewing My Subscription to the Magazine "Office 365 Small Business Premium"

I have been using the Korean version of Office 365 Small Business Premium for a year and it's time to renew. A couple days ago, Microsoft sent me an email thanking me for renewing.

Only problem....

They used the word for "subscribe" that is only used when subscribing to things to read, such as newspapers and magazines.

And they didn't mess it up once... They used the wrong word four times in one email.

Check it out:


In every case, the indicated Korean word should be changed to "사용권". In Korean, there is no straight translation for "subscription" in the English sense here. The correct word means "right to use", which, if you think about it, means exactly what it should.

Perhaps the linguists who worked on the job didn't know that they were translating for a software subscription, rather than a magazine subscription. Or perhaps they just reused old TM segments which had been translated for a magazine subscription situation. Or maybe they just weren't paying attention.

Whichever it was, the QA processes failed. 

For lots more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

Explaining My Request for Feedback on Using Machine Translation and Cross-Project Translation Memory Leverage in High-Quality Translation Workflows

I recently asked my agency clients for their feedback on offering a rate discount in exchange for the right to use machine translation and termbase leveraging on certain projects. Machine translation brings up ideas of low-quality output, and cross-client TM sharing is generally off-limits due to confidentiality issues and rights to use content. Machine translation approaches are not without confidentiality and content rights complications, either. Here is a detail explanation of my thoughts on the approach, as explained in an email to a client.


Dear [Client] - Thanks for the response and opportunity to explain what I'm thinking. (I'm afraid the following is longer than I expected when I started typing.)

You're right that MT has generally been considered just a cheap way to deliver low-quality output. And I agree that Google Translate and the others are currently useless as resources by themselves on high-quality translation projects. But I think there may be a way that MT can be utilized within a range of high-quality workflows. 
MT is now being used on high-quality workflows within certain VERY narrow sub-topics. One of my clients is apparently even making it work for Chinese and Japanese, so Korean is clearly not impossible. For example, the translation of a 500-page cutting robot manual can be used to train an MT engine to produce a very good job on another cutting robot manual. Apparently the process breaks down pretty quickly though. The text for a cutting robot manual may not be a good enough match even for training an MT engine to generate high quality output on an assembly robot manual.
If we bring the human translator into the process, along with a properly prepared TB, the MT may be able to bring in a few value-added suggestions right away that the professional can finalize efficiently.
In addition, it appears to me that the CAT tools are on the verge of getting MT, TMs and TBs to work together, so that if the software finds, say, an 80% match in the TM, it can identify what's different, replace words from the TB, and then machine translate ONLY the sub-segments that are different. I don't know why this couldn't easily start moving fuzzy matches up 10-20% right off the bat. And there are various algorithms for figuring out how good the MT match is likely to be. That means these high-quality segments could be removed from the translation step and only included for proofreading (i.e. post-MT edited, but to perfection, not the conventional "good enough" level). In this way, the translator is still doing his/her job on the segments where the MT/TM/TB combination doesn't get to the required threshold, and the entire document is still proofread and/or linguistically QAd, and the final product is possibly of a higher quality and consistency than otherwise. Over time, this approach should yield increasingly higher efficiency.
There can be no doubt that this is the direction things are moving in our industry and I would like to start experimenting with it now. However, to plug in the MT functionality to my CAT tool generally requires special client permission, and so I've never done it, not even once. And to use the TM from one job to leverage it to build up seed TMs in various fields to apply to other client projects is also out of the question without specific approval.
Therefore, my idea is to start by offering a penny discount on projects where the client gives me, in effect, an "indefinite, irrevocable right to use" their content for such an approach. It would never involve revealing full coherent documents in public, but would mean that the segments/TB entries would go into various reference TMs/TBs/corpora to be applied to other projects and/or that the translations we do with that content may be used to train MT engines which may also be used on other projects.
I would then watch where things go from there. If I'm just hitting dead-ends and this content isn't useful to my bottom line and doesn't look like it will in the future, I could stop offering the discount. On the other hand, if the approach works, I could even increase the discounts over time. 
I see it as a long-term approach. About ten years ago, I was worried that the technology would replace me eventually; I'm cautiously taking the position that the technology is creating more opportunities than it is killing. For example, I remember Google Adwords about 10 years ago... It was doable as a layperson. Today, Google has built in so much complexity that I can't even find an expert who can do it properly and affordably. You would have thought that by now the process would have been automated, but it's gone in the opposite direction, and changes so fast that one cannot stay up on it without investing huge amounts of time in continuously learning.
I suspect translation is also going to unfold this way. At memoQfest in May, I realized that some of the approaches I use in translation with my team are unique, but that the software is changing so fast that I can't hope to use all the functionality that's available. Not only learning the software, but also figuring out how to apply it and then continuously updating those approaches to the changing landscape is a process that creates barriers to entry which are likely greater than they they've ever been. You may have noticed that late last year I updated my email footer greeting to say "translation technologist". That's still a bit more of a "hopeful" title than it is in reality, but I also see a new role opening up even in the freelance side of things, which is the role that bridges project managers with translators. Project managers rarely have the time or inclination to really extract all the value and ensure all the quality that exists in the project stages between end-client and translator, especially if translators aren't using CAT tools. And this is even before the MT/TM/TB combination hits its stride. With the right skills and tools, a translation technologist could help achieve all kinds of benefits in the production chain. This part of my thinking is still in-development, but being able to use MT and leveraging TMs on a cross-client basis is surely a place to start.
Let me know your thoughts on this.

Korean Translation Tip: Correct Font Handling in Korean Layout

I've posted several short articles on Korean layout in this set of tips, including Cardinal Rules of Korean-Language Layout, Korean Layout Rules for MS PowerPoint and Spacing Issues in MS Word.

In this post, I introduce some font handling advice to improve the way Korean-language layout looks to Korean readers. Of course, this won't get you the same font and layout sensitivity my team delivers, but it will help you avoid a couple no-nos.

So here's the scoop...

The Korean fonts come with a set of double-byte punctuation marks to which spaces are added before or after. These extra spaces aren't needed in Korean; indeed, they look bad! You should use single-byte punctuation (i.e. the same marks we use in English).

In addition, Korean fonts include a collection of English letters. However, don't use these, either! Proper font mapping avoids this issue, but if you find that the fonts still aren' t right, switch the English text back to an English font (most likely the font of the source document).  

Here's what a string of text might look like if punctuation and English fonts are handled incorrectly:


And here's how it should look:


 Korean Translation Tip A - Don't use double-byte punctuation in a Korean translation.

 Korean Translation Tip B - Don't use Korean fonts for text that remains in English.

Korean Translation Tip: Applying the Cardinal Rules of Korean-Language Layout to Microsoft PowerPoint Files

I've previously written about the Cardinal Rules of Korean-Language Layout. When clients handle layout on their end, I frequently send them the link to this article so that they or their layout expert can brush up quickly on the rules.

Of course, to implement those correctly, you've got to know how to use the software. For readers working in advanced design programs, I assume you know how.

This tip though is for people dealing with Korean in PowerPoint files who don't feel like paying somebody to fix things, but still want to deliver a good job.


Occasionally a Korean PowerPoint slide will end up with text like the following excerpt from my master's thesis.


See those ugly red lines under the text marked by the red arrow? That's PowerPoint's quality checker indicating non-existent language problems. And the blue arrow shows a Korean word split incorrectly at the end of the line.

How do you fix these two issues if you don't know Korean?

The answer is going to seem too easy, but it's amazing how hard it was for me to figure it out. (In fact, I didn't figure it out; I had to ask my super-smart layout guy Xiang for the answer!)

To fix things, select the text and then change the language to Korean as follows:


Doing so produces this correctly formatted text:


The above is still not my preferred style though. If you really want to make it look nice, right- AND left-justify the text to get this perfect specimen:


Korean Translation Tip - Follow the above procedure on PowerPoint slides to make the text look like it should; otherwise, if the language settings aren't right, your great Korean translation may still look terrible.


** By the way, setting the language correctly solves problems in PowerPoint files that contain other languages, too!

Korean Translation Tip: Three (3) Number-Related Tips in One (1) Easy Article

In previous posts, I've shared about number units unique to Korean and how Korean prose doesn't include a lot of spelled-out numbers

Here are three more tips...


Many Koreans handwrite their numbers differently than we do in English. I used to think this was a generational thing, but I occasionally see funny number writing from young people, too. 

Translation Tip #1 - When translating handwritten Korean text, watch out for these variants on the numerals "9" and "8".



Most Koreans know how Roman numerals work, but it's not a normal system for writing in Korean. Why risk it when translating?

Korean Translation Tip #2 -  It's generally safer to change Roman numerals to Arabic numerals (ex: "Stage IV" >>  "4 단계") when translating from English to Korean.


There are two ways of spelling and pronouncing numbers in Korean: the native-Korean way and the Chinese-derived way. Usage depends on context and/or what's being counted, and the correct approach is typically one or the other; not a choice of whichever the speaker prefers. This can be a point of confusion for late learners of Korean like yours truly, but it's second-nature to native Korean speakers.

The issue is particularly relevant for the numbers 1 through 99, which is the same range of numbers Koreans prefer to write as Arabic numerals, instead of spelling them out like we often do in English. (See link in first sentence above for details.)

Since the same Arabic numerals are used regardless of pronunciation or spelling and a Korean translation is likely to use those numerals, this issue normally remains invisible to non-Korean speakers. However, when the numbers are spelled out (which does happen, though not often), there could be situations where they appear to have been done so inconsistently even though they are correct.

Here's an example. The number five written out in native Korean is 다섯, but in Chinese-derived Korean is 오. "Five hours" is commonly written as "5시간" but could be spelled out as "다섯 시간". On the other hand, "five minutes" is best translated as "5분" but might also be written as "오분".

Korean Translation Tip #3 - You're unlikely to get confused by this when reviewing a Korean translation since these numbers will usually be written as Arabic numerals. But just keep in mind that it's possible the same numbers (especially smaller ones like the digits 1 through 9) may appear to be written out inconsistently even in cases where they are correct.

Yet Another Korean Translation Mistake in Google Android

My tablet recently upgraded itself and the following message appeared during the process:


It says:

Android is upgrading... 

Optimizing 92 of 116 apps

So the device is only optimizing 92 apps and it is not going to optimize the other 24? 

What Google meant to say was:

Android is upgrading...

Optimizing the 92nd of 116 apps

So, the correct translation should be

Android 업그레이드 중

앱 116개 중 92번째 것을 최적화 중




A Korean Translation Error in Microsoft Word 2013

This is the standard print dialogue in the Korean version of Microsoft Word:


The text in the red circle says "Number of pages" (as in one page, 20 pages, etc.). However, as explained by the pop-up tip in the blue box, it's the spot for entering which pages to print (such as pages 5-10, or pages 5, 7 and 8).

The original English version would have said something like "Page numbers". But in Korean the correct translation here should be "페이지 번호/범위", which literally means "Page numbers/range".



High-Quality Workflow Design for English>Korean Translation

It would be great if every project followed a linear, sequential workflow from beginning to end, so that after feeding the source file in at the beginning, the final file at the end pops out as a perfect specimen, with every step having somehow brought the quality closer and closer to perfection. But the real world isn’t so simple and our workflow is designed to take advantage of the linear aspects of the work, while also dealing with the surrounding complexity.

Failure points in the process cause many of the errors. I’ve found some in the software of some of today’s leading companies. Keeping these pitfalls in mind, we bring together the highest-level technical expertise, English fluency and industry experience with the best English>Korean review talent, to maintain a reasonable rate structure across the range of project types and sizes that we handle, while also delivering our best work.

Hybrid CAT-tool workflow

Because we often work with subject-matter experts who are not CAT-tool savvy, I handle most technical processing internally, with the actual translation and proofreading steps processed by my team on RTF files that I prepare with the relevant terminology, context and TM content for their reference. I have been working hard on these processes for several years now and they include proprietary procedures that I have developed and maintain internally to raise quality.

Language pair-specific quality assurance

One aspect that sometimes affects the quality of translation into Korean is the lack of native-speaker fluency in English among the pool of Korean translation resources. This is a lesser concern on technical documents, where standard language is often used, but it does crop up. Yet one more role I perform in the quality assurance process is to review source files at the beginning for potential linguistic issues that could trip up the team, and then spot-check the translations at the end for common problems in the English>Korean language pair. I’ve written about a lot of these in my Korean Translation Tips series, and am increasingly integrating these into my quality assurance work.

Client-side induced errors

Unnecessarily complicated and unclear instructions, work processes and file formats, as well as process disruptions (such as late client instructions, source files changes), lead to a disproportionate number of errors. This also applies to poor client-end translations and layout which we are asked to review and where we end up fixing things that shouldn’t have needed fixing, leaving less available attention/time for productive editing work. This is exacerbated when the budget is not adequate for the effort required. I try very hard to get all this worked out in advance, and to shield my team from distracting factors.

Role specialization

It is important to keep in mind that only so much can be expected at each step of the process, and with two languages as mutually different as English and Korean, this is even more true. While we’d like to believe that a translation performed by a competent translator will be perfect the first time every time, this is simply not the case.

In fact, each step in the process (file preparation, translation, proofreading, automated and manual QA, content-context integration, etc.) adds value… at least, it does if the scope for each step is designed properly and adequate value added by each participant.

Our process lets the translator and proofreader focus only on linguistic issues by separating out the technical file handling, project management and context integration into discrete steps that I manage at the beginning and end of the project. Furthermore, creating conditions for high linguistic quality from the translation and proofreading team means that QA can then focus on final polishing, while also resolving other technical complications.

In our process, the translator is the lowest function and this person not take any leadership role. My colleague who does nearly all of my proofreading (and selects the translator, thus having a motivation to keep the translator in line) would be closer to this role. But frankly, in the end, it's me doing the dictating of terms and ensuring adherence with instructions, style guides, glossaries, etc. and ever so occasionally, going back strategically with mistakes I've found to let my colleagues know I'm still paying attention. We don’t generally send edits back down the ladder for review and approval, nor do we rub other team members' noses in every single mistake that we can fix at a higher level.

