Monthly Archive: January 2013

Reflections on Studying for a Ph.D. at a Korean University

I was discussing with an associate about my studies at Hanyang University and he had some questions about the program. He first asked about my studies, including about how busy I am over vacation and whether the first year is taken up entirely by coursework.

"The studies are going fine; I'm working on a couple papers over the vacation, but I'm not exactly spending all my time on that. Yes, the first two years are coursework, followed by a "graduation exam" and then at least one paper in a journal in order to quality for writing the dissertation. The department has figured out that if students do those in sequence, they get stuck at the "paper in a journal" requirement and don't make it through to the dissertation, so the current approach is to push us to write something even while taking classes. My program is heavily weighted to students with full-time jobs, so the attrition rate has been high, with very few actual graduates."

From this, he wanted to know about the "paper in a journal" and what quality criteria is has to meet. He also asked about how the dissertation is assessed.

"I don't know exactly what the quality criteria are for the journal article, but there is a list of recognized English and Korean journals which are accepted by the university. I'm thinking it's a nationally managed list, but I'm not sure. As for the dissertation, it is assessed by a committee of five professors, which includes my advisor; I think he chooses the other four (At least, when I did the masters thesis and there were three on the committee, I found out after I'd already chosen the committee that my advisor was supposed to have had that right; he wasn't too happy about me having made the selections.). I'm almost certain there aren't external examiners though. There is a defense but I'm not sure how that goes either. At the masters level, the defense was definitely a kids-glove treatment, but we're led to believe that the Ph.D. may be different."

Korean Translation Tip: Korean Has a Plural Form; It Just Doesn’t Get Used Much

I’ll occasionally get a message like this from a Korean translation client who wants me to change a singular Korean noun to a plural form:

“Steven, the client just made the following change in the English. Can you update it in the Korean?

Old version: “We’ll be sending a document for you to sign.”

New version: “We’ll be sending some documents for you to sign.”

In most cases, no change is required in Korean. While the Korean plural form can be clearly expressed in Korean grammar, plurals are not as smoothly integrated in the language as in English. In English, plurals are embedded into the sentence structure and glide off the tongue smoothly.

In Korean, the singular/plural distinction is often omitted unless it’s important. Thus, by adding the tag (the character “들”) to make a noun plural, you’re calling attention to the fact that being plural is important. Adding the plural changes the meaning subtly. For this reason, it’s often best to just leave it out unless there’s a reason to do otherwise.

This explains why the above revision to the English source is likely not to result in a change to the Korean.

Best-Practice Tip Don’t fret over the Korean plural form in your translation. If you change the source from singular to plural, go ahead and send it over to your English-to-Korean translator to make sure, but don’t be surprised if no change is required.

Get a Job in Korea: “Now tell me: how can Korea Business Central help me find a job in Korea?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to find a job in Korea. Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


"Now tell me: how can Korea Business Central help me find a job in Korea?"

"If you’re looking for a job in Korea, then membership on Korea Business Central is really a must. It’s free, too!

We’ve dedicated an entire section of the website to resources that help you in your job search, including interviews, videos, discussions and others. We’ve also developed our own member job search database, which is free to members, and job recruiters on KBC offer their advice to members in the job market. You can even download a free template for a resume that is matched to the Korean approach for getting a job, and learn about how the visa system work and how you can take advantage of it.

You’ll also find extra resources just for internships!

I’ll also point out that networking can be a key factor in facilitating your job search (it was for me!) and on Korea Business Central, we have hosted business networking events and we link to upcoming offline events to help you get connected quickly while you’re here.

I’ll also point out that since there are more applicants for many jobs in Korea than there are positions available, it is imperative that you find a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd. One way to do that is to become a Certified Korea Business Professional through the KBC Professional Certification Program. This small investment will pay off not only in terms of your job search, but will also make you more effective in your new position."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on getting a job in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

What’s Wrong with a Little Sloppiness If the Core Translation is OK?

I had a prospective translator take my Korean translation test this week (which can be found at

It wasn't actually a bad job, but there were a few mistakes that were exceptionally careless. The problem with issues like this in our business is that since our clients generally aren't in a position to directly verify the accuracy of a Korean translation into English, they tend to evaluate based on whatever they do understand, such as typos and silly mistakes in English.

Then, once a negative impression has been formed, it can be next to impossible to dislodge it by referring to aspects of the translation which are good. And a client who loses confidence in a job is likely to do things that will make the translator's life difficult, such as sending the job to an outside reviewer for another opinion and then refusing to pay the full bill.

I learned my lesson many years ago when I turned in a badly formatted job. Even though the translation itself was well-done, the client charged me for a reviewer to look at it, fix the formatting and then over-criticize the translation.

