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

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

And now, let’s suppose you want to send the parents a letter for some reason and you expect to address them as “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kim”.

You’ve got a problem…

First, Korean women don’t take their husband’s last name.

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

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

There are actually quite a few additional considerations which could come into play when translating formal English business correspondence into Korean.

Can you see that translating greetings to Korean parents is tricky? It might be necessary for your Korean translator come up with a workaround if you don’t have the information necessary to do it completely Korean style.

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

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

But that won’t work in every case…

On a recent job, each of the parents was a holder of doctorate degree. But the way to address “doctors” differs depending on whether the person is a professor, a medical doctor or just a Ph.D.-holder without being a professor (all information we didn’t have available).

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

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

This is not the way it would be done in Korean, but the Korean recipients would have understood why this approach was taken. And they would have perfectly understood the meaning of the English word “doctor” transliterated to Korean and appreciate the effort to recognize their positions properly.

My preferred recommendation for this predicament is as follows.

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

“영희 부모님께,”

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

Best-Practice Tip  If unsure how to translate the greeting to Korean parents Korean and you just want a one-size-fits-all solution to this particular problem, address them as parents.

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