Korean Translation Tip: Solving Spacing Issues Between Korean and English Text in MS Word

There's a nasty feature in Microsoft Word as it applies to Korean; I have no idea why it's there. My best guess is that it's only supposed to be used with Japanese and Chinese but that Microsoft mistakenly included it for Korean, too. I'm not really sure, though.

Perhaps Microsoft could contact me and explain so I can let you know if I'm missing something here. After all, I already pointed out several mistranslations in Windows which they've told me they fixed! (BTW, I stopped writing about Korean translation errors in Windows and Office... There are plenty more, but it got boring to keep going on and on about them.)

Anyway, the issue here is that when English and Korean characters sit side-by-side in a document, sometimes a space is placed between the English and Korean. This is done regardless of whether a space should actually be there or not. Here is a short excerpt from my master's thesis to illustrate:


Do you see those spaces indicated by the arrows? They aren't supposed to be there, and I certainly didn't add them when typing the text.

It turns out there's a simple solution. Special thanks to my genius layout guy, Xiang, for teaching this to me awhile back.



I'm not aware of any situation where the above boxes should be checked in a Korean document; they should always be unchecked. To fix, simply select all text in a document and then uncheck those boxes to produce properly formatted text like the following:


Korean Translation Tip - Sometimes there should be spaces between Korean and English text in a Korean document. However, these should only be added with the space bar. If you have a Korean translation where spaces cannot be removed because they can't be deleted, then following the above procedure will "fix" your document.

Korean Translation Tip: Don't Just Use a Dictionary to Translate Job Titles into Korean

If you're translating English business cards into Korean, work with a professional who understands the intricacies of the task and asks enough questions to be able to translate job titles correctly.

For example, here are many (but not all) of the possibilities for translating "director" and its variants:

  • 이사
  • 전무
  • 전무이사
  • 상무이사
  • 대표이사
  • 원장
  • 회장
  • 실장
  • 소장
  • 센터장
  • 협회장
  • 부장
  • 국장
  • 청장
  • 총장
  • 사무총장
  • 사무국장
  • 감독
  • 디렉터
  • 지휘자
  • 중역
  • PD
  • 심의관 

Some of these correspond with other possible English job titles, too. For the full run-down, check out "How Do You Write 'Director' in Korean?

"Director" is not the only confusing job title (admittedly, it is one of the harder ones though). This is not just because Korean organizations are structured differently than Western ones; you'll also find that even the same jobs at the same level in the organization can sometimes imply different responsibilities.

I'd like to point out too that Koreans aren't always helpful here since they tend to inflate their English job titles. I was at a (very well-known!) company recently where, of the ten business cards I was given by my Korean counterparts, every one but the president's card listed him or her one rank higher in English than his/her card in Korean! It takes an honest broker to work through all this sometimes.

Korean Translation Tip - Don't consider a business card translation a throw-away job just because the job title is only one word. Get professional help (such as from someone with a masters degree from a Korean university in management strategy).

BTW, I've even written a guidebook for this, which can be downloaded free: The Definitive Guide to Business Cards in Korea

Korean Translation Tip: Watch Out for Verb Ending Inconsistencies

If you're expecting identical English text to be always translated the same way into Korean, you're in for a big surprise.

There can be meaning-related factors involved too, but this tip explains how structural context influences the verb endings used in written Korean. This means that occasionally, the same English source sentence may even need to be translated different ways at different places within the same document!

I'd like to share a (very) short grammar lesson to introduce this and then I'll get on to the practical applications quickly.

In modern, formal, written Korean, there are three standard ways of ending sentences. The following examples show sentence endings with the "do" verb in declarative, interrogative and imperative cases, respectively.

  • Personal (합니다./합니까?/하십시오.) - This form is often used in marketing pieces, business letters and other written communication where the writer is trying to create a personal connection with the reader in some way. 
  • Impersonal (한다./한가?/해라.) - The impersonal approach is common for technical manuals, contracts, legislation, patents, academic papers and newspaper articles where the connection between the writer and reader is not relevant to the content. In this form, when instructions are given, such as in manuals, the declarative form is typically used rather than the imperative form. There would also be few question marks in this type of writing.
  • Abbreviated (하기/한가/해라) - Bullet points and subjects lines frequently use this form. Ending punctuation is often not required, even for questions.

Of course, the above run-down skips over many nuances, complications and exceptions. It doesn't include verb endings that imply a more oral tone, nor does it cover honorifics and other tags and techniques to show respect, not to mention old forms of Korean that are still commonly found in religious texts and historical dialogue.

The decision between personal and impersonal writing styles is often made at the document level and the choice is somewhat subjective. The most important point here is that it should be applied consistently throughout.

However, occasionally a document is composed of an alternating mix of impersonal information and sets of personalized instructions for the reader (such as a collection of medical marketing brochures we translated recently). In this case, it may be necessary to confirm the context of each sentence before choosing which ending to use, in order to maximize the impact on the reader. Also, sentences that appear both as subject headings or bullet points and within the main text may need to be written differently within the document, depending on the structural context.

Korean Translation Tip #1 - Don't expect absolute consistency of verb endings in documents, especially those with a mix of prose, titles/subtitles, bullet points, tables and/or diagrams. But do expect consistency within and between sections of each written form. 

Korean Translation Tip #2 - When working in Korean, it is often a good idea to allow multiple target translations for a single source segment when setting up a translation memory in a CAT tool (e.g. Trados Studio, memoQ).

Korean Translation Tip #3 - This lesson also provides a basis for dealing with some types of client feedback. If a client reviewer complains that a Korean translation is too "stiff," changing to the personal style can often solve the problem. Likewise, a translation rated as too "friendly" can be made more impersonal by switching back the other way.

Korean Translation Tip: Korean Letters Look Different in Different Fonts and Positions

The following point may seem obvious: Korean letters don't appear the same in each font. For some reason though, this confuses clients from time to time.

Here's the Korean letter chi'ut written in five different fonts:


Notice how the line/dot at the top in #3, #4 and #5 is disconnected from the rest of the letter, whereas, in 1 and 2, it's connected. Do you see that the bottom-right line in #2 and #3 comes up and connects midway to the line that runs from the bottom left? But in #1, #4 and #5, this line goes all the way up to the base of the long horizontal line. And in #2 and #3, the line from the bottom left connects to the horizontal line on the right side, even though in the other examples it connects in the middle.

Regardless of these differences, it's the same character in all five fonts.

Not only this, individual letters look different depending on where they are positioned in a character. Here are more examples showing the Korean letter chi'ut in various fonts and in different spots within characters.


In English, we don't face the issue of letter differences based on position within a character, but we do have plenty of variation between fonts. Take the letter "a" for example. It's usually rendered much differently when handwritten than when typed. But of course, it's still the same letter in both cases.

Korean Translation Tip - If you're really curious about why a Korean character looks different in a translation from your translation provider than it does in some other document you have on-hand (such as a hand-written or printed example used on a previous job), feel free to ask about it. But don't be surprised if you hear back from your translator that it's just a minor font difference.

On Handling a Post-MT Editing Project Request for Translation to Korean of an English Document

A client recently sent me a translation request for a technical user's manual where we had already worked on another manual for the same manufacturer. The client put the translation memory and termbase from our first delivery through a machine translation solution to translate the second manual. He then asked us to "post-MT edit" the new job, with the expectation (or at least, hope) that we'd be able to offer a lower price for the same quality of work.

Here is my response to him after checking with my team.


"I discussed this with my team; I even presented the machine translation in as positive a light as I could (emphasizing how it leverages our TM and terminology and isn't just raw out of Google Translate) and simply asked what rate we'd need to charge to do it (without suggesting a steep discount).

My colleague acknowledged that there are a few segments where the machine translation can help, but by the time he puts in the effort to understand the English and sort through the many more segments that don't help at all and/or to re-craft the sentences around a natural writing style, the result is that the machine translation is no help at all, and is actually a hindrance if using it for anything more than terminology mining (which we can do in memoQ anyway without bringing in MT).
His feedback mirrors my opinion on a project I'm working on now where the client actually provided me with the translation of a previous version of the same document done by another human translator to use as reference. Even on segments with 100% matching, I don't think the other translation helps at all if I'm expected to deliver my best work. That's because I still have to understand the source and put together an English sentence that I am satisfied with. Even where the other translator's translation is fine, it's usually not the phrasing I would have used and/or doesn't match the style I used to translate other segments from scratch, not to mention various mistranslations that need correcting. The result is that the existing translation is of marginal, if any, help to me.
Furthermore, I don't know how other translators see it, but for me, building onto an existing translation is unpleasant work compared with having a clean slate, so everything else being equal, I'd still rather just handle a regular translation job. I suspect that this because the act of composing and reworking my translation is part of the process I go through to understand the source text deeply and that having a pre-existing translated text interferes in this exercise, forcing me to work in a way that feels constraining. I also prefer an approach that lets me go through a document with a draft first and then come back for a second editing to correct, but I find that I'm not able to do this when I have to press my translation into an existing text, once again pushing me out of my comfort zone. It would be interesting to find out if I'm unique in this regard or if this is a common translation mindset.
Working off a machine translation would be even more challenging than this. Therefore, if the client's objective is to receive work on par with what we usually deliver, then I would only be able to handle that at standard rates (applying volume and gold text discounts).
At least for the English/Korean language pair, I'd say that the only way to make post-MT editing work is if the client is willing to accept a "good enough" delivery. In this case, there'd be no point in an extra proofreading step or in using subject-matter experts like we usually do. The translator would only need to focus on delivering something understandable and not have to worry about being held accountable for a publishable final version. This is still more than MT often delivers, but is not what our clients usually pay us to provide.
I'd be willing to check with another resource for this kind of post-MT edit workflow and target a price at about half of our standard rate. Would you like me to try that and get back to you on it tomorrow?

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans Don't Write Numbers Out Very Often

In a previous tip, we covered the fact that some Korean number units don't jive with English. The following tip points out that the way numbers are written also differs between the two languages.

In English, we generally spell out numbers through 100 and then use numerals after that. Here are a couple examples.

  • Materials prepared by third-party agencies are copyrighted.
  • Apnea occurs when you stop breathing in your sleep for ten seconds or more at a time.

However, this is how we might translate these into Korean.

  • 제3자 기관에서 준비한 자료는 저작권의 보호를 받습니다.
  • 수면무호흡증은 수면 중 한번에 10초 이상 호흡을 중단할 때 발생합니다.

This is not to say that Korean cannot be written out long form (it can!), or that English writers always follow this rule (they don't!). In fact, in technical English writing or for dates, dollar amounts, bullet points and plenty of other situations, numerals can be found in abundance in English prose.

But in general, you'll find that written Korean uses more numerals than English.

This causes trouble with quality assurance in the latest CAT tools (e.g. Trados Studio, memoQ) when setting things up to check for congruity of number units between source and target segments. Not only do the differences in Korean numbering units create confusion (see link in the first sentence of this article above) but the use of more numerals in Korean writing generates a lot of false-positives for potential errors and can be cumbersome to work through at the QA stage.

Korean Translation Tip: When checking for number congruity between a source English text and a target Korean translation, be ready for a lot of warning that don't mean anything. Or, if you just want to save time, set the QA checker to ignore these mismatches.

Even Google Can't Keep the Korean Version of the Chrome Browser Free of Mistranslations

If you use the Google Chrome browser, you're sure to have come across this message at the top of the browser window:


Here's what Korean users have been seeing here:


The indicated Korean says, "Not Completed".... Hmm... So Google asks if you want your password saved and Korean users can choose from "Not Completed" and "Yes"? There's a Korean saying for situations where the answer doesn't match the question: 동문서답, "East question; West answer".

How did "Never" get translated to "Not Completed"? It's probable that the word "Never" appeared in a long list of words and phrases from the Google Chrome interface which was then provided to the translation team for localization to Korean. I bet the translators were not even told that "Never" was one of the possible answers to the above question.

Without context, the translators just guessed at how "Never" would be used. It's hard to think of any situation in which "Never" could be translated as "Not Completed" (and the translators were probably not selected or compensated in a way that would have resulted in more than a split-second of thought about this). Perhaps they supposed this to be the answer to a question about whether someone had completed a particular study course or something...

Even in English, "Never" is a bit of a strange response to this yes/no question. Just translating it as 아니오 ("No") would not have been bad, but to catch the emphasis of "Never", I'd recommend this be changed to 절대 아니오 ("Absolutely not"). Unfortunately, to cover in Korean the full implied English meaning of "No, and don't ever save it... and don't ask me about it again either, dammit" would take more space than is available for the button.

Interestingly, the Korean translation of the question is phrased badly, too. It's not completely wrong, but the grammatical tags in the text personalize the Chrome Browser in a bit of a quaint way and the text asks if the user wants to save the password "in" the website. That's not right... (Just in case Google's listening...), here's a better translation: "Chrome에서 이 사이트에 해당하는 비밀번호를 저장하도록 하시겠습니까?". 

Korean Translation Tip - In a recent article, I identified five common failure points in localization projects. The above mistakes were caused by not following my advice for the following three.

  • Failure Point #2 - Attempting to translate long lists of words and phrases without adequate context
  • Failure Point #4 - Focusing on budget and turnaround without considering the ROI
  • Failure Point #5 - Wasting resources on inefficient review steps and ignoring vital Q/A tasks and processes

* For the full article, see Rethinking Korean Translation and Localization: Process Failure Points.

* For lots more translation errors: A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

With all the hullaballoo about Google's technical prowess, including online/statistical translation that supposedly leverages crowd-sourcing (they even provide their own free online translation platform in order to mine the work of a gazillion professional translators for insights!), how is it that years after the Google Chrome browser was introduced, this very common user message is still in such bad shape? It reminds me of the Windows 7 error that I found about three years after Windows 7 had been released...

Many mistakes, once made, never get fixed... Considering this, you'd think more effort would go into getting things right the first time.

