Category: learn korean

Exploring Korean business, language and life from Ansan, Korea

Korean Translation Tip: The Two Styles of Technical Korean Writing

There are two styles of technical Korean writing and these are primarily expressed in sentence endings.

In terms of the language as a whole, this is a simplification, since there are any number of local dialects that complicate things, written endings that can also be used in spoken language to add formality, written endings to show informality, endings that can be switched out in spoken language to show affection or relative status, and even a whole other antiquated style (i.e. "Shakespearean" Korean) used today only to address God.

But from a practical standpoint, in the technical translations that we deliver in Korean, unless quoting spoken speech, we only use two styles. Furthermore, since standard Korean sentences always end in a verb, this means nearly every complete sentence in formal written Korean uses one of the two sets of endings.

The following is a simple table showing these endings. For the sake of simplicity, I've removed all the nuances you'll find in a Korean grammar book and just stripped it to the basics.

Sentence Endings in Formal Styles of Written Korean













Go ahead and take a look at a recent Korean translation your Korean translation team delivered to you. Do you see that every sentence ends in these characters?

(If you're seeing sentences ending in 요 or that don't have any of these endings, it means it's probably a spoken style.)

So when are these mainly used?

The personal form is most common in translations addressed to readers, such as marketing materials and official letters. The impersonal form is mainly used in writing without specific readers in mind, such as news articles, academic papers, software interfaces and legal contracts. In addition, the impersonal form is commonly applied to titles and bullet points within documents otherwise written in personal style.

There is room for flexibility here and so you may find variation from translator to translator. The key point though is consistency. In most cases, a translator should use the same style throughout a document.

Korean Translation Tip – A good translator will use styles correctly and consistently. This doesn't mean a client reviewer won't occasionally ask to change. As long as your translator has been consistent with one or the other style above and can provide a proper rationale for that decision in line with my guidelines, the use of styles in the translation is probably correct.

BTW, this fancy and complicated system of styles is nearly completely lost in translations from Korean to English. We have ways in English to express levels of formality and closeness (e.g. "Hey John!", "Dear Mr. Smith", "Yo!", "To whom it may concern:", etc.) but the rules aren't as systematized as in Korean and the differences must often be left out when translating to English. Otherwise, you'll get awkward translations as described in my previous My Esteemed Translation Client Reader tip.

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.

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.

2013 New Year’s Greetings



희망찬 새해를 맞이하여 만사형통을 진심으로 기원드립니다.



희망 가득한 새해를 맞이하여 언제나 건강과 행복을 기원합니다.

올해 베풀어 주신 은혜에 깊이 감사드리며

2013년에도 [our company] 에 변함없는 성원을 부탁드립니다.

새해 복 많이 받으십시오.



지난 한 해 [our company]에 보여 주신 사랑에 고개숙여 감사드립니다.

올해도 기대에 보답하는 [our company]가 되겠습니다.

밝아오는 2013년 새해에는 모든 일들이 성취되기를 기원하며

언제나 건강하시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요.





올 한해

저희에게 베풀어주신 배려에 깊이 감사합니다.


새해에도 늘 건강하시고

하시고자하는 일 모두 성취하시어

복 많이 받으시고 날마다 웃음이 가득하시기를 기원합니다.


아울러, 가정에 만복이 깃들기를 바랍니다.



즐거운 연말 연시 보내세요.



이번 2013년에도 [recipient's name]의 하시는 모든 일이 잘 이루어지고 가족 모두에게 건강과 행복이 늘 함께 하기를 기원합니다!



즐거운 성탄절 보내세요


For lots more options from previous years: #1, #2 & #3


Sample Korean Email Greetings for Chuseok

웃음이 가득한

즐거운 추석 명절 맞이하세요!


추석을 맞이하여 행복한 시간되시기를 기원드립니다.


한결같은 성원에 감사드리며 사랑 가득한 한가위 되시길 기원합니다.


