An Unfortunate Machine Translation Error in Facebook

We were in San Antonio recently dropping Treasure off at university and while we were there, we met a friend of Myunghee's. After dinner, Myunghee's friend posted this photo on Facebook.


An old friend of Myunghee's in Korea saw the photo and added the following comment in Korean.


The comment was a bit odd, because she mistook Myunghee's friend for Myunghee's daughter. But her comment was still nice, and here's a correct translation of what she said:

"Your daughter's really turned into a fine lady."

Unfortunately, anybody who clicked the "See Translation" link saw this:



The latest approach to machine translation (called "neural MT") generates translations that sound much more natural than previous "rule-based MT" and "statistical MT" approaches. However, though the translations sound good, you can't trust them. I've been amazed at the incorrect and incomplete translations I've come across from this technology. Sometimes it even adds in unrelated information from its neural database. I once saw a CNN byline (complete with date) show up in the English MT output of Korean content that had nothing to do with CNN.

Korean Translation Tip: The Use of Chinese Characters in Korean Writing

Around 60-70% of the Korean vocabulary is derived from Chinese. Long ago, Korean was even written using only the Chinese script. However, the Korean writing system (called "hangul" in Korean) has become the standard in today's world, even though Chinese characters (called "hanja" in Korean) still make frequent appearances in Korean text.

Every Korean is registered in the national family register system and most Korean names and locations have Chinese character equivalents. These are often written in hanja, and older registers that we are occasionally asked to translate are even handwritten in mixed script like this:


As late as the 80's and 90's, the important words in some Korean documents intended for an educated audience would be represented in Chinese characters. Today, it is rare to find a technical document for translation less than twenty years old with this kind of mixed script writing though.

Chinese characters are sometimes used just for the effect. We include hanja on business cards to denote basic words like "city" and "state" since they look fancy. Hanja is found in a variety of common phrases, and ceremonial documents like wedding invitations, awards and envelopes for giving monetary gifts are often written in mixed script.

Here's is "Happy New Year" written only in hangul:

새해 복 많이 받으세요!

This is what it looks like as usually written on greeting cards:

새해 福 많이 받으세요!

Keep in mind that the use of hanja doesn't change the pronunciation or meaning at all; just the way in which the words are written. Korean uses Traditional Chinese characters, not the Simplified Chinese of modern China.

When writing Korean words with homonyms that could lead to confusion or if wanting to provide deeper insight into the original meaning, the writer may write hanja in parenthesis after the Korean to clarify. Here is a segment from a recent newspaper article.


It is not a coincidence that this is from the Chosun Daily, which is a conservative newspaper for educated readers. Many years ago when more newspapers used Chinese characters, I was not able to read them, and so I practiced my Korean reading with the Hankyoreh, a left-wing publication that has never used Chinese characters, presumably to make it more accessible to a wider readership.

You won't find many Chinese characters in our translations. Here are the instructions we follow on page 12 of our Style Guide.


Finally, Windows has a nifty feature for those unable to read Chinese characters. The IME Pad is available on Windows installations that support Korean and it can be reached from the taskbar.


The following shows the IME Pad with the character for "king" drawn in with the mouse. On the right, the user can see various possibilities, and can get the meaning and Korean character to match (and even the Unicode value!) by clicking on the correct one.


Likewise, in Word, by right-clicking on any Korean character, the user can view a list of possible Chinese characters for the respective Korean character.



Korean Translation Tip - If you have a Korean document written in mixed script, you don't need one translator for the Korean and another for the Chinese. Just hire one Korean-to-English translator who can read hanja to translate the whole thing.

Korean Translation Tip: When a Korean "Yes" Means "No", and a "No" Means "Yes"

It’s been several months since my last Korean translation tip because, well, I’ve been busy translating… and have also spent this time working hard to improve my skills and credentials. I'm proud to say that this effort has resulted in an upgraded resume. Ta-da! - You can download it here.

I'm also proud that this Korean Translation Tips series is pushing four years now. Today’s tip is #38! (Check out my resume for links to the other thirty-seven.)

So, before we start today's tip, I have a question....

You didn’t stop and look at my resume when you read the first paragraph a moment ago, did you?

If you did, then in English you’d say “Yes, I did,” and if you didn’t, you’d say “No, I didn’t”.

But that’s not how a Korean would reply.

A Korean would say, “No, I did,” or “Yes, I didn’t”.

Confused? This difference happens because I asked a negative question.

When we reply in English, we ignore the fact that the question was negative and pretend it was positive. But in Korean, the answer strictly follows the logic of the question. If I asked you if you didn’t look at the resume and you, in fact, didn’t look at it, then, yes, you didn’t look at it. Right?

Is my explanation clear now?

In translation, this little twist means that “yes/no” responses to negative English questions are translated to “no/yes” answers in Korean (or vice-versa), and a translator must be careful to get this right. In fact, regardless of the translation direction (i.e. EN>KO or KO>EN), sometimes the simplest solution is to just rewrite the question in the target language to get rid of the ambiguous negative construct.

BTW, yes, Koreans ask negative Korean questions ALL THE TIME and this frequently confuses non-Koreans (at least it confuses me!).

Korean Translation Tip - The logic in answering a negative yes/no question is reversed between English and Korean. This occasionally trips up careless translators. A good proofreader will be on the lookout to double-check, but the client can also help in advance by writing the source without negative yes/no questions.

I bet Korean/English isn’t the only language pair with this negative yes/no question reversal. How about the languages you speak? Do you face this issue?

Thoughts on Bringing the Kids Back to the US for High School

An American acquaintance in Taiwan recently asked me for my thoughts on whether to bring his daughter to the US for high school. The following is most of my response to him.

When we returned to Korea in 2008, we only planned to stay for a couple years, and two years in a Korean school seemed like a great thing for the kids. While they were in elementary school, I thought they were getting a great education, too.