Applying Best Practices to the Translation of Korean Survey Responses to English

How do you create a good translation of responses to surveys and questionnaires? With smooth target-language sentences and phrases that convey the rough meanings of the source? Or with translations that accurately and consistently represent the way the original writers expressed themselves, including as many nuances as possible between terms and writing styles, and even mistakes and truncated phrasings?

I know these are leading questions, but I find it necessary to explain. If a customer is unable to read the Korean source, they may not realize that an excellent English translation will likely include funny punctuation, broken sentences, awkward phrasings and other apparent blemishes in order to communicate the source meanings more accurately. In fact, these unexpected variations in the translation can actually make it appear that the translator was careless.

Many decisions in translating this type of content require that the translator strike a balance between accuracy and readability. I usually put more emphasis on readability for survey responses than, say, for legal text. But I still make an effort to stay as close to the source as possible.


I recently translated several hundred responses from consumers to a survey question about why they chose one of two specific technologies. There were a lot of similarities between responses and, in particular, three particular words were used to describe the advantages of the technology that each respondent chose. 

  • 간편하다 - simple, convenient, easy
  • 편하다 - comfortable, relaxed, easy
  • 편리하다 - convenient, handy, easy
  • There were actually two more which came up one time each (편의하다 - also "convenience"; 편안하다 - more like "peace of mind") but I won't include these below in the discussion.

As you can see, there is considerable overlap in the meanings of the words; they are almost interchangeable. However, while it would have been easy just to translate them all the same way (such as "easy" or "convenient") or to not bother to use the same word each time, I decided to assign each a specific English translation and use that consistently throughout the project as follows.

  • 간편하다 - simple to use
  • 편하다 - comfortable to use
  • 편리하다 - convenient

Strictly speaking, the Korean didn't generally include the word "use" in the source, but because "simple" and "comfortable" can have other meanings when written on their own, I added "to use" to maintain fidelity of meaning. 

Sometimes "comfortable to use" seemed a bit awkward in context, but in keeping with my desire to give the client as nuanced (but consistent) a delivery as possible, I stuck with my phrasing. However, in one case, I translated 간편하다 to "tidy" rather than "simple" because it was clearly the more proper translation.

Verb and Sentence Forms

Another issue that comes up in Korean survey responses is related to inconsistency of grammar used. Respondents generally write in as quick and easy a manner as possible and often don't use complete sentences or check their writing, and each person has their own style and terminology. So, as just one example, when responding to the question of why they chose a particular technology, there were various ways that respondents expressed "convenient".

  1. 편리 - This is the shortest way to say it and so my translation here was just "convenient".
  2. 편리성 - The last character converts the adjective to a noun, so "convenience" is the closer translation.
  3. 편리하다 - This is the root form of the word but can also be used as a complete standalone sentence in the short form. Although the Korean doesn't include the words "It is", in English we would say "It's convenient", and so this is how I translated it.
  4. 편리합니다 - This is the formal form of #3. In these cases, I made sure to write "It is" rather than just the contraction "It's", which would be about as close as we can get in English to representing the difference between these two versions.
  5. 편리함 - The last character converts the adjective to a noun, but the nuance is a bit different than #2 above. It's basically an abbreviated form of #3 (편리하다) and so I translated this in an abbreviated way too, by not adding "It is" or "I" as a subject and just using "Convenient" (same as #1).
  6. 편리해서 - This one and the next four all include implied causation: "Why did you choose it? Because it is convenient." But "because" is a long word; in this case, the form of "because" in the Korean is short (just one character) and the shortest way to express the same in English would be "as it is convenient".
  7. 편리하니까 or 편리하니 - I chose "since it is convenient", not because ~니까 or ~니 specifically mean "since", but in order to distinguish it from the others.
  8. 편리함으로 and 편리하기에 - I couldn't think of another way to express either of these without getting really long (e.g. "due to the fact that it is convenient" or "due to it being convenient"), and since these only appeared once each, I broke my rule of insisting on a unique translation for each version and went with "as it is convenient" (same as #6).
  9. 편리하기 때문에 - The ~기 때문에 is nice and long, so "because it is convenient" was the suitable variant since it uses "because", a long word.

This is a cultural matter, but Koreans often avoid giving responses that would seem too direct. Rather than write "It is convenient", they might say something closer to "It would probably be convenient". At the risk of the translation sounding a little different than what American survey respondents would have written, I attempted to reproduce this nuance also. As there was more than one version of it, I came up with set-piece wordings that I used throughout, even though the meanings are basically the same.

  • 편리할 것 같다 - It would probably be convenient
  • 편리할 듯하다 - It seems it would be convenient

Other Issues

As far as punctuation goes, in cases (such as full stops) where Korean uses the same punctuation as English, I included it if it was in the source and left it off if not. For punctuation expressed differently between English and Korean, I tried to translate in a way that gave the English the same "flavor" as the Korean. (e.g. Korean's like to put a tilde (~) after sentences and phrases to give an informal feeling; ellipsis marks (...) might be a good way to communicate the same thing in English.)

In nearly every Korean response that would have been translated as a full sentence, the subject was left out. That's normal for Korean, especially in this situation where the subject is particularly clear from the context and/or not particularly relevant. As shown above, sometimes I just used "It" as the subject to represent accurately the meaning in English. In other cases, the subject "I" is implied, and so I added this, even though it was not in the source. A few times I guessed.

There are plenty of other small ways to maintain precision and consistency in a task like this. For example, some responses use the word 차량 and others 자동차 or 차. While the words may be very similar, "vehicle" is clearly the right translation for 차량, "car" for 차 and "automobile" for 자동차. Picking a term and sticking with it throughout may not normally be a big deal but it is still a best practice.

How about misspellings in the Korean source? If they didn't impact the translation and the meaning was clear, I just translated those into correctly spelled English as it's not possible to recreate the same mistake with English letters and explaining these individually to the client would not have been worth anybody's time.

Ever so occasionally, the Korean used a term that implies a somewhat longer meaning in English but didn't come out and say it explicitly. For example, in this job there was a phrase about not using data, but what it really meant was not using up the monthly allocation of data under one's phone rate plan. I translated this as "without using [one's] data [quota]" to show what was in the original and what was implied.

Alas, these rules aren't always hard and fast because of the language differences. I've been known to compromise consistency in order to increase readability if it doesn't detract from correctness. In this job, the adverb 별도의 seemed to be better translated as "separately" sometimes, but "additionally" in other cases, and so I tried to match this translation to the situation.

Translating survey responses may often look easy since the responses can be so similar to each other. However, making the extra effort to translate in the way I've described above helps to give the client a better final product, even though it requires more effort by the translator.

Rethinking Korean-Language Translation and Localization: Process Failure Points Demonstrated with Examples of Korean Mistranslations from Microsoft, Google and Instagram

I'm seeing a steady increase in the number of software and online translation projects we handle for the English to Korean language pair.

At the same time, I've noticed that client and translator expectations about budgets, processes and client-vendor involvement are not always in sync with the difficulties these projects present. In addition to lack of context, programming codes embedded in text and other technical challenges of the translation process, differences between languages in terms of structure and cultural and grammatical interpretations of the written word can easily confuse matters and introduce serious errors that impact the final product. Since the differences between English and Korean (both linguistically and culturally) are much greater than those between Western languages, the translation and localization of English to Korean is particularly challenging. 

Typical inquiries for software localization work often sound like the following: “Translations must be completed in our online interface within six hours. There’s no guarantee of volume or minimum fees. The material would be tech in nature (software).” or "We've got an Excel spreadsheet of phrases here for translation by tomorrow morning and our budget is $XX. Be careful not to mess up the coding in the text. And make sure you check your work."

Amazingly, the first project request mentioned above came in for work that was to be provided to a large software company. And is a final exhortation to "check your work" a way for the client to try to get something for nothing? Does that mean we don't check our work otherwise?

When translation is regarded as an afterthought to be taken care of as fast and cheaply as possible by whoever happens to be available at the time -- and sometimes in as few steps as possible -- is it any wonder that I keep finding errors in the Korean versions of leading software and online interfaces from tech names like Microsoft, Google and Instagram?

The standard localization process involves three basic steps. The source text is first translated into the target language by a single translator. Then, a second linguist proofreads the translator's work. Finally, the proofread translation is placed into the software or online interface (or if printed materials, then a design program, such as Illustrator or InDesign) and reviewed in-context by a linguist (possibly the original translator or proofreader) to catch final errors.

There can be slight variations in this workflow, such as the inclusion of reference files and special localization-related instructions at the beginning, translator questions along the way, sending back of the proofreader's changes to the translator for re-verification and/or a second post-layout proof. But these three steps remain as the underlying workflow in most translation processes we work on.

I've identified a number of key failure points in this workflow though, and I believe the explanations and examples presented below demonstrate that the standard process is not up to the task of producing the highest quality work on a consistent basis for English to Korean localization work.

Some of my recommendations demand higher budgets, but new approaches with the latest software can also achieve enhanced efficiency through proper up-front preparation, more (and more effective!) ongoing communication between the client and translation team to work out issues, redesigned workflows with a new linguist role (that of the Korean-speaking tech-savvy English native-speaker who functions as the central point around which the process runs) and a longer schedule for all the back-and-forth.

Failure Point #1 - Ignoring the impact of inter-language sentence structure differences on translation

Software often includes text with embedded variables for which values are to be inserted dynamically to create complete sentences that are then shown to users during use. Here's an example of what we might be asked to translate:

Segment 1: <b>In any given single month over the coming one year, how likely are you to buy at least ^f('X5').

Segment 2: toNumeral()==23?"Y300":"$10"^ from an online store, such as ^pineOrp()^?</b>.

* Text altered to protect client confidentiality.

When translating from English to Korean, more often than not, the sequence of variables may have to be moved around (assuming the translators even know what the variables mean). Also, when sentences are broken into segments like this, it's seldom possible to translate the parts individually; they have to be translated as a whole and then resegmented.

In some cases, the spellings of words can impact other text in a sentence, too. For example, in English, inserting a person's name can affect the gender of pronouns elsewhere in the sentence. And a variable for a noun may require either an "a" or "an" before it, depending on whether the first letter is a vowel or a consonent. These issues have to be taken into account when writing the English sentences but this effort does not necessarily transfer in translation as there are completely different complications that might crop up in Korean, such as the impact of spellings on surrounding grammatical tags. (See Here's Why You Can't Blindly Search-and-Replace in a Korean Text.) Even just asking for someone's first name and last name on a Korean form will get everything backward from the English!

Here is a sentence from my Korean Translation Buyer's Guide to illustrate just how different the sentence structures are between English and Korean:


What all this means is that the effort to get things right when variables are embedded in the text can be significant. It requires adequate budget for the time taken, as well as responsiveness from the client, and a translation team that is attentive and patient enough to identify and point these issues out and consider solutions, even at the cost of interrupting the workflow.

The translation of texts that consist of fragments of English sentences to be translated individually should be avoided at all cost. Without proper advance planning and ongoing effort, these texts usually result in nonsensical translations since it's not always possible to identify word-for-word correspondence from language to language. Here's an extreme example (with the text altered to protect client confidentiality) we were asked to translate recently. 


Example Error from Google

Recently I discovered an error on the Google Android phone which illustrates this very problem. When uploading photos from the phone, I got the message (in Korean), "uploading 344 of a total of 200 [photos]” when it should have said something like “Uploading photo 200 of a total of 344 photos.” In other words, the numbers were switched.

The mistake would have occurred when the English source provided to the translation team consisted of the GUI text with coded variables embedded for the numbers. The translator should have switched the variable sequence to match the Korean sentence structure, but for one reason or another (possibly because of software limitations), the English order was maintained in error. Even when sequencing can be maintained, it frequently results in awkward wordings or confusion for the end user.

Rethinking the Process

Every sentence which contains variables needs to be reviewed to check for issues. If the meaning is unclear or if there are word order or other considerations, such as potential changes to the surrounding text caused by certain potential variable values, the translation team should discuss with the client about the impact this has on the translation.

In my experience, these issues are not always obvious before starting the job; it is only after much work has been done that awkward translations become evident. Therefore, while an initial review of the document should take place to be sure the issues won't be excessive, the really careful check can be part of a later review by a native speaker in the source language who also knows the target language.

Some jobs just aren't doable. The London fog example above was part of a huge project to localize an ESL program to Korean. There were so many issues with the job (even beyond the example provided) that I had to refuse the work as, to do it right, would have required a translation team to be embedded in the client's office for weeks to work painstakingly through the text. Some projects just aren't conducive to an outsourced approach, even though an in-house approach is unworkable or cost prohibitive.

Failure Point #2 - Attempting to translate long lists of words and phrases without adequate context

Translators need to work from context and it is not realistic to expect a perfect translation of just an Excel spreadsheet or Word document with nothing more than long lists of words and phrases to be translated. Without context, even the best translator will not always be able to figure out how a word or phrase is to be used.

Just telling a translator to send back a list of questions for clarification may also not be enough because there's no guarantee that a translator will know that he or she has misunderstood something. And (to be really frank here), translators hate to interrupt their workflow with this stuff, and so the temptation to just translate and move on can be compelling.

In fact, even though translations into Korean should be done by native Korean speakers, I've found that as a native English speaker, I'm often in a better position than my Korean team to grasp the nuances of the English source text and detect mistranslations or identify questions to ask the client. I also find that these issues jump out at me more vividly after I've received the translation from my team, not before the work starts, since I can see how the text was understood (or misunderstood) by my team and make a comparison.

And finally, I am often dismayed to see that clients do not recognize the challenges non-native English-speaker translators face and are not interested in getting involved. For example (to take an actual issue we encountered not long ago), it takes a pretty nuanced understanding of English to know that "property" can refer to real estate or the sum of one's assets; but "properties" is only real estate. Fortunately, by adding my additional role to the process, I can take care of many issues myself without going to the client for clarification, helping to reduce the burden on both the translators and the client.