풍요로운 한가위 보내시고, 가정에 웃음이 가득하시기 기원합니다.

저에게 주신 성원에 감사드리며 즐거운 추석을 기원합니다.

늘 감사합니다. 가족 친지들과 행복 나누는 추석 보내시길 기원합니다.

감사하고 행복한 추석, 사랑 가득한 추석, 건강한 추석, 가족과 웃음 가득한 추석 보내시길 바랍니다. 

추석연휴, 보름달만큼 행복이 가득 넘치고, 가족과 편안하고 뜻깊은 시간 보내시길 바랍니다.

풍성한 추석 되세요.

이번 한가위는 가족들과 함께 편안한 시간 보내시길 바랍니다.

Korean Business Culture Insights: “What Do You Call a Doctor in Korea?”

The following snippet from one of my lectures in the KBC Professional Certification Program is now part of the ebook Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea! 

Purchase and download on Amazon.


7-26-2012 1-46-02 AM


From the lecture in Chapter 6 of Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea!

"What do you call a Korean named Kim who is a Ph.D.-holder and a university professor? Professor Kim or Dr. Kim?

"What do you call the president of a large company named Lee who is also a Ph.D. holder? Is she President Lee or Dr. Lee?

"What should you call the owner of a one-person company named Jung who has a Ph.D.? President Jung or Dr. Jung?

"What do you call your physician named Yoo? Dr. Yoo?

"Bonus Question #1 – What do you call a professor named Choi who holds a Ph.D., but whom you are currently talking with at a meeting of an association on which the professor is serving as head of the board of directors?

"Bonus Question #2 – What do you call a professor named Ryu whose son named Jaeweon is on your son’s basketball team, who’s about your age and who you’re meeting for dinner at a get-together of all the parents of the basketball team members?

Get the answers to these questions in Korean Business Etiquette Guide: Take an Essential Step Toward Your Business Goals in Korea! 

A Whole Slew of Korean Holiday Greetings for Christmas and New Year, and for the Lunar New Year Holiday

즐거운 연말연시를 맞이하세요.

Have an enjoyable end of the year and beginning of next year.


성탄연휴는 보람되게 보내셨겠지요.

Did you have a meaningful Christmas holiday?


새해 복 많이 받으시고 하시는 일마다 두루 잘 되시기를 바랍니다.

Have a New Year with a lot of good fortune and may everything you do work out well.


새해에도 많은 뜻하신 성과 있으시고 건강하시기를 기원합니다.

I hope that you achieve many of the things that you set your mind on and that you stay healthy in the New Year.


성탄과 새해를 맞이하여 건강과 만복을 진심으로 기원합니다.

I sincerely wish for your health and great fortune at Christmas and the New Year.


즐거운 성탄절 되시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요.

Have an enjoyable Christmas and a lot of good fortune in the New Year.


사랑하는 가족, 친구들과 함께 어느때보다 즐거운 크리스마스 되시고 따뜻한 연말되셨으면 합니다.

I hope you have a more enjoyable Christmas and warmer end of the year than ever before with your loving family and friends.


희망찬 새해 맞이하시고 복 많이 받으시기 바랍니다.

I hope that you have a hopeful New Year with lots of good fortune.


2012년 새해를 맞이하여 [name]과 가족의 건강과 행복을 기원합니다.

I hope that [you] and your family welcome in the 2012 New Year with health and happiness.


새해에는 더욱 강령하시고, 소망하신 일 모두 이루시길 기원드립니다.

I wish that you will have a stronger spirit in the New Year and that everything you hope for will come to pass.


2012년 새해를 맞이하여 흑룡과 같은 기상과 합께 하시는 모든 일이 힘차게 뻗어나가 바라시는 모든 소원 성취하시기를 진심으로 기원합니다.

I sincerely hope that in this New Year of 2012, everything that you do will go forth full of energy, just like the vitality of the black dragon, and that all of your wishes will come true.


