Reflections on the Benefits of Learning Korean to One's Career in Korea
Reflections on Face and What It Really Means for Life and Business in Korea

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