Example Error from Microsoft

Here’s another example of what can happen without context. The following phrase in the Korean version of Windows 8 appeared when trying to use the camera app while a camera was not connected to the computer:

“카메라를 연결합니다”

When I first saw this message, I thought the computer was telling me to wait while it connected to a webcam (although the Korean text used here isn't exactly right for that situation either). However, based on the context (which is made doubly clear because the options on the screen are grayed out pending a camera connection), the Korean text should be a command telling the user to connect a camera in order to use the application. 

In this case, the Korean text has a meaning more along the lines of a declarative sentence describing the action of connecting a camera because the translator understood "connect a camera" as an infinitive phrase (e.g. the phrase "to connect a camera" in English) rather than a command.

Rethinking the Process

Translating word and phrase lists properly takes considerably longer than working in normal prose. That's because word and phrase lists don't serve as their own context like ordinary text does, and so a careful translator referencing client explanations, screenshots and other materials will spend longer than normal on the work. Sure, a translator can rush through, but without having and using additional reference information, there are likely to be some mistakes, possibly many.

In my experience, issues with a lack of reference material can be greatly alleviated through a careful review by a native English-speaker Korean translator (i.e. someone like me) after the translation has been completed by the Koreans. This is an important value-add for identifying problems and potential issues to be discussed with the translation team and/or the client; or even for solving problems without bothering the client. However, while this additional review step can reduce the requirements on the client to provide context and respond to questions, it takes a lot of time to manage the communications with the client and translators. 

Failure Point #3 - Focusing on budget and turnaround without considering the ROI

In addition to support from the client and effectiveness of the workflow, the quality of a translation project rests also on the basic translation skills of the linguists, their fluency with the subject matter, their ability to work in the tools and their effort and aptitude to do a good job. When you consider that even a premium translation effort represents only a fraction of the total cost that an end client puts into developing their materials and the fact that the accuracy of a translation can ultimately make or break the ROI of a localization project, it would seem that cost should only be one factor in the decisions about resources and workflow.

Unfortunately, I get, on a daily basis, BCC emails sent out by agencies to umpteen translators at a time offering texts to be translated or proofread on a rush basis and at rates that don't attract my attention. Furthermore, the fragmented way these jobs are sent out means there's little to no continuity between tasks and this compromises the final output in various ways, particularly in terms of consistency.

I will also use this as an opportunity to point out that hourly rates for editing and proofreading fall below what skilled Korean>English translators can earn on per-word translation work. This means that review work is often handled by lesser or beginner resources and avoided by veterans. I haven't figured out the entire dynamic here, but there seems to be a lot more client tolerance for proper rates at the early stages of the process than the end, especially when the rates can be expressed in units of word output rather than units of time input. (For a bit more of my soapbox here, see Ten Reasons to Avoid Proofreading, Editing and QA Tasks on Korean Translation Projects.)

Example Error from Google

Consider the following awkward Korean phrase I discovered on the camera help screen of my Android phone and what it would convey if written in English:

“인물 단체는 베스트페이스 모드를 이용합니다.”

“Use Best Face mode for [taking photos of] groups of humans.”

Humans? How about "people"? In fact, the problem is even worse than this because the rest of the Korean translation is poorly written, too. The English on-screen documentation had gems like the following: “It provides best picture automatically changing scene mode in according with the environment”.

Either the Korean was poorly translated from bad English or both were translated from a third language by the camera's supplier and the translators or writers working on the project were not competent in either language.

Rethinking the Process

Putting together a good localization team means working with translators who can and will make the effort required. But it's not just about more money. Translators skilled in CAT tools (such as Trados or memoQ) and other technical skills to use the software, as well as experience in the field, are able to bring higher efficiency to the process and often deliver large jobs at lower rates than expected after considering volume and fuzzy/rep/match discounts. They also meet deadlines. This means that focusing on the base rate quoted for a job does not always take into account the real costs.

Furthermore, improved workflows can extract more value from less effort. But even the best translators may still slide into "good enough" workflows if better ideas and structures are not provided. Unfortunately, many client-imposed structures are so fragmented and cumbersome due to a lack of Korean-language skills at the project management level that efficiency, quality and consistency are all compromised. I believe that smooth end-to-end outsourced workflows from the Korean provider would add value in many ways. Those are the processes I am working to develop with my team to deliver even better quality to clients, even while cutting out the fat of inefficiency.

Failure Point #4 - Not considering the importance and difficulty of maintaining consistency

There is almost always more than one correct way to translate the same text, but if a project is handled as a sequence of independent sub-projects, if multiple translators are working simultaneously on different sections of the same job (even if accessing an online TM together), if a translation team is switched in the middle of a project -- or even if a translator working alone doesn't make the effort to use the latest tools diligently throughout a single project -- inconsistencies can creep in, both in terms of terminology and style, especially if the client isn't in a position to to demand rigorous accountability. These inconsistencies can be hard to prevent, difficult to find and nearly impossible to remove later on.

A project style guide is good, as is a glossary. Both should be prepared at the beginning of a project. And translators should always be provided with previous translations handled for the same client or project as reference. But with today's tools like Trados Studio or memoQ, there are also lots of other ways to improve consistency, such as with a proper termbase, use of the concordance function, LiveDocs (in memoQ) and the built-in Q/A checkers of the various CAT tools. (At this point, I don't know if machine translation plug-ins can make constructive contributions to the process for Korean and English.)

Unfortunately, at least with the English to Korean language pair, there are very few translators who have the software AND know-how to use it beyond the basic functions AND are all that interested in working through the complicated processes of setting up and using all those extra files and windows while translating. You can clearly see how unimportant Korean is to the CAT tool makers by counting how many of these software interfaces and help files are available in Korean: zero, as far as I know. The resistance I get from my resources when it's time to upgrade and learn new ways of working shows me that the local Korean translation market does not demand proficiency in CAT technology.

Example Error from Instagram

What happens when consistency is lost? Consider the following sequence of Korean text in the Android Instagram app: “공유하기”, “삭제”, “사람 추가” and “복사 공유 URL”

The first of the four items was translated into Korean using a style that is different from the other three. In the English interface, the four phrases appear as "Share," "Delete," "Add People" and "Copy Share URL" in the imperative form, each line starting with a verb. In other words, the grammar of the English text is written consistently and correctly while the grammar of the Korean text is not. 

Rethinking the Process

It has become clear to me that I'm not in a position to expect high levels of CAT-tool competency from the full field of English to Korean translators I work with in Korea. But limiting our work only to those who are skilled in Trados means missing out on some of the very best linguists for the technical fields we handle. 

Fortunately, I am also realizing that everybody on the team doesn't need to know how to use the advanced tools of our trade. One central player in the process who is proficient in the tools can cover for a team of competent translators who utilize just the basic CAT-tool functions (or don't even use them at all, sometimes).

This person (a native English-speaker) can start things off with a good glossary, prepare the files into packages for use by the translators using the professional version of the software so that the translation environment is set up in advance for the translators, review the translation with a native English-speaker's eyes, communicate with the client on all matters for clarification, and run the Q/A checks (including analysis and leverage of internal fuzzies), making final changes as necessary. 

This is perhaps even the most efficient way to run a process that focuses on and maintains consistency during the job since one person stays responsible for these aspects throughout. A client's project manager can conceivably do this too, but without Korean skills, that person will struggle to fill in all the cracks along the way, even if skilled in the CAT software and efficient workflows.

I also believe that style guides and glossaries should be viewed as living documents, to be finalized at the end of the project. Just because a particular term seems right when setting out doesn't mean one won't get better ideas while working on the job. Sending out lists of high-frequency translation units at the beginning of a project is a good way to support consistency in later work, but only if these can be reconsidered at the end of the project and updated as necessary. Everything can't be set in stone at the beginning; a final consistency review and update at the end will help to tie things together. This is an extra value-add, though.

Failure Point #5 - Wasting resources on inefficient review steps and ignoring vital Q/A tasks and processes

Translation errors can crop up anywhere. In fact, it often takes multiple sets of eyes and an adequate in-context review effort to spot these mistakes. However, even with competent and properly compensated resources at this stage, the process can make all the difference.

I find that some clients introduce an additional review step the sneaky way... by demanding additional work without paying for it. This is done by sending a proofread job back to the translator to be "validated", meaning that the translator checks each of the proofreader's changes and prepares a final version. I generally insist on billing for this review (See On Charging for Additional Translation Reviews.) and it loses me business sometimes. But I also don't think this is an efficient way to handle the review process anyway, especially if there are more steps to go, such as layout.

It has become clear to me that the differences between Korean and English are so great that true fluency is virtually unachievable if second-language learning begins later in life. I've also found (at least with Korean and English) that those born into a bilingual environment and who don't go through the pain of learning a new language the hard way often don't appreciate the necessity of achieving translation precision through careful text analysis. This is further exacerbated by the low opinion Koreans often have of translation as a profession (See About Koreans and Their Attitudes Toward Translators.), leading some who might thrive in this field to move on to more "respectable work".

How many times have you scrutinized the same text several times and overlooked an obvious error that someone else would notice right away? (That's sure to have happened to me several times in this article!) This is, of course, why multiple linguists are brought into a project. However, if the translator, proofreader and quality-assurance professionals are too similar in certain ways (such as by being native Korean speakers with a good, but not perfect grasp of English), they may all miss the same issues. (BTW, the same problem happens in a different way in translation/back-translation workflows.) In my various translation tips, I've pointed out repeated examples of things Korean translators tend to overlook (including punctuationacronymstildesmore acronymscapitalization). So, just throwing on more layers of review is not a sure-fire way to squeeze out the most quality if the same blind spots remain. 

Example Error from Microsoft

Consider the following Korean translation error on the Windows 7 dialogue box that appeared when cleaning out the Recycle Bin: 


The problematic text (circled in red) says "source copy" in Korean, but this has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the text that should appear there. This is just the familiar dialogue box telling the user about how many items are being deleted from the Recycle Bin and the word "from" appears at that spot in the English version of Windows 7.

How did this unrelated text creep into the dialogue box? Perhaps Microsoft sent off for translation an Excel file consisting of thousands of context-less interface messages without screenshots or maybe the translators were in a hurry because of an early deadline (or just wanting to finish and collect payment). Or maybe the mistake slipped in later and didn’t get noticed because corners were cut in the review steps.

How persistent can these types of translation errors in software or GUIs be? I found this one after Windows 7 had been out for about three years and this isn't even an obscure window. When I posted it to my weblog, Microsoft contacted me to say they finally fixed it thanks to my article.

* For my original article about this, see There's a Translation Error in the Korean-Language Windows 7 Interface, Too!

Example Error from Google

Here is an example of the kind of mistranslation a native English-speaker review would catch easily. My Android phone has the following menu item:


The tab labelled “설정 진입” literally translates as "Settings Entry" because the first word (“설정”) means “settings” while the second word (“진입”) means "entry, penetration, enter, penetrate". But what is this "Settings Entry" tab supposed to do? The tab has a clearer meaning in the English interface as “Settings Shortcuts.” Apparently, the translator couldn’t think of the right word here. But Korean has a perfectly suitable translation for "shortcut" and this tab should be corrected to “설정 단축 키”.

A better translator might have chosen the more accurate choice of Korean words the first time. But even if not, one of the follow-up reviews should have caught it.

* For my original article about this, see I'm Pretty Sure this Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface Came from Google.

Rethinking the Process

I have been experimenting recently with adding an additional review workflow to some projects for my best clients where I myself do a word-for-word proof of the entire English to Korean translation my team sends me after they've finished their translation and proofreading. To be honest, I'm surprised how much I have improved our deliveries by making this sizable additional investment of time.

For sure, a second proofreading step can only contribute to improvements anyway. I mean, is it really fair to expect a proofreader to catch every mistranslation, improve styling, check for terminology consistency, notice each and every typo (and not create a couple more while improving styling) and, where applicable, thoroughly consider localization factors, such as cultural appropriateness, even while making sense of phrases out of context and embedded variables, and do it all in one workflow? 

But beyond all that, my English native-speaker eyes catch mistranslations that the eyes of a Korean overlook. (For examples, see English>Korean Translation Errors Discovered Through a Proofreading Step Performed by a Native English-Speaker Translator Who Usually Handles Korean>English Translation Work.) This value-add is in addition to the stylistic matters Koreans tend to let slip by. By dedicating one workflow to issues the Korean team may miss, as well as to intra-team and team-client communications, the communication phase is condensed into a single project stage and allows the Korean team to maintain extended focus during the translation and first proofreading steps.

The extra workflow also takes the burden off the Koreans to even ask those questions. Who wants to interrupt a train of thought to send off questions for later replies in the middle of working on a document? Ideally, translators will ask anyway, but in practice, I've found it rarely gets done, especially if the linguists are afraid of exposing their ignorance on something they should have known. (I can comment on this with confidence because I experience the same thought process on my own Korean>English translations jobs, too!)

This extra proofreading step is a frustratingly time-consuming task because of all the time it takes to work things out, but it can be combined with the various Q/A work in the CAT tool to also take other burdens off the translator and proofreader (such as perfect consistency) who may be subject-matter experts but not fans of the technology. 

I've alluded above to the issue of an inefficient review step demanded of translators by some clients. But rather than creating a new workflow just to check the work of a proofreader, it would be better to integrate this additional check into the final post-layout proof and other quality assurance tasks, which need to be done anyway. Every additional workflow incurs costs (Check out Getting Things Done by David Allen for an excellent book about personal efficiency and the hidden costs of individual tasks, even small ones!) and each step is an opportunity to get files confused, introduce new errors or miss deadlines. Combining work here is surely recommended, especially as the post-layout environment is different than the translation environment (it's a different screen) and so helps to bring a new perspective on the text rather than just going back to the same document with the same blind spots again. Having all this done by someone other than the translator and proofreader mixes things up yet again, to avoid these blind spots.


As shown above, even leading companies don’t always get the localization process right and I can tell you that the Korean translations of many of the mobile apps on Google Play created by smaller providers are almost incomprehensible when handled through Google Translate or some other cut-rate approach. 