However, as the years in Korea stretched on, the kids wilted in school, and especially when they hit middle school, they were frustrated and disinterested. As you know, they only teach to one type of learner in Asia (the same type of learner that created the system), and so if you're not that kind of learner, then you're pretty much out of luck. I was dropping hundreds of dollars a month on private tutoring and they were still not learning properly, and worse than that, didn't care (especially Cauvery). 

I've turned negative in my opinion about the Korean education system and cringe every time I read or hear someone on this side talk about how great Korean students are compared with their US counterparts. This only reinforces Korean perceptions that they've got a superior approach, unable to figure out why their system doesn't get them the dynamics outcomes they see in other places. So any efforts at reform are only at the edges, and I doubt they'll do anything to change anytime soon.

Treasure is two years ahead of Cauvery and we sent her to live with my mom a couple years ago so she could start sooner, and we also got lucky in finding a good charter school, rather than the main high school in town. There was a bit of a learning curve, but Treasure immediately blossomed in the new learning environment, and by this year, she's getting all As in honors classes. Since Cauvery and I returned from Korea last summer, he's also done well, though is not as naturally motivated. He's still at Cs, Bs, and As which is tons better than what he'd gotten used to in Korea, and if he can get to Bs and As next year without honors classes, then that will be a huge improvement over anything he was doing before.

I think letting your daughter have a US high school experience could be a very good idea. If you're planning to bring her back to the US, I would suggest you do so before her first year of high school. Treasure started here in 10th grade, and they made her go back and re-do a bunch of classes from 9th grade in summer school, even 9th English after she'd finished 10th grade English. Cauvery, on the other hand, just started right into 9th grade without having to do anything, even though his English ability and grades in Korean school were not as good as Treasure's. Basically, neither of the schools we talked with cared a whit about the school transcripts I brought back from Korea.

You asked about our living situation. We're renting a house in a very ordinary neighborhood and this is working out very well as I have no interest in the hassles of home ownership over the next 3-4 years. When Treasure heads off to college, we may try to upgrade to a nice-ish apartment, but my kids are enjoying the sports options at school and we use the backyard and driveway for lots of ball throwing, and that's a good thing.

I think the kids are benefiting from the cultural aspects of a US high school. Treasure loved going to prom on Friday, and everything leading up to that. She's looking forward to a senior trip and participating in student government next year.

Cauvery didn't originally want to come to the US and I gave him the option of going back to Korea next summer to attend an international school (after Treasure graduates and is on to college), but I don't think he's going to take it as he's making a good adjustment here. 

Other than for cost reasons, I don't want to take him back to Korea now since international schools in Korea are mostly full of Korean kids whose parents were forward thinking enough to get them a foreign passport. This is the same problem you mentioned in Taiwan, and means that even if the curriculum and teachers are American, the school culture is infused with the same Korean educational thinking that you and I don't like. It's simply impossible to get the kids a US-culture-based high school experience outside of the US, and those memories of US high school may be important to them as they move on in life. It also means they don't have to go through the cultural learning curve in their first year of college, since they will have already fully adapted during high school.

As you can see, I feel good about having moved the kids from Korea to the US. I see it as one of the last gifts I can give them before they move on to the rest of their lives.



Korean Translation Tip: Ornery Koreans Write Things Backward

In spite of the titles of this article, most Koreans are not ornery, nor do they do things backward. They just write differently than we do in English.

Here are some examples.

Fractions and page numbers

Koreans don’t say “two-thirds” or “page two of three”; they say “of three, two” and “of three pages, the second page”. Fortunately, this only applies when spoken and written out in long form. If you’re just writing  numerals, then nothing changes.

This means the simplest solution when translating is to add a forward slash. In other words, translate both “Page 3 of 5” and "three-fifths" to "3/5". Otherwise, you'll have to write it as "5 페이지 중 3 페이지" and "5분의 3".

Korean Translation Tip – If it’s imperative that numbers from an English source stay in the same order in Korean for fractions and pages, then convert them to numerals. This is especially relevant with codes that auto-update, such as page numbering in Word. Otherwise, you'll find yourself making this Google-esque mistake!


Korean dates are written "year/month/day". It’s not usually a big deal to switch things around during translation, but in some cases, this can get complicated. We recently had to translate the following:

"Dates should be entered as ddmmmyyyy (Example: 14SEP2016)"

Unfortunately, we had no choice but to translate this with a long explanation that reads in English as:

"Dates must be entered in the day/month/year format, where the date is entered with two digits, the month with the three-letter English abbreviation in capital letters and the year with four digits (14SEP2016)."

Whew… That was a mouthful!

Korean Translation Tip – It’s easy to understand and translate Korean dates if you know the sequence, but don’t take it for granted that your Korean audience will be used to the English format for filling out forms.


Korean addresses are written in Korean starting from the largest units (country, province, city...) and moving to the smallest units (...street, building, house or office number), but the other way around in English.

Here’s how our address in Korea looks when written in English:

#2406 Chungang Heightsville, 23, Ansancheonseo-Ro

Danwon-Gu, Ansan-Si, Gyeonggi-Do 15361 Republic of Korea

This is the English rendering of it from Korean:

Republic of Korea, Gyeonggi-Do, Ansan-Si, Danweon-Gu

Ansancheonseo-Ro 23, Chungang Heightsville #2406 (15361)

Kind of weird, huh? Here's an article on it.

Korean Translation Tip - When translating English business cards to Korean, if your client wants the address translated to Korean (and most Western clients do!), then turn the order around.


The Korean for "AM" is "오전" and for "PM" is "오후", but these are added before the number, not after. So "8 o'clock AM" is written "오전 8시" and "8 o'clock PM" is "오후 8시".

Korean Translation Tip - You can get away without translating AM and PM to Korean; they are understandable by many Koreans in English. However, if you do translate them, then you have to put the Korean equivalents IN FRONT of the numbers, not AFTER.

Sentence Structure

Considering how different the sentence structures are between Western languages and Korean, is it any wonder that Korean is written the other way around in the above examples? In fact, sometimes it seems Korean and English are polar opposites. If you need a refresher on this point, check out these two one-minute videos from past tips.