Here's what I told the person who took the translation test this week:

Here is the reviewed file. See my comments.

Overall, you clearly have the Korean skills to translate well; you didn't get tripped up by any of the grammar. However, there are too many sloppy errors in the translation; Translating "Virginia" to "Bosnia" is pretty embarrassing… It's the kind of thing that will cause a client to lose trust in an entire job, and that's when the nightmares start, because then, since the client can't read Korean, they'll send the whole thing off to another proofreader, who is likely to want nothing more than to over-criticize your job so the client will go to him/her on the next job instead of you.

That misspelling of "beverage" right at the beginning will confirm the carelessness and leave you without any credibility to explain things that are right but which the proofreader says are wrong… It's happened to me this way before, which is why I am emphasizing this so heavily. 

Thanks again for taking the test; best of luck in your studies.



Build a Business in Korea: “What resources are available on Korea Business Central to help me build a business in Korea and do business with Korean companies?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company. 


"What resources are available on Korea Business Central to help me build a business in Korea and do business with Korean companies?"

"I’ve already mentioned the expert interviews we’ve done on Korea Business Central that discuss these key aspects; each of them is a goldmine of valuable and practical information for doing business in Korea. We have a group of experts on KBC ready to answer questions in the community, sometimes at no charge. In addition, many community discussions reference challenges and opportunities of doing business in Korea, and following and participating in these is a great way to raise one’s understanding.

In fact, there’s so much information in the community about doing business in Korea, that we’ve even made things easy by organizing it for you. There’s a page that focuses on Starting and Running a Business in Korea. Another focuses on Korean Business Savvy, and another on Korean Business Networking. Each of these pages brings together the best resources in the community, along with a lot of links to elsewhere on the web, so they should be a frequent point of reference for you in your business endeavors in Korea.

Finally, we offer high-quality professional services, including translation, business interpreting, online marketing and other one-on-one consulting services, as well as formal Korean business culture training in the form of our KBC Professional Certification Program."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview. 

Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Korean Translation Tip: Korean is Taller and Skinner Than English

In a previous post, I mentioned how Korean doesn’t take up as much horizontal space as English. Unfortunately, this great feature of Korean is a two-edged sword. Korean text dimensions don’t match those of English and converting Korean tables to English can be a big hassle.

Here’s a Korean table I was asked to translate on a recent Korean translation project:

8-8-2012 5-55-58 AM

8-8-2012 6-00-10 AM

It’s got 11 columns!! Without extra effort, here’s what the table will look like in English:


That’s why I had to reduce the English font size and do some fine-tuning of box widths to get it to fit. I also used two lines, even though the Korean only needed one.

This is what I delivered.

Best Practices Tip – A competent Korean translator must also be good at formatting in Word because Korean text dimensions are different than English. Translating tables of all types from Korean to English can require extra adjustments, which takes extra time and effort.

Discussion about the Korean Media’s Inclination to Over-Represent the International Presence in Korea

I had an interesting email exchange this week with an acquaintance in academia about the role of foreigners in leadership positions in Korea. I made the following comment:

Are there really any long-term successful cases [of foreigners in leadership positions in Korea] that are more than objects of curiosity? We've already spoken of Charm Lee; it seems the incoming Korean president has her own pet foreigner, Dr. John Linton, who's going to head up some integration department or something, I believe. But Dr. Linton (if I recall correctly) grew up in Korea as the son of American missionaries, so how typical can he be considered? I heard it through the grapevine that Charm Lee ended up feeling somewhat isolated in his position there at Tourism Korea…. I suppose there might be other cases that don't hit the news, but I doubt if many/any since the Korean media is digging so hard to find whatever foreign faces they can put on TV and the newspaper….

My acquaintance commented on my choice of words, such as "objects of curiosity" and "pet foreigner", and he asked me if could back up my statement about how the Korean media is digging to find foreign faces they can put on TV and the print media.. To which I responded as follows:

I don't have any data per se about the media's inclination to over-represent the international presence in Korea, but based on living here, it's pretty obvious. 

How else do you think I got on TV, in magazines, the newspaper over the last couple years? It's certainly not because I had anything particularly interesting to share other than my experience and perspective as a foreigner.