There are so many subjective aspects to translation that it may not be realistic to talk about a "100% perfect" translation; what one person considers a bit stilted may be what another views as a very precise and correct rendering. And even if we can get away with using numbers, 100% on a large project may still be out of reach. But getting from 98% to 99.5% is a worthy improvement that can be achieved by thinking outside the box and applying more effective and realistic roles and workflows.

Of course, it's worth asking if a client is willing to make the investment to achieve this level of improvement, especially considering that many errors remain invisible to the end without causing any grief to anyone (case in point: that translation error I mentioned above that remained in Windows 7 for three years before anyone bothered to fix it). In fact, the current three-step workflow has worked fine for us over the years, too.

Still, I'd like to think that we can do better and my goal is to develop workflows with my team that take advantage of all the resources at our disposal to deliver even better work than ever before and to do it without putting undo strain on clients and their budgets. I hope to release new workflow designs soon.

Eight More Tips (This is Set #3!) for Helping You Handle Your Korean Translation Projects Properly

We've just reached yet another milestone!

That’s right...

I've posted three sets of Korean translation tips (eight each), and so I’d like to celebrate by summarizing the latest batch for you here:

Don’t forget that you can also review my first and second sets of eight tips, too!

English>Korean Translation Errors Discovered through a Proofreading Step Performed by a Native English-Speaker Translator Who Usually Handles Korean>English Translation Work

Translations from English to Korean must be done by a native Korean speaker. Otherwise, the Korean writing style will not sound natural. However, sometimes only a native English speaker can fully grasp the nuances of a source text or "smell out" oddities with the source that need to be fixed.

Here are some examples.

Excel file with a long list of phrases to be translated for the GUI of a personnel management system

1. "Change Progression Steps (Hourly Only)". To a native English speaker, it seems suspiciously like "Hourly Only" should be "Hourly Employees Only". This would not be easily clear to someone without true English fluency, especially as there was no context provided in the source.

2. "Grade" - There was enough context from nearby entries for me to realize it means "Pay Grade". But is it reasonable to expect an average English>Korean translator to know this?

3. "Induction Checklist" - My team got this one right even though there was no context. It is a checklist of all the things an employee has to be taught upon entering the company.

4. "License" - In Korean, there is one word for a license to operate machinery and another to be licensed to practice a professional specialty. Which one is it?

5. "Lists" - The Korean word for lists of people is different than for lists of things. It's important to get clarification from the client on this.

A document related to accounting and taxes

6. "Other Properties" - Since it's plural, we know it's real estate. But if it has said "Other Property", it might not have been real estate and if not, there would have been a different Korean word to describe the collection of all of one's assets.

7. "Current debt (not paid by insurance)" - Is "not paid by insurance" a phrase by itself? Or is it more like "Current debt which is not paid by insurance". It makes a difference and without a quick fluency in English to shuffle through the options, it's easy to overlook the ambiguity.

8. "Multi-family" - As a fluent English speaker, this immediately caught my attention, thinking that "multi-family home" would probably be the correct complete phrase here (which it was).

A document related to medical care

9. "Check for interactions; this can happen when you take two or more medicines that affect how the other medicine works." - What does "this" refer to? "Check"? Or "Interactions"? It matters... In fact, as "this" is singular, it grammatically should be "check", but in fact, it was "interactions", which changed the translation completely.

10. "With good planning and organization, your pharmacist can work with you to:" - So, is it the pharmacist who has good planning and organization? Or does the helping work the pharmacist does require good planning and organization?


More New Year's Greetings for 2013-2014

어느덧 또 한 해가 마무리되는군요! 
2013년은 제게 참 다사다난했던 한 해였습니다. 제게 많은 도움을 주신 사장님께 깊은 감사를 드립니다.
내일부터 시작되는 새해에도 사장님과 가족 모두 늘 행복하고 건강하시기를 기원합니다.
We're already finishing up another year!
2013 was a really eventful year for me. I'd like to deeply thank you (President) for all the help that you provided me.
I hope that you and your family will be healthy and happy in the new year that starts tomorrow.


변함없이 저희를 배려해주셔서 깊은 감사의 마음 전합니다.



배려해주시고, 함께 하는 좋은 시간이 더 많이 있기를 바랍니다.



건강 챙기시고

온 가족이 웃음과 기쁨이 가득한 새해를 맞이 하시기를 기원합니다.




복 많이 많이 받으세요.

I'd like to express our deep gratitude for your unchanging consideration to us this year also.
Please give us your consideration next year, too, and I hope that we can spend more good times together.
Always, take care of your health and I hope that your whole family will have a new year filled with laughter and happiness.
May the year year be full of prosperity for you. Happy New Year.


2014년 새해가 얼마 남지 않았네요. 다들 연말 잘 보내시구요. 
새해 건강하시고, 함께 하고 있는 학업에서도 좋은 결실 있기를 기원하겠습니다.
There's not much time left before 2014. May you all have a nice end of the year.
I hope that you are healthy in the new year that that we can achieve good results in our studies together.

새해가 힘차게 밝았습니다.

성원과 격려에 보답하는 길은

버티는 단계에서 벗어나

지속가능한 회사로 키우는 일이라 믿습니다.


2014년에도 변함없는 호의와 관심을 기대합니다.

소원하시는 일마다 두루 잘 이뤄지길 진심으로 기원합니다.


최후까지 감사하는 마음 잃지 않겠습니다.

The new year came brightly, full of energy.
I believe that the way to repay the support and encouragement of others is to break out of the competitive ways of doing things and to develop into a sustainable company.
I look forward to your unchanging goodwill and interest in 2014 and I sincerely hope that everything you wish for will come to pass.
Right to the very end, I will not lose my heart of gratitude.


성원과 배려에 감사 올리고, 새해에는 건강과 행운이 늘 함께하시기 기원드립니다.


I would like to express my gratitude for your support and consideration, and I hope that you will have health and good fortune throughout the new year.


지난 한해 바쁜데도 불구하고 포럼을 위해 봉사해 주어 정말 감사했어요.

새해에도 더욱 건강하여 지금 품고 있는 좋은 계획들 하나씩 멋있는 성과로 이룩하기를 기원해요.

늘 행복하고 풍요한 삶을 영위하세요.


I was really grateful that you served the Forum last year even though you were busy.

I hope that you will be even more healthy in the new year and that the good plans that you have now will come to fruition as really cool results one-by-one.

Always live a happy and abundant life.


For Lunar New Year specifically....


새로운 희망, 새로운 마음으로 새해 힘차게 출발하시길 바랍니다. 즐거운 명절되세요.


I hope you start the new year full of energy with new hope and a new mind. Have an enjoyable holiday.


설날을 맞아 가족과 편안한 시간보내시고... 가슴가득 행복하시기를 주님께 기도할게요.


Have a pleasant time with your family for the Lunar New Year. I will pray to the Lord that your heart will be full of happiness.

Ten Reasons to Avoid Proofreading, Editing and QA Tasks on Korean Translation Projects

Translation is a funny business... I've been working in this field now for about fifteen years, and I enjoy translating from Korean to English. However, I avoid, at almost all cost, proofreading, editing and performing other quality-assurance tasks of Korean to English translations done by others. (BTW, this does not apply to doing QA on the work of my teams for English to Korean translation, which I get involved in deeply.)

Reason #1 - Rates are too low.

These additional tasks are generally billed at hourly rates. But on translation, I can charge per-word rates, and I'm a fast, efficient worker. In the calculation of hourly rates, the market doesn't take this into account; clients look at the dollar value first and last, meaning that I can make nearly twice as much on translation as on other tasks. Because this hourly rate is so symbolic of one's overall value in what's, unfortunately, a semi-commoditized business, I'm forced to quote unremarkable hourly rates in order to avoid the stigma of charging above the average. 

Reason #2 - Schedules are inconvenient.

Proofreading, editing and Q/A are often regarded as afterthoughts, to be scheduled in around the really important tasks. This means that the turnarounds on these jobs are usually rushed, and if the translator gets behind schedule, it's the proofreader who has to accommodate.

Reason #3 - I'm burdened with final responsibility for the project.

Because clients have often chosen their translators based on lower rates (or just easier availability), the work I get to check is a mixed bag. This is especially true if the client was thinking they could use a cheap non-native English-speaker translator on the expectation that their proofreader would fix everything. (This happens in the Korean>English language pair a lot!) Once a project reaches me, the client wants to get back something perfect.

Reason #4 - I have to think and work outside my comfort zone.

I find that editing, proofreading and Q/A work requires more mental flexibility. On translation, I start with a clean slate and can just translate through with my own style. When working on what others have produced, it can be hard to make corrections and revisions in a consistent way, which creates a lot of thought dissonance and slows me down. Perhaps it would be different if I were given better translations to check or if I got more used to this type of work, but I find proofreading, editing and QA unpleasant compared with just doing the translation myself from the beginning.

Reason #5 - I am responsible for a budget without knowing how much effort the job will take.

It's very hard to know in advance how much time and energy investment these jobs will take, but hourly rates still come with both explicit and implicit budgets. As explained above, I end up checking work at various levels of quality. Make too many changes, and the costs go up (the client isn't happy) or make too few changes and the client wants to know why I didn't fix this or that (the client still isn't happy). If I manage to charge a per-word rate on the job, I might still get taken to the cleaners if the original translation is worse than I expected and requires a lot of extra work time that I'm not paid for. And if an hourly job takes less time than expected, then the client gets the full benefit from this and I'm left with an unpaid hole in my schedule.

Reason #6 - I have to deal with offended translators.

Clients frequently forward a proofread document back to the translator for comments, review, approval, or reflection -- or even to make the translator take notice of the errors so that he or she will do better next time. I tend to make a lot of changes since I take Reason #3 seriously, and a translator can get defensive if feeling unjustly criticized. This can lead to emotionally exhausting and time-consuming follow-up discussions that are, of course, not included in the job price.

Reason #7 - I become the go-to person for all project matters.

Perhaps it's because I'm at my computer all the time and am easy to reach, or because I can comment with more confidence about various translation issues due to my long experience, but I find that after I deliver (regardless of whether it's a translation or a proofreading/editing or Q/A), the customer makes me the main point of contact for the work through to the end. These requests are generally just assumed to be free, and if I was already underpaid for the work (Reason #1), it's hard to get excited about further distractions from other projects I am working on.

Reason #8 - The standards are higher for proofreading, editing and Q/A.

I try really hard to deliver good work, but an isolated typo, missed text or mistranslation isn't the end of the world at the translation step. However, if I, as the proofreader, miss one of these in someone else's translation, bad things happen. Unfortunately, if the proofreading or another quality assurance task involves a lot of changes, then mistakes get missed and new errors creep in and that ends up reflecting badly on me. And if there are a lot of fixes on a post-layout proof, I'll often get asked to check again (for free!) to "make sure it's good now."

Reason #9 - Many of these projects tend to be more complicated than usual and this can lead to inadvertent errors.

Many times, an old source document has been updated and so the translation based on the original also needs to be updated to match. But calculating the per-word rate for this is tough, since the changes are interspersed in the document. Therefore, hourly billing is the norm. In addition to the (unfavorable) hourly rates, updating a translation based on Tracked Changes in an old MS Word document is complicated and unpleasant. Not only that, with pressure to stay within whatever budget the client thinks the work should take, I need to move through quickly. In an already complicated updating situation, this leads to mistakes. And mistakes... lead to unhappy clients and free follow-up support.

Reason #10 - Clients rarely proofread my translation work, making translation even more attractive by comparison.

Perhaps it's because I do such a good job (^^ pat on back ^^) or maybe it's just that everyone else in our business hates proofreading, editing and Q/A work too, but for the Korean > English translations that I handle, it's rare that a client adds an editor or proofreader to the process. It can be a problem if they do, since if they send the other linguist's review of my work back and want me to go through and prepare a final version, they usually expect this to be free but I want to charge. Mercifully though, this seldom happens and so once I deliver a job that I've translated myself, I'm almost always home-free after delivery.


For all these reasons, I find it is good practice to respond to proofreading, editing and Q/A job requests with "Unfortunately, I'm very busy this week on other projects. I'm sorry for being unavailable this time."

Korean Translation Tip: Korean Capitalization and English Hieroglyphics

By now (if you've been reading my past tips herehere and here!), you should know that Korean punctuation doesn’t always match English punctuation.

Another aspect of Korean writing that doesn’t jive with English is CAPITALIZATION.

In fact, Korean has no concept of capitalization whatsoever. It’s no more possible to capitalize a Korean word than it is to write English in hieroglyphics.

So, what is a translator to do when an English source text emphasizes information by capitalizing every letter in certain words and this extra impact needs to be conveyed in the Korean translation?

Here are the options: underline it, bold it, increase the font size, switch to a different color or italicise it... or try a combination!

Korean Translation Tip #1 - If capitalization is used in an English document to emphasize certain text, then the Korean translation will have to use a different method to achieve the same result; there’s no way to capitalize Korean.

This capitalization aspect can impact a Korean translation in another way, too.

Sometimes certain words in a Korean translation are left in English. Perhaps it's because a very technical term is best communicated in English (even within a Korean translation) or is translated but also provided with the English term following in parenthesis (ex: the words "costochondritis" or "Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" in a medical text for physicians). Proper nouns, such as company names, are often left in English. And occasionally a certain English word or phrase is just considered really cool for a Korean readership (ex: "Gangnam Style").

However, a Korean translator may not be clear on whether this English should be capitalized or not, especially if it was not capitalized the same way everywhere in the source text due to English rules of capitalization.

And since capitalization isn't a part of the Korean language, Korean writers don't naturally think of it as important. In fact, sometimes it really isn't important if words are just being left in English but not connected to an English grammatical structure.

The upshot is that it's not uncommon to find English words in a Korean translation capitalized inconsistently.

It's unlikely that any Korean reader would ever notice or care but to the eyes of an English-speaker, this issue stands out like a sore thumb.

Therefore, when proofing a Korean translation, the final polishing step should consider consistency of capitalization and this is one matter I pay particular attention to when reviewing the work of my translation teams.

Korean Translation Tip #2 - The capitalization of English words interspersed in a Korean translation is likely to be handled inconsistently, even by otherwise careful and competent translators. Try to check for and correct this in the final document proof.