Korean Translation Tip: Handle Korean Line Breaks Like a Pro

With the robust multilingual support in Adobe Indesign and recent versions of other design packages, many clients are opting to handle Korean layout in-house.

Unfortunately, people with absolutely no knowledge of Korean can really butcher a layout job.

My Korean Translation Tips have addressed some of the most egregious mistakes and easy-to-fix issues, including Tip #16 (Cardinal Rules of Layout), #26 (Korean Font Differences), #31 (PowerPoint Tips), #29 (Spacing Issues in Word) and #32 (More Font Handling).

But line breaks are also a point of concern.

Suppose you've got this source text:


And your Korean translation team delivers this fill-in-the-blank translation of it in Word:


Don't lay it out into your design program like this:


Or like this:


Or even like this:


These are not uncommon issues; they happen all the time, especially when Korean text is mixed with punctuation and English.

Korean Translation Tip, Part I - Hire us to do the most professional layout for you, or at least have us do an in-context proof of the text after you do the layout.

Korean Translation Tip, Part II - If you ignore the first half of this tip, be sure after layout to check all lines that start or end with punctuation and/or English to verify that the text matches the way the translation was delivered to you.

** BONUS - Do you see above that there are four fill-in-the-blank lines in both the source English and translated Korean? They aren't in the same sequence in the two languages! Want to know why? Check out this article and you'll understand: Tip #34 (Why You Can't Translate Phrase-by-Phrase Between English and Korean)

Korean Translation Tip: Why You Can't Translate Phrase-by-Phrase Between English and Korean, Part II

Last month I posted a short video illustrating how you can't mix-and-match sentence fragments to make proper sentences between English and Korean.

A few people pointed out that this often works with English and Western languages, and so they weren't sure why I would trouble them with a video like this for Korean.

In response, I've put together another one here to emphasize how different Korean is from English and to put this matter to rest, once and for all.

Korean Translation Tip - Just because you can translate phrase-by-phrase between Western languages does not mean you can do it between Western and Asian languages.

Issues in Calculating Rates for KO>EN Translation Jobs, Revisited

Several years ago I posted an article about why I don't generally offer per-word rates for Korean>English translation. The following is from a recent email to a client, explaining things in a bit more detail.


Dear <Client>,
Here are the issues  I can think of now which make it hard to use source word/character rates on Korean>English work.
  1. The majority of the work I get for KO>EN is scanned source files in PDF format, which can't be analyzed precisely until the translation is complete. On those jobs, fixed quotes in advance or target word billing are the most reasonable. Sometimes these PDFs can be converted to Word through OCR or the native Adobe Acrobat conversion. However, for various reasons, these word counts are extremely unreliable.
  2. Even if the files are editable, I find that it takes an extra measure of care to ensure everyone's talking about the same thing when referring to Korean words/characters. To make matters worse, if the language settings in Word aren't set right, the software will count Korean words as characters (or vice versa, I can't remember which right now) and that creates confusion. At least until a few years ago, Excel also didn't count Korean words and characters correctly.
  3. Korean does not have a long tradition of using words (or even writing left-to-right), and I find that Koreans are not as consistent in their use of spacing as we are in English. Therefore, what you find is that different writing styles yield different Korean word counts, even as the final English translated word count remains unchanged. Furthermore, when clients equate Korean with Chinese and Japanese which don't use words, it adds another layer of confusion. Your colleague mentioned that internally you are assuming two Korean characters to be one word, but that is arbitrary. Korean words are calculated based on discrete units of meaning, and separated by spaces. 
  4. Different types of content return different word count expansions. For example, Korean word lists will translate to English almost at one for one. However, because Korean grammar attaches tags to words and those tags are then translated to English as separate words, the expansion rate increases the more "prose-y" a text is. The expansions vary depending on subject matter, too.
  5. As with the current job, many Korean writers, especially on technical documents, mix a lot of English words into the text. These are embedded in the Korean grammar though and can't be excluded from the word count. However, if the letters of the English words are counted as characters (which is what happens if not analyzed separately), it runs the word count way up. On today's job, there were 1,500 English words mixed in with some 4,000 Korean words. That means rejigging the word counting formula to avoid overcharging. Counting source characters also means having to do something extra with numbers, since that also runs up the count. 
For all these reasons, it is so much easier to just use the English word counts, which are predictable and universally understood. But of course, it is true that this makes it hard to quote projects in advance. One solution is simply to ask me to quote projects first, if you have the time to wait. But as I mentioned to your colleague today, I've also started offering a character rate to clients that just have to have a source-based billing structure. But since it's imprecise, it's still best if I can analyze, adjust and quote the work in advance to take account of the various issues mentioned above. Keep in mind though that if I'm taking the risks of all these unknown factors with an advance quote, I'm also going to aim a bit high; generally, my most competitive pricing is available on English-word rates.

Korean Translation Tip: Why You Can't Translate Phrase-by-Phrase Between English and Korean

We frequently get translation requests for content where the source text has been chopped up into sentence fragments. This is especially common with captions for video, since the content needs to show up on-screen in bite-sized pieces. But sometime clients even send such requests because they want to be able to rearrange words themselves later, or because they sent over bilingual files for translation in a CAT tool which were improperly translated.

In the first case, as long as the source text forms complete thoughts and the translation doesn't have to correspond 1-for-1 by sentence fragment, we can translate it. But the "mix-and-match" approach is a recipe for disaster. 

Here's a video I put together to illustrate how structurally different Korean and English are and to show why the translation of complete thoughts must be done at the sentence level.



Korean Translation Tip - If you're ever tempted to ask that English sentences and phrases be translated into Korean in the order the words appear in the English (or vice versa), please watch this video again to remind yourself that English and Korean can't be connected in such a linear way.

Korean Translation Tip: Spacing Around Parentheses in Korean Looks Funky and Inconsistent

This tip is based on a reader question about the following graphic in last month's message.

image from

The reader asked why there isn't a space before or after the parentheses... Good question!

The answer may surprise you, but no, there should not be spaces there. The reason is hard to explain clearly without getting into complicated grammar, but the basic idea is that Korean is made up of character units functioning as standalone words, and also of character tags/markers attached to standalone words to indicate various grammatical meanings (such as subject, object, etc.).