희망찬 새아침에

건강과 행운을 기원하오며

새해에도 변함없는 성원을 부탁드립니다.

새해 복 많이 받으십시오.

I hope for your health and good fortune

in this new morning full of hope

and I ask for your unchanging support in the New Year, too.

May you have lots of good fortune in the New Year.


새해에 복 많이 받으셨는지요? 다시 시작되는 구정을 맞이하여 부디 건강하시어 ___과 합께 더불어 살아가는 더욱 큰 소망과 함께 만복으로 충만하시기를 진심으로 기원합니다.

Have you had a lot of good fortune in the New Year? As we approach the Lunar New Year, I sincerely hope for your good health and that you will be full of great fortune, along with even bigger hopes.


새해 복 많이 받으시고,가정에 항상 웃음꽃 피시길 기원합니다.

May you have a lot of fortune in the new year and your family always be full of laughter.

The Korean Language is as Precise and Direct as English

It's not unusual to hear non-Korean learners of Korean talk about the vagueness of the language and how Korean is inherently ambiguous. Many Koreans seem to have bought into this myth based on what they've heard from others. However, I completely disagree. Korean is a precise language where ambiguities can be eliminated if the speaker or writer wishes to do so and those who think otherwise are confusing cultural causes of ambiguity with linguistic ones.

"Would You Mind Passing Me the Raw Octopus?"

P1060596I remember that when I first came to Korea and started learning the language, I was uncomfortable with the directness of Korean in certain situations until I'd reached a more advanced stage and figured out new ways of expressing myself.

For example, in English, we avoid being too direct when asking for something. Rather than saying, "Give me the raw octopus." (or even, "Give me the raw octopus, please"), we generally soften it by saying, "Would you mind passing me the raw octopus?" In a literal sense, the correct answer is not to pass the octopus but to answer with a "yes" or "no". Still, the intent is understood and we generally pass the octopus in this situation (as in the photo above. Realistically, of course, we're not generally talking about raw octopi in English; for the original photoblog posting: "I Tried a New Raw Octopus Delicacy Today".)

Korean has roughly comparable versions too: "Give me the raw octopus." ("산낙지를 줘요."), "Give me the raw octopus, please." ("산낙지를 주세요."; Adding "제발", the dictionary translation of "please" completely misses the nuance and would only be used if begging.) But it's hard to say that the softest version in Korean for asking for the raw octopus ("산낙지를 주시겠어요?") is as roundabout as the English, "Would you mind passing me the food?". Further, depending on the situation and usage, the very slight nuance difference between "산낙지를 주시겠어요?" and "산낙지를 주실래요?" can imply quite a bit of directness if one isn't careful.

Korean is Much More Precise than English about Hierarchy

A case can be made that Korean is more precise in many ways, since the relative status of the speaker, listener and those being spoken about are all implied in the construction of sentences. When translating Korean back to English, except in extreme situations, I find myself stripping out most/all references to this hierarchy since to include all of this gets quite onerous:

"Lowly me asks that you esteemed one send lowly me information about your excellent company. Please also convey with respect my regards to the esteemed president of your excellent company."…

Uh-huh… I should try that once in a translation and see what my client has to say about it… 

Korean is a Great Language for Contracts, Scientific Papers, Patents and Engineering Specifications

Over the years, we've translated many different kinds of documents and the easiest projects are often the ones with the need to be most literal and precise. Once the cultural factors are removed, there's nothing keeping the translator from just plowing through the text with as much exactness as possible. While word order may be completely turned upside down and inside out, the terminology is generally just a matter of looking up words in the dictionary.

In contrast, it's the translation of stories, poetry and other literary works that presents the most challenges, not because of any lack of precision in the Korean language itself, but because of cultural factors that influence the expression of that Korean. Thus, any perceived or real ambiguity in Korean is due to cultural, not linguistic, factors.