Key Considerations for Translating Korean Emails and Other Documents Related to Legal Disputes

I frequently translate Korean emails and other documents to be used in litigation. These generally come to me during the discovery phase before trial while the attorneys for the non-Korean side are preparing their case using materials obtained from the opposing Korean party.

In these situations, the attorneys are interested in knowing exactly what the Korean says, not more and not less. Therefore, I put the highest priority on correctness and completeness and only focus on style and smooth readability after achieving a precise translation.

In other words, I make it my goal to help the end client understand through my English translation exactly what the Korean says. As much as possible, I seek to convey source meaning and tone, as well as errors, redundancies, and even punctuation mistakes. If it's not pretty in the source, then I don't make it pretty in the translation.

Respect and Formality

Of course, there are limits here. As I've explained before, it's virtually impossible to translate all of the elements of formality and respect into English from a Korean source document (see "To My Esteemed Reader"). Still, I am not without tools for communicating these aspects. While I can't use a humble form of the pronouns "I" and "we", insert honorific tags into the English sentences, or even change verb endings to indicate formality, I can communicate these nuances with terminology and phrasing.

In a highly formal Korean business email exchange (and Korean business communications are generally conducted with greater formality than American ones), I retain the addressing of individuals in Korean by their titles by using corresponding English job titles, rather than first names. (Even "Mr. So-and-So" without a job title isn't quite the same in English as it is in Korean.)  

I also choose phrasings like "I hereby send you the attachment", rather than "Here's the attachment" or "I'm sending an attachment." Oftentimes, Korean terms and phrasings translate most directly into expressions we might consider a bit difficult in English, so that "I am sorry for our results which are not commensurate with the efforts you've made on our behalf" may be a truer reflection of the original Korean meaning AND help to communicate formality more effectively than "I'm sorry for not delivering the results you deserve."

Gender, Pronouns and Plural/Singular

There are other ways that an English translation can't always convey the Korean perfectly. Korean doesn't indicate gender as often as we do in English (such as by using he/she pronouns) and it often leaves out plurals (see "Korean Has a Plural Form; It Just Doesn't Get Used Much"). If it's possible to grasp these from context, I use the correct gender or singular/plural in English. If I don't know and it's not that important, I sometimes just choose one or the other and use that. But if it's not possible to know but choosing one or the other could be misleading to the reader, I occasionally phrase things a bit awkwardly to avoid creating confusion (ex: "Please send him/her the document(s)." or "Please send document to the person".) Note how the second example is even slightly incorrect grammatically; if it's a choice between correctness or grammar, I choose correctness.

One exception to the pronoun usage rule is that I don't translate 우리 or 저희 to "we" when these are used in the common sense for "our country" (우리나라) or "our wife" (저희 와이프). These are usually best translated as "Korea" or "my wife" without changing the writer's meaning and intent (see "Koreans Are All About 'We'").

Consistency with Existing English in the Source

Another issue that comes up is consistency with English in a document. What do you do when a Korean's job title in an email clearly corresponds to a certain English title (ex: 전무 > Managing Director) but -- and Korean companies do this ALL THE TIME -- the email footer includes an English title that's inflated (ex: 전무 > Vice President), presumably so that recipients of his English emails will think he's more important than he really is? The best approach for this is to translate the Korean correctly and then provide a separate explanation somewhere to the client about the situation.

If the source document has English words interspersed in the Korean and they are misspelled or used incorrectly, I generally spell them correctly or correct the usage in my translation if it's clear what was intended. 


Punctuation can be an issue, too. As mentioned above, I try to reproduce incorrect punctuation. However, if the punctuation in Korean is not wrong, just different because that's the way Koreans like to do it, such as by adding a space before colons (see "A Quirk of Punctuation Usage in Korean") and not adding periods correctly around acronyms (see "Koreans See Punctuation of Acronyms from a Different Perspective"), I go ahead and use accepted English punctuation. I also change Korean-style smileys to English ones (see "Koreans Smile Differently When Writing") and tildes to dashes (see "Korean, English, Tildes and Dashes").

Cultural Adaptation

As for Korean political correctness or cultural sensitivity, I make no effort to soften things or depart from what the source says. If it's offensive or emotional in the source, the attorney need to understand the intended impact. Sometimes this can require an extra translator's note, such as explaining that an untranslatable change in the level of respect in the Korean source was intended to offend.

There are a number of set Korean expressions commonly found in Korean emails. Not only do Koreans continuously exhort each other to work hard and suffer more (rather than to take it easy - see "Koreans Work Harder Than Anybody"), but they also have a standard opening greeting that ends in a question mark... or doesn't (see "Is the Standard Korean Greeting a Question or Not?"). At the end of messages or reports, Koreans often write "The End", even though we wouldn't normally do so in English. I don't change the "work hard" phrasing to "take it easy" and I certainly include "The End" if it's in the source. For the standard greeting, I've lately taken to translating it as "How are you?" when the writer uses a question mark and "Hello" otherwise. Though both versions are actually the same, at least this helps to match punctuation, and it doesn't change the intent of meaning at all.


Unfortunately, it's not always easy for a non-Korean client to evaluate the quality of a job translated using this precise approach. In fact, if I go out of my way to convey flaws (such as by including superfluous punctuation) or bad writing style (redundant phrasings, run-on sentences, etc.) of the Korean source in my English translation, the client could easily think I was careless and judge my exceptionally good translation as inferior to one where the translator has smoothed things over.

What can be done about this?

That's what this article is about.

If you're reading this, it may be because I forwarded you the link before starting a job or with a delivery. If you come across things in the translation that seems odd, ask me about it; don't assume it was a mistake. If you don't like the writing style, ask me why I expressed things the way I did. I do check my work and, while I do make occasional mistakes, I don't make many, and flaws or awkward phrasings and terminology in the translation are probably there by design to help you/your client's attorneys know EXACTLY what the Korean documents I translated say.

What You Need to Know About Korean Holiday Greetings and Gatherings

Christmas is a national holiday in Korea and the many Korean Christians do celebrate the day. In addition, the holiday season comes to stores across the nation, just as in the West, though shopping for gifts surely does not reach the frenzied level you'll find in places like the US.

Having said that, Koreans don’t generally hold Christmas parties.

Instead, Koreans are much more focused on the new year, and every self-respecting Korean attends several end-of-year parties (called 송년회 or 연말 모임) each year. These get-togethers are generally held on a personal basis and for business throughout the month of December (not much at all happens on December 31, though). Because the end-of-year gatherings are frequently scheduled months in advance, it can be hard to arrange evening meetings with several people at once during this time because of prior commitments, so try to plan as far ahead as possible if wanting to meet Koreans on business in December.

I'll also point out that because of all the partying (and other factors, such as not knowing what sudden administrative changes the new year will bring), very little business gets done in Korean companies in December, and no important outward-focused decisions at all get made during this navel-gazing time.

Koreans don’t commonly wish each other “Merry Christmas” (though this greeting is becoming more popular, and it is usually expressed in English). Instead, they focus on the new year… Both the Western new year on January 1, and the lunar new year (aka Chinese New Year) in late January or early February. Thus, new year’s greetings are often given twice!

You can't go wrong wishing Koreans a “Happy New Year” and there's really only one way to say it in Korean: “Sae hae bok mani baduseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요)

However, in writing, "Happy New Year" can be expanded out in many ways. For ideas, check out these collections of holiday greetings in Korean.

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans Work Harder Than Anybody

Korea is known as the Land of the Morning Calm, and indeed, Koreans are the epitome of the yin and yang, deep meditation over a cup of tea and all things mellow. They don’t work hard, they take long naps in the afternoon, spend lots of time reflecting on the deeper meanings of life through martial arts and calligraphy, and are all around easy-going folks....

Umm... Not exactly...

Apparently, a European visited Korea long ago and coined the term "Land of the Morning Calm" based on a faulty understanding of the country. Even if it might have been a bit true back then, sometime in the last century, that reference to Korea became completely anacronystic.

Today, Korea is a dynamic, fast-moving place and Koreans work longer hours than just about anybody in the world. This is a point of some pride to Koreans and the phrase “fast, fast” (빨리 빨리 in Korean) is a modern buzzword.

There’s a saying among high school students that in the highly competitive process for getting into college, those who sleep five hours per night get into the mediocre colleges but those who wanting to reach the top universities should only sleep four hours (presumably because they're studying so hard the rest of the time).

This cultural rat race makes its way into the language, too. In the West, when we talk to someone in business on the phone, we might close with “Take it easy” or “Don’t work too hard”.

But when Koreans greet someone in business, they open with “You’re working hard” and when closing (such as hanging up the phone or walking away), they say, “Work hard”... or even, if the the person is really struggling with something, “Suffer a lot!”.

Gee whiz... That seems so mean and unsympathetic... But that’s the way it is.

And when translating emails, letters or transcripts of phone conversions between Korean and English, this comes up a lot. The decision of whether to localize for the audience generally depends on the direction of the translation.

Korean Translation Tip - If a document is being translated from Korean to English to help the client know exactly what was in the Korean document, then I generally leave the “working hard” greetings as-is. On the other hand, if an English document is being translated to Korean in order to be sent to a Korean readership, then changing “take it easy” types of greetings to “work hard” is generally advisable.

BTW, awhile back I covered other aspects of greetings in Korean, including this one about the question mark at the end of hello and a tricky situation when it comes to addressing people in written greetings.

How Do You Write "Director" in Korean?


** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Should I Translate My Director Job Title to Korean?"


Having translated hundreds and hundreds of business cards into Korean over the years, my team and I have come across our share of tricky job titles.

A leading candidate for most-difficult-to-translate title is "director". The main reason for this is that, in the West, we use the English job title "director" for various positions that each have their own unique terms in Korean, and some of those jobs don't correspond exactly with specific positions found outside Korea.

The discussion below illustrates why context means everything in translation and in the interpretation of those translations. It's also an interesting study in just how different two languages can be and why a simple translation question does not always have a simple answer.


The most straightforward translation of "director" is 이사. When "director" is mistranslated, this is the term most commonly used. But 이사 has a pretty narrow meaning that signifies a certain position within a traditional corporate hierarchy or a place on the board of directors.

In a company structure where the director is above a manager and general manager but is also lower than a vice-president and president, 이사 is a good translation for "director". However, keep in mind that within this corporate hierarchy and still below the level of vice-president and president, "executive director", "managing director" or even "senior managing director" would be translated to 전무, 전무이사 and 상무이사, respectively. 

이사 also works for a member of the board of directors (이사회). But if emphasizing that someone is a member of the board of directors, a more complete translation is 이사회 위원. With this logic, the "chairman of the board" would be 이사회 위원장 or just 이사회장, but this translation applies to a Western conception of a board of directors. In a Korean corporation, the head of the company, usually the president (사장), serves also as chairman of the board, and this person's title as chairman of the board is properly translated to 대표이사 in Korean and translated back to English as "representative director". Thus, translating "chairman of the board of directors [in a Western company]" to Korean as 대표이사 indicates a role which does not a match the role and responsibilities of that position in a Korean context; in this case, it would be better to stick with 이사회 위원장.

** For more information on Korean company hierarchy, refer to my executive report: "Succeed in Korean Business by Understanding Company Hierarchy".

장 or 총장

When translating "director" to Korean for a job position outside of a traditional corporate hierarchy but which has responsibility for directing an organization, it is usually necessary to pick from a variety of alternatives that end in 장. The meaning of 장 can be inferred from the way Koreans often translate these positions back to English using the word "chief" or "head" of such-and-such organization.

The director of a study institute (학원) would be 원장. The director of a medical clinic or hospital (병원) would also be 원장 (and frequently refers just to the doctor, if a small clinic). The director of a committee (위원회) is 회장, which is also the word used for the chairman of a group of companies (such as the guy who runs the Samsung empire) OR the person charged with leading a small group of people who meet on a regular basis for various purposes OR even sometimes, the kid picked to be class president at school.

The director of an office of some sort (say, a quasi-governmental office in charge of attracting foreign investment) would be 실장, 소장, 센터장, 협회장, 부장 or 국장, depending on the characteristics of the respective organization. These Korean titles roughly correspond to whether we'd call the place an office (실), a center (센터), a committee/commission (위원회), an association (협회), a department (부) or an agency (국). Note that the director of a research institute (연구소) would also be 소장; in addition to its role here, 부장 is also a specific position in the traditional corporate hierarchy directly below director and best translated as "general manager"; and the director of a larger government office at the level of 청 should be translated as 청장.

Another variation arises in this context when "executive director" is used in English rather than just "director" even though both titles would be suitable to describe the holder of the title as being in charge of an organization. In this case, "executive director" is a bit grander of a title and to communicate this same nuance in Korean, 장 could become 총장. For example, the director positions of international organizations such as the World Bank are generally translated as 총장 (as is the chancellor of a university). In fact, 총장 comes in various additional flavors, including 사무총장 (secretary general, but really no different than executive director), 사무국장 (secretary-general or director), 참모총장 (chief of staff) or attorney general (검찰총장).

I should point out that adding 장 to the end of a Korean job title does not mean it always corresponds to an English job title with the word "director" in it. We've got quite a few positions in English that could be akin to director but have their own specific terms: dean of a university (총장), principal of a school (교장), class president (회장 or 반장), president of a company (사장), police chief (경찰서장), mayor (시장), county commissioner (군장) and many others, such as the multiple non-director job positions in the traditional corporate hierarchy (manager (과장), deputy general manager (차장) and general manager (부장)).


The term 감독 is used primarily in the arts for job titles like music director (음악 감독), art director (미술 감독) or movie director (영화 감독). However, it is just as common here to use the Korean transliterations of the English words, as in 뮤직 디렉터, 아트 디렉터 or 무비 디렉터. 

In a business context, a project director could be translated to 프로젝트 감독 or 프로젝트 디렉터.


A choir director would be best translated as 지휘자. This is the same word used for an orchestra conductor, and though we have separate terms in English, the roles are similar and Korean doesn't distinguish.