In the case above, without the words in parenthesis, the phrase would read "Study Hard" Campaign은, where 은 is a topic marker attached to the word Campaign. Therefore, the added parenthetical text is stuck right in between the word and its tag and no space is added on either side.

Keep in mind that spaces should be added around parentheses when additional text is not being stuffed between a word and its tag. This phenomenon seems to occur almost exclusively when English and/or numbers are inserted into Korean text. The spacing around parenthesis within pure Korean text generally follows the same rules as we use in English (though Koreans get used to such usage and often go without spacing even when it should be there).

Korean Translation Tip - Correct spacing in Korean around parentheses often looks funky and inconsistent to English speakers. Feel free to bug your linguist for confirmation, but expect to get a response back saying it’s OK.

Microsoft Thanked Me for Renewing My Subscription to the Magazine "Office 365 Small Business Premium"

I have been using the Korean version of Office 365 Small Business Premium for a year and it's time to renew. A couple days ago, Microsoft sent me an email thanking me for renewing.

Only problem....

They used the word for "subscribe" that is only used when subscribing to things to read, such as newspapers and magazines.

And they didn't mess it up once... They used the wrong word four times in one email.

Check it out:


In every case, the indicated Korean word should be changed to "사용권". In Korean, there is no straight translation for "subscription" in the English sense here. The correct word means "right to use", which, if you think about it, means exactly what it should.

Perhaps the linguists who worked on the job didn't know that they were translating for a software subscription, rather than a magazine subscription. Or perhaps they just reused old TM segments which had been translated for a magazine subscription situation. Or maybe they just weren't paying attention.

Whichever it was, the QA processes failed. 

For lots more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

Explaining My Request for Feedback on Using Machine Translation and Cross-Project Translation Memory Leverage in High-Quality Translation Workflows

I recently asked my agency clients for their feedback on offering a rate discount in exchange for the right to use machine translation and termbase leveraging on certain projects. Machine translation brings up ideas of low-quality output, and cross-client TM sharing is generally off-limits due to confidentiality issues and rights to use content. Machine translation approaches are not without confidentiality and content rights complications, either. Here is a detail explanation of my thoughts on the approach, as explained in an email to a client.


Dear [Client] - Thanks for the response and opportunity to explain what I'm thinking. (I'm afraid the following is longer than I expected when I started typing.)

You're right that MT has generally been considered just a cheap way to deliver low-quality output. And I agree that Google Translate and the others are currently useless as resources by themselves on high-quality translation projects. But I think there may be a way that MT can be utilized within a range of high-quality workflows. 
MT is now being used on high-quality workflows within certain VERY narrow sub-topics. One of my clients is apparently even making it work for Chinese and Japanese, so Korean is clearly not impossible. For example, the translation of a 500-page cutting robot manual can be used to train an MT engine to produce a very good job on another cutting robot manual. Apparently the process breaks down pretty quickly though. The text for a cutting robot manual may not be a good enough match even for training an MT engine to generate high quality output on an assembly robot manual.
If we bring the human translator into the process, along with a properly prepared TB, the MT may be able to bring in a few value-added suggestions right away that the professional can finalize efficiently.
In addition, it appears to me that the CAT tools are on the verge of getting MT, TMs and TBs to work together, so that if the software finds, say, an 80% match in the TM, it can identify what's different, replace words from the TB, and then machine translate ONLY the sub-segments that are different. I don't know why this couldn't easily start moving fuzzy matches up 10-20% right off the bat. And there are various algorithms for figuring out how good the MT match is likely to be. That means these high-quality segments could be removed from the translation step and only included for proofreading (i.e. post-MT edited, but to perfection, not the conventional "good enough" level). In this way, the translator is still doing his/her job on the segments where the MT/TM/TB combination doesn't get to the required threshold, and the entire document is still proofread and/or linguistically QAd, and the final product is possibly of a higher quality and consistency than otherwise. Over time, this approach should yield increasingly higher efficiency.
There can be no doubt that this is the direction things are moving in our industry and I would like to start experimenting with it now. However, to plug in the MT functionality to my CAT tool generally requires special client permission, and so I've never done it, not even once. And to use the TM from one job to leverage it to build up seed TMs in various fields to apply to other client projects is also out of the question without specific approval.
Therefore, my idea is to start by offering a penny discount on projects where the client gives me, in effect, an "indefinite, irrevocable right to use" their content for such an approach. It would never involve revealing full coherent documents in public, but would mean that the segments/TB entries would go into various reference TMs/TBs/corpora to be applied to other projects and/or that the translations we do with that content may be used to train MT engines which may also be used on other projects.
I would then watch where things go from there. If I'm just hitting dead-ends and this content isn't useful to my bottom line and doesn't look like it will in the future, I could stop offering the discount. On the other hand, if the approach works, I could even increase the discounts over time. 
I see it as a long-term approach. About ten years ago, I was worried that the technology would replace me eventually; I'm cautiously taking the position that the technology is creating more opportunities than it is killing. For example, I remember Google Adwords about 10 years ago... It was doable as a layperson. Today, Google has built in so much complexity that I can't even find an expert who can do it properly and affordably. You would have thought that by now the process would have been automated, but it's gone in the opposite direction, and changes so fast that one cannot stay up on it without investing huge amounts of time in continuously learning.
I suspect translation is also going to unfold this way. At memoQfest in May, I realized that some of the approaches I use in translation with my team are unique, but that the software is changing so fast that I can't hope to use all the functionality that's available. Not only learning the software, but also figuring out how to apply it and then continuously updating those approaches to the changing landscape is a process that creates barriers to entry which are likely greater than they they've ever been. You may have noticed that late last year I updated my email footer greeting to say "translation technologist". That's still a bit more of a "hopeful" title than it is in reality, but I also see a new role opening up even in the freelance side of things, which is the role that bridges project managers with translators. Project managers rarely have the time or inclination to really extract all the value and ensure all the quality that exists in the project stages between end-client and translator, especially if translators aren't using CAT tools. And this is even before the MT/TM/TB combination hits its stride. With the right skills and tools, a translation technologist could help achieve all kinds of benefits in the production chain. This part of my thinking is still in-development, but being able to use MT and leveraging TMs on a cross-client basis is surely a place to start.
Let me know your thoughts on this.