There's a morning show that translates to "Human Theater"; it's a weekly series of cute five-day documentaries about the lives of ordinary people in Korea with special stories to share… At least half the time, there's an international element to it. We have this show on after breakfast at our house most weekdays…

The same few people pop up in the media all the time… 

I used to read the Chungang Ilbo newspaper (owned by Samsung) and their Saturday edition tends to include these stories a lot… 

I was at a conference on North Korea a couple years ago and attended with another Westerner. There were a couple hundred Koreans in the room, too. Guess who's photos showed up on the front page of the newspaper the next day, with the caption "Foreign Researchers"?…. (To be fair, I recall there were two other Westerners in the room who didn't get into the paper though…)

They have an annual event here that's a Korean copy of TED called TECH+; they were practically begging foreigners to sit in the audience by giving tickets away a couple years ago… 

This fact has actually been a bit of a disappointment for me on KBC; One of my goals was to increase my network in Korea; problem is that within six months I was connected to everybody and the same people show up at all the expat events… There's very little additional networking available at this point since the community is so small…
It can't be much different here than anywhere else in Asia…

Q&A About Becoming a Korean Translator

I was recently contacted by someone wanting to break into the Korean translation business. Here are the highlights of our email discussion, which include some insights about the freelance translation market at the moment and information about what to expect. (For information on the translation test:

Dear Steven, I'm interested in applying for a position as a Korean-English translator and have been looking over the materials on your site.  I don't know if you're hiring at the moment, but in any case, I've finished the translation test, so I'll forward that to you for you to look over.  My resume is also attached.  As you can see, I have no paid translation experience, but I've graduated Yonsei's Korean Language Institute and, between that and almost seven years of living in Korea, my Korean language skills are quite good.  I'm the author of a book on Korean grammar, sort of a reference guide for foreigners studying Korean, that will be published by Tuttle.  If indeed you are looking for translators, I hope you'll consider me; if not, I hope you'll keep me in mind for the next time you need people. Sincerely. L

L – I've inserted my comments in the attached file. Other than that first paragraph in the letter (which, incidentally, is the one that trips most people up), it's quite a good job. With a little more effort and understanding of the precision necessary for a letter like this, I bet you could have gotten that first paragraph up to standard. I added a few other nit-pick corrections, but you shouldn't take those as being too critical for a first attempt either. Anyway, business has been a bit funny lately; I can't really tell you that I'll have work available. I will keep your information on-hand and will let you know if something comes up. I hope you have a nice Christmas on Tuesday! Thanks! Steven

Thanks for taking the time to review my translation.  Yes, that first paragraph was brutal.  Is that normal for a business letter or did you choose that one specifically for its difficulty?  I'm also curious about what sort of translation work is most in demand – business letters, legal stuff, etc. While my general Korean is pretty good, I'm unfamiliar with specialized vocabulary, so I'd like to know where I could most usefully direct my studies. Thanks again for your help, please do let me know if you need me to do any work for you, and enjoy the holidays! – L

L – Thanks for the reply. I remember translating this
document about ten years ago and thinking it was a perfect document for a
translation test. It's short enough that it's not a time-waster for people
doing it, but it contains, in condensed form, a wide range of challenges you
could face in actual translation. I would not say that first paragraph was
unusually difficult; as a translator, you have to be ready for just about
anything. Even the legibility issues aren't all that unusual. In particular,
for Korean translation, we don't have a big enough market to easily specialize
in a particular narrow field, compared with French or Spanish, say, so being
able to translate a wide range of knowledge is particularly useful. That said,
I do avoid literary and other "artsy" types of translations, because
those are out of my area of expertise. However, that's not a big deal because
those aren't the markets with the $$; it's the companies with budgets for this
stuff that keep bread on the table, and they focus on areas like legal,
technical, business, etc. Improvements will come from practice and more practice.
There's definitely a long learning curve and even though I've been doing this
for almost 15 years, I can see marked improvements in my skills and speed even
in the last 4-5 years. Have a great last week of 2012; I hope 2013 is even
better for you! Steven

Good to know.  Thanks
again for your feedback, and enjoy the holidays! – L

Thrive in a Korean Company: “How can Korea Business Central can help me, as a non-Korean, thrive in a Korean company?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to thrive in a Korean company. 


"How can Korea Business Central can help me, as a non-Korean, thrive in a Korean company?"

"We have loads of resources on Korea Business Central to help you succeed working for a Korean company. I’ve already mentioned the case-study interviews we’ve done with non-Korean professionals and executives who have worked in Korean companies. I’ve also mentioned the opportunity to connect with peer in other Korean work environments.

We’ve got member discussions about a wide range of Korean business-related topics, including employment in a Korean company. You can seek out advice about your specific questions from experts, and if you’re in Korea, Korea Business Central has hosted business networking events and we have information about upcoming opportunities with many other organizations too, too, including some that are online and available from afar.

Furthermore, as an understanding of Korean business culture is a key factor in your success in a Korean business position, KBC has both free and premium resources to equip you for that success. In fact, our KBC Professional Certification Program allows you to learn and become independently certified in the fundamentals of Korean business culture, which is a great way to prepare for your new position."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on working in a Korean company, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.