The term 중역 literally means "heavy role" or a person performing an important role. It's used sometimes when talking about the top executives in a company, and this can occasionally be a suitable term for director, including a member of the board of directors.

One more "director" title that deserves special mention is "program director", as in the person who puts TV shows together. This job title is universally used in Korea as "PD" (i.e. the English letters P and D).

The dictionary lists "심의관" as both "Director-General" and "Deputy Director-General" in the context of a court or patent review office. I guess the "Deputy" part depends on context. 

Finally, if all else fails, just transliterating the word "director" to Korean as 디렉터 is a quick-and-dirty translation that is never outright "wrong", though it wouldn't be as right as picking the right term from the discussion above. 

* If you need help translating job titles for business cards within your organization, I'm here to help. Not only can you download my "Definitive Guide to Korean Business Cards", but my team and I also provide premium end-to-end translation and layout of English business cards to Korean. Check out the information here about these professional services.


** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Should I Translate My Director Job Title to Korean?"


Korean Translation Tip: Keep an Eye Out for Unique Number Units in Korean

It’s extremely easy to become a millionaire in Korea. In fact, nearly everyone earns over a million every month...

I’m talking about Korean won, of course, and with an exchange rate a bit more than W1,000 per US$1, it’s easy to see that $1,000 is more than one million won! (You can thank high inflation in Korea in the 1960s and 1970s for this...)

It gets a little tricky at the 10,000 and 100 million units levels, though, since Korean has a specific unit for 10,000 (만, "man") and another for 100 million (억, "eok"). These even go as high as 1 trillion (조), 10 quadrillion (경) and 100 quintillion (해) but, except for a trillion, the higher numbers are rarely found in texts for translation (or anywhere, for that matter).

So, 25,000 would normally be translated to Korean as 2만 5천 (literally: 2 ten thousands and 5 thousand), 50 million would be 5천만 (5000 ten thousands) and W7.5 billion is 75억 (75 hundred millions).

If you’re familiar with lakhs (100,000) and crores (10 million) from India, you’ll understand how persistent these traditional numbering systems can be in daily usage and Koreans are no sooner abandoning their old ways of counting than Americans are moving to the metric system...

I’ve gotten plenty of laughs from listeners when mistakenly asking in Korean for W10,000 as ten one-thousand wons, rather than one ten-thousand won.

Since these are so easy to get confused, this is one item I frequently spot check before client delivery on the English>Korean work that my team handles and I double-think the conversions when doing them in Korean>English translation projects myself.

Korean Translation Tip - Because of the large denominations of money in Korea, it is frequently necessary to convert Korean money at the 10,000 and 100 million unit levels. Don’t be surprised when the numbering doesn’t quite jive with the English.

Korean Translation Tip: Don’t Spell Korean Proper Nouns Wrong in English

My last tip about emoticons in Korean was pretty interesting, no? ^o^ ㅋㅋㅋ

Another issue that causes confusion sometimes is the correct Romanization of vowels in Korean proper nouns.

There’s because certain Korean letters (especially vowels!) can be rendered with more than one English spelling.

For example, the Korean 우 is pronounced as “u” as in lucid or “oo” in noodle. But “u” can also sound like the dull “u” sound of “full” (sometimes rendered as “으” in Korean, but more often as “우”) and “oo” as in book”. “u” also carries a short sound, as in “funny” (which can also be the “o” in Monday, and rendered as 어 in Korean).

You don’t have to memorize the above stuff!

I’m just trying to make a point that letters in English don’t correspond one-for-one with letters in Korean; the correct spelling from one language to another varies from word-to-word.

But consistency is often important and to keep things under control, Koreans have come up with some rules for transliteration that are usually (but, alas, not always!) followed.

Here are some Romanization examples where the resulting spellings can seem a little odd in English.

  • u as in lucid (우) -> woo
  • oo as in book (으) -> eu
  • u as in funny (어) ->  eo
  • a as in apple (애) -> ae

This is why Daewoo is spelled with a “w” (it should just be “day-oo) or Seoul is spelled with an “eo” (though the “u” should actually be a “woo”). According to the official rules, Hyundai should be spelled “Hyeondae” and Samsung should be “Samseong”.

For more information on the Revised Romanization of Korean, check out Wikipedia (for the long version) or my Korean Translation Services Buyer's Guide (for the short version).

I try to follow the Revised Romanization approach (including the recognized exceptions) when translating documents to English but this doesn’t always square with the way a client wants things spelled in their English translations.

Korean Translation Tip - This can be a big issue when translating official personal documents from Korean to English (such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, etc.). It’s a good idea to ask the client in advance for the English spellings they want used for Korean proper nouns in the source text.

I'm Pretty Sure This Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface Came from Google

I few weeks ago, I came across a Korean translation error on my new Google Android smartphone. At first, I thought it was a mistake in the Android interface itself, but in the end, I decided it probably came from the Chinese camera supplier and just got plugged in to the phone UI without being properly checked.

However, this one in the basic settings section (reached by simply sliding one's finger down from the top of the screen) looks to be part of the main Android interface itself.


The marked text could be translated as "settings entry". According to Naver, the second Korean word (진입) here means "entry, penetration, enter, penetrate". (The first word 설정 correctly means "settings".) Perhaps this is the tab for getting into the settings menu, or something? Well, not exactly...

First, even if it means "entry", the word 진입 is extremely awkward. It doesn't belong in this context at all. But beyond this, it's just a mistranslation, which we can know by comparing with the same screen in English:


Ah, so the Korean here should have the meaning of shortcut links to key phone settings... Apparently the translator misunderstood "shortcut" as meaning "a shortcut to enter" the settings menu. But there's a suitable Korean term for computer shortcut and a correct translation here would be "설정 단축 키", which means roughly "shortcut keys for settings".

Korean Translation Tip - It's unreasonable to just send Excel files with hundreds or thousands of phrases and words to a translator and expect him/her to translate it all correctly without context. Not just that, translations of disjointed words and phrases (even when context is provided) take much longer to translate than normal text and so the budget should be adjusted accordingly. It goes without saying that competent translators must be hired, but even they will not necessarily get everything right the first time, and so a final review within the UI should be performed and to do it right, this process will take time and at least require screenshots and explanations. There are no two ways about it; it's a tedious process.


* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans Smile Differently When Writing

I’ve discussed punctuation a few times before in these tips (including about colons, and periods). I guess you could say I’m finding this area to be fertile ground for writing ideas.

The smiley is another interesting little difference between Korean and English.

In English, we have a variety of smileys, including: :-), ;-(, :-D, :/, etc.

But Koreans don’t like to turn their heads sideways, I guess, and so they take a different approach. These are what you’ll find in a Korean text:  

^-^, ^o^, T-T, O_O, -_-, ^_~, etc.

Hint: ^ is supposed to represent a raised eyebrow

Some Korean smileys even incorporate Korean characters:

ㅠㅠ (crying), 크크크 (LOL), 흐흐흐 (ha, ha), etc.

Occasionally I’ll be asked to translate a Korean email into English and if it has emoticons, I generally localize to the way we'd do it in English.

Korean Translation Tip - Koreans no better understand :-) than English-speakers understand ^-^, so when translating, it would be a good idea to even match smileys to the reading audience.

Instagram Is Not Immune from Korean Translation Errors Either

It can be exciting to have one's writing translated. I'm sure the folks over at Instagram are pretty happy to know that their mobile interface is localized into umpteen languages... Who knows? They might have even gotten it crowdsource-translated for free... Only problem is that... well, there's a mistranslation.

No, I'm sorry... There isn't "a" mistranslation...

There are multiple mistranslations... on one simple screen!

Let's start with the English:

9-6-2013 3-11-14 AM

Notice how each of the four phrases ("Share", "Delete", "Add People" and "Copy Share URL") is in the imperative form, starting with a verb. It's written consistently and correctly.

Here's the Korean:

9-6-2013 3-01-07 AM

There are two main problems with the Korean translation.

The first is that the translation of "Copy Share URL" is just wrong. In Korean, the verb goes at the end; but in this case, they just put the noun for "copy" in front of "share URL", as if Korean would have the same sentence structure as the English. To be meaningful, it should be re-written as "공유 URL 복사".

The second issue is consistency. The translation of "share" is written in a way that makes it clear that "share" is to be understood as a verb by adding "하기" to the end. However, if we assume the correction of the fourth line as explained in the paragraph above, then lines 2, 3 and 4 all simply end in nouns but do not use "하기" to clarify the usage. It's a bit hard to explain, but they are understandable to a Korean user and for brevity, perhaps even preferrable to the approach taken in the first line. But the grammar is not consistent and so one of the two following styles should be chosen and used throughout:

Option #1



사람 추가하기

공유 URL 복사하기

Option #2



사람 추가

공유 URL 복사


Korean Translation Tip #1 - To avoid the first error discussed above, make sure to give your translator enough context to know how the translation will be used. Screenshots of the interface and explanations of what's supposed to happen in each situation are helpful.

Korean Translation Tip #2 - To avoid the inconsistencies issue, make sure to provide your translator with existing translations for reference so that he/she can match the style on additional work. Better yet, have a style guide made up in advance for all translations. Also, use the same translators throughout the same project, if possible, and be ready to pay extra for your translator to take the time to properly review the previous translations and style guide.


* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

It's Time for Another Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface... Or Maybe It's Not Google's Fault

I discovered something really strange after writing the first section below, so, to keep the order of my thought process in sequence, I present this article in two parts.

Part 1

Some time ago, I was flipping through my wife's phone and came across a translation error in the Google Android interface. Recently, I got my own brand new Android phone, and, almost as if to commemorate the occasion, I quicky found another mistake! It's on the following screen that explains how to use the phone's camera.

9-6-2013 2-36-04 AM 

This is the offending phrase: "인물 단체는 베스트페이스 모드를 이용합니다."

The translator relied on a word-by-word approach to get through this sentence. In fact, the translation is so literal that it's easy to know what the original English said. The following is either exactly what the English said or a close approximation: "Use Best Face mode for [taking photos of] groups of people."

First, I'll point out that "Best Face" is translated to Korean as a transliteration of the English into Korean letters, not a translation of the meaning of "Best Face". This is not wrong and can be an acceptable approach. Here, it's a good way to handle the translation and I'm not objecting to this part.

This mistranslation is rather hard to explain in English but the problem is in the translation of the word "people". The phrase "인물 사진" refers to photos of people, literally "human photo". But that doesn't mean you can just switch out a Korean word for group (단체) for the Korean word for photo (사진) to get "인물 단체" (human group).

It doesn't work because 인물 has certain connotations that work in some situations where we'd use the word "people" or "humans" but not in others. We can actually get the idea in English by considering the phrase "Use Best Face mode for [taking photos] of groups of humans". Well, it makes sense, but it's a little awkward, isn't it?

In this case, it's best to rework the sentence in Korean. Here are a couple better alternatives: 단체 사진은  베스트페이스 모드를 사용하십시오 ("Use Best Face mode for group photos. -- in this case, "group" adequately includes the meaning of groups of people without adding the word "people") or 단체 촬영 시에는 베스트페이스 모드를 사용하십시오 ("Use Best Face mode when taking photos of groups").

One more thing... Though not strictly wrong, since it is possible to use the declarative sentence form in such a case in Korean, my colleague DH Kim, who gave me feedback on this, suggests that the use of the imperative form communicates better. That's why the alternative translations in the paragraph above end in 하십시오 rather than 합니다. He also noted that the other Korean text in the photo above is not particularly well-written either. In other words, we could have done better...

Part 2

After writing the above and before publishing the post, I decided to switch the GUI language on my phone to verify what the English says on this screen. Here it is:


Check out the English... "It provides best picture automatically changing scene mode in according with the environment."?... Whoah...  This looks like pretty typical Konglish, which means it would have been written by a Korean who is a non-native English speaker. This kind of writing is a common result of Korean companies trying to save money when translating into English. But if this is the case, then it means the Korean which I objected to in Part 1 would have to be the source... That can't be because a Korean wouldn't have written the expression I pointed out.

So, I don't know exactly what's going on. But I'm guessing that this isn't the core Google Android interface text. My phone is a Vega, which was manufactured by the Korean company Pantech. Perhaps the camera component though came from somewhere else, say a supplier in Taiwan or China, and maybe the supplier provided the documentation in both English and Korean, based on a Chinese source text... And of course, the supplier produced bad translations in both languages... which were then plugged into the phone's GUI to seemlessly become a part of the Google Android interface for this phone model...

Also, it's interesting that the English in dispute in Part 1 above is actually "group portrait", not "group of people". That doesn't change the validity of my criticism of the incorrect Korean expression but the differences do seem to indicate a common source for both the Korean and English, and that the Korean wasn't translated from the English... and that both languages were translated badly.


Korean Translation Tip - To avoid translation disasters like this, work with competent translators and don't leave out the budget for proper proofreading and QA either.


* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software

I've been finding so many Korean translation errors lately that it seems necessary to prepare a spot to collect them all, both those already discovered and more to come in the future.

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans See Punctuation in Acronyms from a Different Perspective

I talked about acronyms awhile ago in connection with plurals and explained that the “s” should be removed from the end of an English acronym when translated to Korean.

The reason for this is that plurals in Korean aren’t quite the same as they are for us in English.

It’s a difference of perspective... and today, I’m going to tell you that punctuation is a bit tricky when working with acronyms, too.

A few years back, there was a popular Korean music group called “High-Five of Teenager” (whatever that’s supposed to mean!). But the group never used their full name (with a name that stupid, who would?); instead, they went by the acronym of the name.

Only problem... They punctuated it this way:


Do you see that there’s no period after the T? That’s because when Koreans use English acronyms, they see the periods, not as indicators of an abbreviation, but as cool-looking spacers between letters.

(In fact, in the very popular Korean text messaging service KaKaoTalk, if you add an extra space between characters, the program automatically adds periods as spacers!)

What does it matter? Well, occasionally you’ll see translations into Korean where the periods are left off the ends of acronyms, such as “U.S.A” or something.