Korean Translation Tip: Correct Font Handling in Korean Layout

I've posted several short articles on Korean layout in this set of tips, including Cardinal Rules of Korean-Language Layout, Korean Layout Rules for MS PowerPoint and Spacing Issues in MS Word.

In this post, I introduce some font handling advice to improve the way Korean-language layout looks to Korean readers. Of course, this won't get you the same font and layout sensitivity my team delivers, but it will help you avoid a couple no-nos.

So here's the scoop...

The Korean fonts come with a set of double-byte punctuation marks to which spaces are added before or after. These extra spaces aren't needed in Korean; indeed, they look bad! You should use single-byte punctuation (i.e. the same marks we use in English).

In addition, Korean fonts include a collection of English letters. However, don't use these, either! Proper font mapping avoids this issue, but if you find that the fonts still aren' t right, switch the English text back to an English font (most likely the font of the source document).  

Here's what a string of text might look like if punctuation and English fonts are handled incorrectly:


And here's how it should look:


 Korean Translation Tip A - Don't use double-byte punctuation in a Korean translation.

 Korean Translation Tip B - Don't use Korean fonts for text that remains in English.

Korean Translation Tip: Applying the Cardinal Rules of Korean-Language Layout to Microsoft PowerPoint Files

I've previously written about the Cardinal Rules of Korean-Language Layout. When clients handle layout on their end, I frequently send them the link to this article so that they or their layout expert can brush up quickly on the rules.

Of course, to implement those correctly, you've got to know how to use the software. For readers working in advanced design programs, I assume you know how.

This tip though is for people dealing with Korean in PowerPoint files who don't feel like paying somebody to fix things, but still want to deliver a good job.


Occasionally a Korean PowerPoint slide will end up with text like the following excerpt from my master's thesis.


See those ugly red lines under the text marked by the red arrow? That's PowerPoint's quality checker indicating non-existent language problems. And the blue arrow shows a Korean word split incorrectly at the end of the line.

How do you fix these two issues if you don't know Korean?

The answer is going to seem too easy, but it's amazing how hard it was for me to figure it out. (In fact, I didn't figure it out; I had to ask my super-smart layout guy Xiang for the answer!)

To fix things, select the text and then change the language to Korean as follows:


Doing so produces this correctly formatted text:


The above is still not my preferred style though. If you really want to make it look nice, right- AND left-justify the text to get this perfect specimen:


Korean Translation Tip - Follow the above procedure on PowerPoint slides to make the text look like it should; otherwise, if the language settings aren't right, your great Korean translation may still look terrible.


** By the way, setting the language correctly solves problems in PowerPoint files that contain other languages, too!

Korean Translation Tip: Three (3) Number-Related Tips in One (1) Easy Article

In previous posts, I've shared about number units unique to Korean and how Korean prose doesn't include a lot of spelled-out numbers

Here are three more tips...


Many Koreans handwrite their numbers differently than we do in English. I used to think this was a generational thing, but I occasionally see funny number writing from young people, too. 

Translation Tip #1 - When translating handwritten Korean text, watch out for these variants on the numerals "9" and "8".



Most Koreans know how Roman numerals work, but it's not a normal system for writing in Korean. Why risk it when translating?

Korean Translation Tip #2 -  It's generally safer to change Roman numerals to Arabic numerals (ex: "Stage IV" >>  "4 단계") when translating from English to Korean.


There are two ways of spelling and pronouncing numbers in Korean: the native-Korean way and the Chinese-derived way. Usage depends on context and/or what's being counted, and the correct approach is typically one or the other; not a choice of whichever the speaker prefers. This can be a point of confusion for late learners of Korean like yours truly, but it's second-nature to native Korean speakers.

The issue is particularly relevant for the numbers 1 through 99, which is the same range of numbers Koreans prefer to write as Arabic numerals, instead of spelling them out like we often do in English. (See link in first sentence above for details.)

Since the same Arabic numerals are used regardless of pronunciation or spelling and a Korean translation is likely to use those numerals, this issue normally remains invisible to non-Korean speakers. However, when the numbers are spelled out (which does happen, though not often), there could be situations where they appear to have been done so inconsistently even though they are correct.

Here's an example. The number five written out in native Korean is 다섯, but in Chinese-derived Korean is 오. "Five hours" is commonly written as "5시간" but could be spelled out as "다섯 시간". On the other hand, "five minutes" is best translated as "5분" but might also be written as "오분".

Korean Translation Tip #3 - You're unlikely to get confused by this when reviewing a Korean translation since these numbers will usually be written as Arabic numerals. But just keep in mind that it's possible the same numbers (especially smaller ones like the digits 1 through 9) may appear to be written out inconsistently even in cases where they are correct.

Yet Another Korean Translation Mistake in Google Android

My tablet recently upgraded itself and the following message appeared during the process:


It says:

Android is upgrading... 

Optimizing 92 of 116 apps

So the device is only optimizing 92 apps and it is not going to optimize the other 24? 

What Google meant to say was:

Android is upgrading...

Optimizing the 92nd of 116 apps

So, the correct translation should be

Android 업그레이드 중

앱 116개 중 92번째 것을 최적화 중




A Korean Translation Error in Microsoft Word 2013

This is the standard print dialogue in the Korean version of Microsoft Word:


The text in the red circle says "Number of pages" (as in one page, 20 pages, etc.). However, as explained by the pop-up tip in the blue box, it's the spot for entering which pages to print (such as pages 5-10, or pages 5, 7 and 8).

The original English version would have said something like "Page numbers". But in Korean the correct translation here should be "페이지 번호/범위", which literally means "Page numbers/range".



