Korean Translation Tip: To My Esteemed Translation Client Reader

In the practice of translating Korean to English, it is often necessary to leave some meaning out. That’s right; I can’t translate everything,. In this case, I’m referring to Korean respect in translation.

When translating business correspondence, I have to leave out all the parts that go overboard (from an English perspective) in expressing respect.

Consider this Korean sentence:

“2011년 한 해 동안 귀하가 폐사에 보내 주신 사랑에 감사드립니다.”

I translated it this way on a Korean translation project I worked on:

“Thank you for the interest you showed our company during 2011.”

But this is what it really says:

“Thank you, with respect, for the love which you, the esteemed, have shared in a respected way with our humble company during the 2011 year.”

Kind of weird, huh?

Best-Practice Tip  Korean really does have this much respect and humility embedded in the language, and it comes out most obviously in formal communications. However, it gets tedious to read all that in English. I generally tone it down when expressing Korean respect in translation.

Oh, and by the way…

Thank you, with respect, for the love which you, the esteemed, have shared with humble ol’ me over the many years that humble ol’ I and my humble team have handled translation work for esteemed you…

3 Responses

  1. John says:

    Hey Steven,
    Just curious, why do Koreans write that way. I also translate from Korean to English and I’ve just overwhelmed with the adjectives and the extra “fluff” they put it there. I didn’t grow up learning Korean composition, but is that seen as “proper” in the Korean perspective? If so, why?
    Baffled American

  2. John says:

    I’ve just *been* overwhelmed

  3. I guess I’d just say that the levels of respect are built into the Korean language and that getting them right in speech is something that comes naturally to Korean speakers; they don’t seem to agonize over it like we do coming from a non-Korean background. I’ve thought of it being like knowing how close to sit next to someone on a park bench; you’ll sit closer or further away depending on your relationship to them, and it’s never that hard to figure it out or to think through the process. But trying to explain it later might seem a bit more complicated.