Strictly speaking, it’s probably wrong, but as with other funny little quirks in Korean (remember the colon?), it’s hardly a big deal that absolutely must be corrected when translating into Korean.

Actually, the simplest solution is just to remove the periods altogether: USA (though, with H.O.T, the punctuation was as much a part of the “official name” as the letters).

Korean Translation Tip - Translations of acronyms into Korean will sometimes come back with lagging period that are missing. Likewise, if your translator isn’t on his or her game that day, a Korean translation into English may have acronyms that follow the Korean convention. Either remove the periods altogether or match the style to the respective language.

OK, C.U later...

Korean Translation Tip: Use Some Cultural Sensitivity When Translating the Names of Places for a Korean Audience

In my last tip, I told you that sometimes you have to change the font color when translating Korean in order to avoid offending a Korean readership.

This time, I’m here to tell you that you might also need to modify the names of places during the Korean localization process.

Take the Sea of Japan, for example. Koreans would never call it that. They call it the East Sea (동해), and are passionate enough about it to have taken the issue to the United Nations to try to get maps changed.

Koreans are a little less strident about the Yellow Sea, but if written for a Korean audience, why not just write it as West Sea (서해) and avoid any trouble?

Another adjustment to make is that Koreans in South Korea would rather their country be referred to as Korea (한국) or the Republic of Korea (대한민국), not South Korea. On the other hand, they do prefer North Korea (북한) or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for the nation just across the border to the north of "Korea".

But the granddaddy of all Korean naming disputes is the group of islets out in the East Sea (Sea of Japan), sometimes known as the Liancourt Rocks. I’m not going to wade into the argument here but you should know that no political issue unites Koreans more than this one does. You’d better translate the name of these islands for a Korean readership as Dokdo (독도). Whatever you do, DO NOT let the Japanese name get through (which, is “Takeshima”). This is serious business in Korea and not one to be messed with... (Here’s a photo I took of a motorcycle in my neighborhood showing the sentence “Dokdo is the Son of Korea".)

BTW, here’s one that’ll give my American readers some warm fuzzies. The Korean term for the USA means “beautiful country” (미국). Ah, how sweet...

Korean Translation Tip - These are the correct English and Korean terms to use when translating the following locations for a Korean audience:

  • Sea of Japan -> East Sea/동해
  • Yellow Sea -> West Sea /서해
  • Liancourt Rocks -> Dokdo Island/독도
  • South Korea -> Korea or Republic of Korea/한국 or 대한민국
  • North Korea -> North Korea or Democratic People's Republic of Korea/북한

Reflections on the Benefits of Learning Korean to One's Career in Korea

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

Learning Korean is tough; there are no two ways about it. When I first came to Korea, I planned to conquer Korean in two years and then do the same with Chinese and Japanese after that. I figured that would make me something special. However, it didn't take me long to realize that Korean was the only language of the three in which I'd manage to achieve proficiency, and that improving those skills would be a lifelong project. 

I've met other Westerners who have started along this journey but gotten discouraged. Here's a typical question and my answer to it.

Q: Will Korean skills boost my career opportunities in Korea?

A: I would like to say that the answer is a definite "yes"; however, as with many aspects of life in Korea, the answer is nuanced.

It can be a discouraging reality to accept, but your Korean abilities are not going to fast-track you in your career in Korea. In fact, though Korean skills may work in your favor if competing against someone for a job who doesn't know Korean, it is unlikely your Korean will be a crucial factor in the hiring process, no matter what job you apply for.

In general, if you're from an English-speaking country, you'll likely find your best job opportunities in positions that take advantage of your English abilities, and once that happens, your Korean is no longer an asset; in some cases, it's a disadvantage if your prospective employer is concerned you’ll be more focused on learning Korean than on helping your coworkers and/or students improve their English. Your employer is more likely to appreciate your Korean abilities if they didn't hire you for your English, but your Korean still won't be a key factor in the hiring process.

Way back when I taught English, I remember trying to inject Korean into my classes. Students (understandably) hated that. Later, when working in the LG Group as an editor/writer (and later, off-and-on translator), I was given strict instructions NOT to speak Korean in the office. I recall trying to refer an American friend to a position that had opened up in the company and when I mentioned to the director that my friend was fluent in Korean, he flat out told me nobody cared about that. Even now in my Ph.D. studies at Hanyang University, the semi-frequent job offers I get from the university to teach always involve helping the university fulfill the government-mandated requirement for classes taught in English and I often sense disappointment that I'm so focused on doing my coursework in Korean.

Having said that, I can think of some situations where your Korean skills could be helpful. The first would be where you have been hired for your English skills but where your Korean abilities let you understand and participate in office communications. This may make your more effective and fulfilled in your job. But as a foreigner, you won’t be on a career path to which you can apply this effectiveness and so the main benefit is likely to be found in helping you avoid some of the feelings of isolation that you'd encounter otherwise. But plenty of non-Koreans without Korean skills have managed their way through those situations, so it's not absolutely necessary.

You may also find that your Korean skills let you discover roles that wouldn't otherwise have existed. Your ability to leverage these roles would then be the determining factor in where you go from there. For example, being good at Korean can generate a lot of curiosity and if managed strategically may lead to hidden opportunities. I’ve encountered a few of those, such as being appointed Foreign-Investment Advisor to Gyeonggi Province when the Governor was impressed with my Korean. But networking opportunities are not the same as a career path. Besides, English skills are also a point of curiosity with Koreans and this can open doors, too. Thus, being stubborn in using Korean can close some of those English-oriented doors of opportunity, as well.

One more observation.... Even though speaking Korean is not going to make your career, the longer you spend in Korea without learning the language to a certain degree of proficiency, the more of a drag it may be on you, both personally and professionally. One reason is that Koreans may question your commitment to the country and your diligence if you never move beyond English interactions, and this can affect professional perceptions, too. Thus, speaking Korean may not help much, but not speaking Korean may also not be so great. Eventually, those who don’t learn Korean (and many who do!) end up “moving on” and not sticking around.

Speaking Korean often feels like a “brownie point” earner more than a killer resume skill. It’s a career asset if used strategically, but even that's not easy. And social pressure in Korea can provide a compelling excuse NOT to learn Korean.

I would say that if career opportunities are your primary motivation to learn Korean, then it’s not worth the trouble. The Korean learning process must have deeper value for you in personal ways -- such as the satisfaction you get from communicating in a difficult language and cultural context -- and that requires a special love for Korea.

When Koreans learn English, they can travel the world and meet people from many countries; when we learn Korean, we can... well, we can travel around Korea and meet Koreans. Ultimately, learning Korean is a niche endeavor that narrows (but deepens) your options. 

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central.

Korean Translation Tip: Sometimes You Have to Change the Colors in Your Korean Translation

Sometimes we’re asked to handle a translation into Korean of text that’s not in black font.
And every once in awhile, that color is red.
And once in a blue moon, the text includes the names of individuals written in red font...
Well, you’d better not leave those names in rein your Korean translation. I don’t care if you leave the name in English, you still can’t let it through to a Korean readership in red.
That’s because the color red is used to write the names of the dead, and it’s extremely unlucky to write the names of living people in red.
To be safe, I also apply this rule to email addresses and the names of companies (though strictly speaking, these should be OK).
Korean Translation Tip - No matter what, don’t let names written in red make it through to a Korean translation you deliver to your client.
BONUS!!! - This applies to Japanese and Chinese, too, and (as far as I know) to the languages of southeast Asia which have a long history of Chinese cultural influence.

Eight (More) Tips for Handling Your Korean Translation Projects

It’s hard to believe I’ve already written sixteen tips to help clients and other readers improve their Korean translations.
Anyway, here are the last eight tips in one place:
And, following up on the mistranslations I’ve already shown you both in the Korean versions of Microsoft Windows 7 and Google Android, here’s one more from Microsoft... and this one's a doozie! (Wait... STOP THE PRESSES: I discovered yet ANOTHER Korean translation error from Microsoft... this time in Windows 8!
Finally, if you missed any of the first eight tips, you can get them here.

Korean Translation Tip: Cardinal Rules of Korean-Language Layout

If you want to do Korean-language layout in-house, then there are two cardinal rules to follow (and I’m going to underline and bold them because they’re so important):
  • When laying out the body text, either left- AND right-justify the text OR make sure you end each line of text between words, not in the middle of words.
  • In titles or short phrases and bullet points, don’t left- or right-justify; just make sure you end each line of text between words, not in the middle of words.
(Mostly) like Japanese and Chinese, each Korean character is a syllable. But unlike Japanese and Chinese, Korean is made up of words which are separated by spaces.
If you are left/right-justifying the text, then it’s OK to end a line between characters of a word and you don't have to put a dash at the end of the line to show that a word's been separated. But if you’re going to leave the right side ragged, then you’ve got to separate at the spaces between words. It looks uber-tacky otherwise!
5-15-2013 4-40-31 AM

This is really pretty simple, but you’d be surprised how often these rules are ignored. There are other tricks to doing a top-notch job on Korean-language layout too, but these are the most important.
Korean Translation Tip - Make sure your layout person already knows this stuff or at least reads and refers to this information!
And by the way, my personal preference is to right/left justify the text in Korean and not worry about line breaks; it just looks better to me than a ragged right edge... and it's easier! Either approach is fine, though.
Oh, and one more thing... Sometimes when I send these instructions to a client, they reply that it's too hard for them to figure out where to split the words since they don't read Korean and want us to go through and mark each one individually in a PDF or scan. Unfortunately, even if you don't consider the waste of billable time since the software can be set to do it right automatically, it's also impossible for us to do this. That's because if a line break is adjusted on one line, then it affects all the following lines in that paragraph too, making it unrealistic from a static document to predict where every break should be. However, even if a layout person doesn't read Korean, they can still see where the spaces are between words and if right-justifying the text is not the approach being taken, then going through line-by-line to verify the spacing is something that must be done during the layout work itself.

Korean Translation Tip: Here's Why You Can't Blindly Search-and-Replace in a Korean Text

I don’t think too many people use the search-and-replace function in Word more often than translators do.
When I'm working on a translation project, I'll get started using a certain term and later, with more context, decide a different word would be better... It happens all the time!
Sometimes client reviewers come to us with term revisions that need to be applied to a Korean document.
Unfortunately, if you don’t know Korean, you’re playing with fire if you do a global search-and-replace of terms in a document on your own.
That’s because the spellings of various Korean grammatical markers vary depending on whether the word they’re attached to ends in a vowel or a consonant.
Ooooh.... Korean sounds so hard, right? Not really... It's the same in English!
Here’s an example.
"I want to eat an apple."
Let’s suppose we need to change “apple” to “carrot”. Here’s what we get, right?
"I want to eat an carrot."
Oops... the “an” needs to be changed to an “a” since "carrot" starts with a consonant...
Here’s “I want to eat an apple” in Korean:
내가 사과를 먹고 싶다.
In Korean, 사과 is apple and 당근 is carrot.
Alright, let’s make the switch...
내가 당근를 먹고 싶다.
Nope... Apple in Korean ends in a vowel but carrot ends in a consonant, so the grammatical marker indicating that the word is the direct object of the sentence has to be changed from 를 to 을. Here’s how it should be written after the switch:
내가 당근 먹고 싶다.
And it’s not just the object marker; the subject marker changes too, as do other cases that are too nuanced to explain here.
You can’t even be 100% confident when changing a number in the middle of a Korean sentence, since you don’t know if that number pronounced in Korean ends in a consonant or a vowel, which could affect things.
And get this... Even some English words that end in a consonant in English actually add a vowel sound on the end when spoken in Korean (such as “bus” and “golf”) and this affects the spelling if the English word is included in the sentence flow. (This is not unusual, by the way.)
Anyway, have I given you enough reasons not to go tampering with a Korean text on your own using the search-and-replace function?
Korean Translation Tip - If you’ve got to make a change to a term in a Korean translation, you’d better ask your translator (or at least a Korean speaker) to do it for you... and tell them to be careful!

I Upgraded to Windows 8 Last Night... and I Already Found a Translation Error in the Interface

It didn't take me long to find a translation error in the Korean version of Windows 8...

In this case, I was clicking around in the interface and pulled up the Camera app on screen. Because there's no camera connected to the computer, the message is supposed to be instructing me to connect a camera in order to use the app. In English, the words "Connect a camera" (which is what the English version of Windows 8 would say here) can be 1) a command to connect a camera or 2) the infinitive phrase "to connect a camera" (but without the "to").

Since the translator likely did not have context on how the phrase would be used, the Korean here has a meaning more along the lines of a declarative sentence describing the action of connecting a camera ("카메라를 연결합니다"). This would have been done because the translator understood "Connect a camera" as the infinitive phrase, which, as it turns out, can be turned into a complete sentence in Korean to describe an action in the present tense even though the subject is not explicitly stated.

In fact, when I first saw this, I thought the computer was telling me to wait while it connected to my webcam (though the Korean here isn't exactly right for that situation either). Based on the context (which is doubly clear because all the options are grayed out pending a camera connection), the Korean here should be a command telling the user to connect a camera ("카메라를 연결하십시오").

At some point, you'd think the folks at Microsoft would give me a call to help them get their Windows interface fixed.. 



* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

New CAT Software; New Certification - memoQ translator pro

I just purchased memoQ translator pro which I am hoping will be a replacement for SDL Trados 2007, which I've been using for way too long. This is my certificate for the beginner course... As far as I know, the beginner course is the only one they currently offer as I can't find an advanced one to take... 

4-7-2013 8-08-09 PM

Korean Translation Tip: Korean, English, Tildes and Dashes

Translation is a fascinating topic, isn’t it? I particularly find it interesting to consider those points at which languages don’t exactly connect perfectly and the adjustments we have to make for them.

This lesson is going to be quick.

In English, we use a dash to connect numbers that cover an interval:

Ex: 5-7 or 1970-2012

But Korean uses a tilde:

Ex: 5~7 or 1970~2012

Best Practices Tip: Be ready for this conversion. Translators handling English to Korean should add tildes to numbered intervals; those translating Korean into English should change the tildes to dashes.