High-Quality Workflow Design for English>Korean Translation

It would be great if every project followed a linear, sequential workflow from beginning to end, so that after feeding the source file in at the beginning, the final file at the end pops out as a perfect specimen, with every step having somehow brought the quality closer and closer to perfection. But the real world isn’t so simple and our workflow is designed to take advantage of the linear aspects of the work, while also dealing with the surrounding complexity.

Failure points in the process cause many of the errors. I’ve found some in the software of some of today’s leading companies. Keeping these pitfalls in mind, we bring together the highest-level technical expertise, English fluency and industry experience with the best English>Korean review talent, to maintain a reasonable rate structure across the range of project types and sizes that we handle, while also delivering our best work.

Hybrid CAT-tool workflow

Because we often work with subject-matter experts who are not CAT-tool savvy, I handle most technical processing internally, with the actual translation and proofreading steps processed by my team on RTF files that I prepare with the relevant terminology, context and TM content for their reference. I have been working hard on these processes for several years now and they include proprietary procedures that I have developed and maintain internally to raise quality.

Language pair-specific quality assurance

One aspect that sometimes affects the quality of translation into Korean is the lack of native-speaker fluency in English among the pool of Korean translation resources. This is a lesser concern on technical documents, where standard language is often used, but it does crop up. Yet one more role I perform in the quality assurance process is to review source files at the beginning for potential linguistic issues that could trip up the team, and then spot-check the translations at the end for common problems in the English>Korean language pair. I’ve written about a lot of these in my Korean Translation Tips series, and am increasingly integrating these into my quality assurance work.

Client-side induced errors

Unnecessarily complicated and unclear instructions, work processes and file formats, as well as process disruptions (such as late client instructions, source files changes), lead to a disproportionate number of errors. This also applies to poor client-end translations and layout which we are asked to review and where we end up fixing things that shouldn’t have needed fixing, leaving less available attention/time for productive editing work. This is exacerbated when the budget is not adequate for the effort required. I try very hard to get all this worked out in advance, and to shield my team from distracting factors.

Role specialization

It is important to keep in mind that only so much can be expected at each step of the process, and with two languages as mutually different as English and Korean, this is even more true. While we’d like to believe that a translation performed by a competent translator will be perfect the first time every time, this is simply not the case.

In fact, each step in the process (file preparation, translation, proofreading, automated and manual QA, content-context integration, etc.) adds value… at least, it does if the scope for each step is designed properly and adequate value added by each participant.

Our process lets the translator and proofreader focus only on linguistic issues by separating out the technical file handling, project management and context integration into discrete steps that I manage at the beginning and end of the project. Furthermore, creating conditions for high linguistic quality from the translation and proofreading team means that QA can then focus on final polishing, while also resolving other technical complications.

In our process, the translator is the lowest function and this person not take any leadership role. My colleague who does nearly all of my proofreading (and selects the translator, thus having a motivation to keep the translator in line) would be closer to this role. But frankly, in the end, it's me doing the dictating of terms and ensuring adherence with instructions, style guides, glossaries, etc. and ever so occasionally, going back strategically with mistakes I've found to let my colleagues know I'm still paying attention. We don’t generally send edits back down the ladder for review and approval, nor do we rub other team members' noses in every single mistake that we can fix at a higher level.

Korean Translation Tip: Solving Spacing Issues Between Korean and English Text in MS Word

There's a nasty feature in Microsoft Word as it applies to Korean; I have no idea why it's there. My best guess is that it's only supposed to be used with Japanese and Chinese but that Microsoft mistakenly included it for Korean, too. I'm not really sure, though.

Perhaps Microsoft could contact me and explain so I can let you know if I'm missing something here. After all, I already pointed out several mistranslations in Windows which they've told me they fixed! (BTW, I stopped writing about Korean translation errors in Windows and Office... There are plenty more, but it got boring to keep going on and on about them.)

Anyway, the issue here is that when English and Korean characters sit side-by-side in a document, sometimes a space is placed between the English and Korean. This is done regardless of whether a space should actually be there or not. Here is a short excerpt from my master's thesis to illustrate:


Do you see those spaces indicated by the arrows? They aren't supposed to be there, and I certainly didn't add them when typing the text.

It turns out there's a simple solution. Special thanks to my genius layout guy, Xiang, for teaching this to me awhile back.



I'm not aware of any situation where the above boxes should be checked in a Korean document; they should always be unchecked. To fix, simply select all text in a document and then uncheck those boxes to produce properly formatted text like the following:


Korean Translation Tip - Sometimes there should be spaces between Korean and English text in a Korean document. However, these should only be added with the space bar. If you have a Korean translation where spaces cannot be removed because they can't be deleted, then following the above procedure will "fix" your document.

Korean Translation Tip: Don't Just Use a Dictionary to Translate Job Titles into Korean

If you're translating English business cards into Korean, work with a professional who understands the intricacies of the task and asks enough questions to be able to translate job titles correctly.

For example, here are many (but not all) of the possibilities for translating "director" and its variants:

  • 이사
  • 전무
  • 전무이사
  • 상무이사
  • 대표이사
  • 원장
  • 회장
  • 실장
  • 소장
  • 센터장
  • 협회장
  • 부장
  • 국장
  • 청장
  • 총장
  • 사무총장
  • 사무국장
  • 감독
  • 디렉터
  • 지휘자
  • 중역
  • PD
  • 심의관 

Some of these correspond with other possible English job titles, too. For the full run-down, check out "How Do You Write 'Director' in Korean?

"Director" is not the only confusing job title (admittedly, it is one of the harder ones though). This is not just because Korean organizations are structured differently than Western ones; you'll also find that even the same jobs at the same level in the organization can sometimes imply different responsibilities.

I'd like to point out too that Koreans aren't always helpful here since they tend to inflate their English job titles. I was at a (very well-known!) company recently where, of the ten business cards I was given by my Korean counterparts, every one but the president's card listed him or her one rank higher in English than his/her card in Korean! It takes an honest broker to work through all this sometimes.

Korean Translation Tip - Don't consider a business card translation a throw-away job just because the job title is only one word. Get professional help (such as from someone with a masters degree from a Korean university in management strategy).

BTW, I've even written a guidebook for this, which can be downloaded free: The Definitive Guide to Business Cards in Korea

Korean Translation Tip: Watch Out for Verb Ending Inconsistencies

If you're expecting identical English text to be always translated the same way into Korean, you're in for a big surprise.

There can be meaning-related factors involved too, but this tip explains how structural context influences the verb endings used in written Korean. This means that occasionally, the same English source sentence may even need to be translated different ways at different places within the same document!

I'd like to share a (very) short grammar lesson to introduce this and then I'll get on to the practical applications quickly.

In modern, formal, written Korean, there are three standard ways of ending sentences. The following examples show sentence endings with the "do" verb in declarative, interrogative and imperative cases, respectively.

  • Personal (합니다./합니까?/하십시오.) - This form is often used in marketing pieces, business letters and other written communication where the writer is trying to create a personal connection with the reader in some way. 
  • Impersonal (한다./한가?/해라.) - The impersonal approach is common for technical manuals, contracts, legislation, patents, academic papers and newspaper articles where the connection between the writer and reader is not relevant to the content. In this form, when instructions are given, such as in manuals, the declarative form is typically used rather than the imperative form. There would also be few question marks in this type of writing.
  • Abbreviated (하기/한가/해라) - Bullet points and subjects lines frequently use this form. Ending punctuation is often not required, even for questions.

Of course, the above run-down skips over many nuances, complications and exceptions. It doesn't include verb endings that imply a more oral tone, nor does it cover honorifics and other tags and techniques to show respect, not to mention old forms of Korean that are still commonly found in religious texts and historical dialogue.

The decision between personal and impersonal writing styles is often made at the document level and the choice is somewhat subjective. The most important point here is that it should be applied consistently throughout.

However, occasionally a document is composed of an alternating mix of impersonal information and sets of personalized instructions for the reader (such as a collection of medical marketing brochures we translated recently). In this case, it may be necessary to confirm the context of each sentence before choosing which ending to use, in order to maximize the impact on the reader. Also, sentences that appear both as subject headings or bullet points and within the main text may need to be written differently within the document, depending on the structural context.

Korean Translation Tip #1 - Don't expect absolute consistency of verb endings in documents, especially those with a mix of prose, titles/subtitles, bullet points, tables and/or diagrams. But do expect consistency within and between sections of each written form. 

Korean Translation Tip #2 - When working in Korean, it is often a good idea to allow multiple target translations for a single source segment when setting up a translation memory in a CAT tool (e.g. Trados Studio, memoQ).

Korean Translation Tip #3 - This lesson also provides a basis for dealing with some types of client feedback. If a client reviewer complains that a Korean translation is too "stiff," changing to the personal style can often solve the problem. Likewise, a translation rated as too "friendly" can be made more impersonal by switching back the other way.

Korean Translation Tip: Korean Letters Look Different in Different Fonts and Positions

The following point may seem obvious: Korean letters don't appear the same in each font. For some reason though, this confuses clients from time to time.

Here's the Korean letter chi'ut written in five different fonts:


Notice how the line/dot at the top in #3, #4 and #5 is disconnected from the rest of the letter, whereas, in 1 and 2, it's connected. Do you see that the bottom-right line in #2 and #3 comes up and connects midway to the line that runs from the bottom left? But in #1, #4 and #5, this line goes all the way up to the base of the long horizontal line. And in #2 and #3, the line from the bottom left connects to the horizontal line on the right side, even though in the other examples it connects in the middle.

Regardless of these differences, it's the same character in all five fonts.

Not only this, individual letters look different depending on where they are positioned in a character. Here are more examples showing the Korean letter chi'ut in various fonts and in different spots within characters.


In English, we don't face the issue of letter differences based on position within a character, but we do have plenty of variation between fonts. Take the letter "a" for example. It's usually rendered much differently when handwritten than when typed. But of course, it's still the same letter in both cases.

Korean Translation Tip - If you're really curious about why a Korean character looks different in a translation from your translation provider than it does in some other document you have on-hand (such as a hand-written or printed example used on a previous job), feel free to ask about it. But don't be surprised if you hear back from your translator that it's just a minor font difference.

My Response to HS Yoon's Comments on the Sewol Tragedy in Today's "Last Three Weeks in Korea" Newsletter


But do you really not understand why Koreans are demanding answers from the government over the Sewol tragedy? If you object to the government protests like that, your readers who don't have a full understanding of the situation will think Korea is a nation of lawless and irrational street demonstrators and "impure elements."
You suggest people should be protesting at the offices of Chonghaejin. But what good would that do? There's nobody there, since the state's already chasing those people down and throwing them in jail as fast as it can. Who would defend scum like the ferry captain, the crazy cult leader who runs the organization (and was already investigated in connection with a mass murder many years ago) or any of the other members of the greedy company?
But HS, are those crooks solely responsible for the tragedy? The world will always have folks who don't give a damn for the lives of others; we don't just sit around and let them kill people though. The government is responsible for safety oversight and rescue operations.
I didn't need the Hangyoreh to point it out for me to sense that President Park's public association of the ferry captain with the word "murder" just a few days after the event was very un-president-like. I believe murder requires a deliberate intent to kill but if President Park can expand the meaning to gross negligence, then let's ask how many other murderers there are.
How about the Coast Guard that showed up on scene unprepared and did virtually nothing? They could have entered the boat themselves and rescued the passengers! Is that not gross negligence? The Coast Guard won't release all the video footage of the time immediately after the sinking began. They've obviously got stuff to hide. Then there's the Coast Guard control tower on Jindo that didn't bother to check in at all with the boat passing by and where employees were later found to be destroying evidence.
P1020954Would the boat have even capsized in the first place if corrupt government officials had not been allowing it to operate far in excess of legal weight limits?
If the lifeboats had deployed, the passengers would have been evacuated and saved. What officials turned a blind eye to the corrupt safety inspections that lead to broken safety equipment?
The government outsourced the rescue to a private salvage company called Undine that was more interested in its own commercial privilege than rescuing passengers. How else do you explain it taking nearly a week to even enter the damn ferry? No litany of excuses about how cold or fast or muddy the water was will convince me that all the resources of the country were focused on the rescue in a timely fashion.
I'd also like to know how the authorities could herd the families of the missing into a gymnasium in Jindo and leave them there out in the open for days, while letting the media sit up in the balcony filming them 24 hours a day. I have asked myself what that would be like had I just suffered the loss of a child. 
After such tragic loss, followed by humiliation day after day, what do you really expect from the families of the deceased? My wife visited an acquaintance a few days ago who lost her daughter in the tragedy and is now in the hospital, a nervous wreck. Her daughter's body was found with fingernails all torn up from trying to claw her way out of the sinking tomb. I can't think of anything sadder.
President Park showed up in Jindo the day after the event to say she'd do everything she could. Maybe she did; I don't know. But from what I've read, she didn't really know what was going on for almost ten hours after the sinking started! Someone asked me recently if I thought President Park had done a good job dealing with the crisis. As an American, I'm not sure we'd expect more from our president in a situation like that (which is probably why President Bush weathered the Hurricane Katrina disaster as well as he did) but Koreans clearly do, especially when the system failed at so many levels and this resulted in such loss of life.
At this point, I'm not sure what another apology from the President would do, but don't you think a proper accounting of the government's responsibility in the tragedy is in order? Can we let the forces on the Right just keep saying it's all the result of the actions of a few? 
BTW, I don't know why you say the Left is "impure"; then the Right is "pure"? Some of my dearest friends and associates in Korea are on the Left and I swear, they are good people.
Of course, the opposition will try to topple the current administration; that's their job! I'm not saying they are right or wrong, but do you think they have forgotten their (perhaps biased... perhaps not) memories of the years of JH Park, DW Chun and TW Roh? Or the actual overthrow for awhile of MH Noh and then his destruction after leaving office?
For whatever reason, politics is a battle and it's election time. 
I don't think anyone who aspires to be president of a nation has any right to feel indignant about criticism in any form. The best way for President Park to overcome the challenge is not to portray herself as a victim of harrassment and/or hit back at the protesters but to properly do her job to investigate and clean up the system, if she can. It seems to me that the pressure needs to be kept up, especially as President Park's response has been so tepid and her determination to see it through in doubt.

On Handling a Post-MT Editing Project Request for Translation to Korean of an English Document

A client recently sent me a translation request for a technical user's manual where we had already worked on another manual for the same manufacturer. The client put the translation memory and termbase from our first delivery through a machine translation solution to translate the second manual. He then asked us to "post-MT edit" the new job, with the expectation (or at least, hope) that we'd be able to offer a lower price for the same quality of work.

Here is my response to him after checking with my team.


"I discussed this with my team; I even presented the machine translation in as positive a light as I could (emphasizing how it leverages our TM and terminology and isn't just raw out of Google Translate) and simply asked what rate we'd need to charge to do it (without suggesting a steep discount).

My colleague acknowledged that there are a few segments where the machine translation can help, but by the time he puts in the effort to understand the English and sort through the many more segments that don't help at all and/or to re-craft the sentences around a natural writing style, the result is that the machine translation is no help at all, and is actually a hindrance if using it for anything more than terminology mining (which we can do in memoQ anyway without bringing in MT).
His feedback mirrors my opinion on a project I'm working on now where the client actually provided me with the translation of a previous version of the same document done by another human translator to use as reference. Even on segments with 100% matching, I don't think the other translation helps at all if I'm expected to deliver my best work. That's because I still have to understand the source and put together an English sentence that I am satisfied with. Even where the other translator's translation is fine, it's usually not the phrasing I would have used and/or doesn't match the style I used to translate other segments from scratch, not to mention various mistranslations that need correcting. The result is that the existing translation is of marginal, if any, help to me.
Furthermore, I don't know how other translators see it, but for me, building onto an existing translation is unpleasant work compared with having a clean slate, so everything else being equal, I'd still rather just handle a regular translation job. I suspect that this because the act of composing and reworking my translation is part of the process I go through to understand the source text deeply and that having a pre-existing translated text interferes in this exercise, forcing me to work in a way that feels constraining. I also prefer an approach that lets me go through a document with a draft first and then come back for a second editing to correct, but I find that I'm not able to do this when I have to press my translation into an existing text, once again pushing me out of my comfort zone. It would be interesting to find out if I'm unique in this regard or if this is a common translation mindset.
Working off a machine translation would be even more challenging than this. Therefore, if the client's objective is to receive work on par with what we usually deliver, then I would only be able to handle that at standard rates (applying volume and gold text discounts).
At least for the English/Korean language pair, I'd say that the only way to make post-MT editing work is if the client is willing to accept a "good enough" delivery. In this case, there'd be no point in an extra proofreading step or in using subject-matter experts like we usually do. The translator would only need to focus on delivering something understandable and not have to worry about being held accountable for a publishable final version. This is still more than MT often delivers, but is not what our clients usually pay us to provide.
I'd be willing to check with another resource for this kind of post-MT edit workflow and target a price at about half of our standard rate. Would you like me to try that and get back to you on it tomorrow?

Some Thoughts from Ansan on the Sewol Sinking Five Days Into the Tragedy

President Park just declared Ansan a disaster zone in order to make the city eligible for various federal assistance. I'm sure the mood is amplified for me because I'm so close to ground zero in terms of the school that the missing kids attended, but it feels in Korea just like it did after 9/11 in the US. 
The government's cancelled all public festivals (yeah, no Street Arts or Tulip festivals in Ansan this year), election campaigning is forbidden and the news keeps talking about the national trauma that's being suffered by the citizenry (not to mention the relatives of the missing, or of the missing themselves, or their friends who were rescued and are now wracked with guilt). Commentators on the left and right are going on and on about the rotten core of Korean society. 
The ban on electioneering has at least gotten one Ansan politician I know to shut up a bit after having posted multiple SNS and text messages last Wednesday on how horrible he felt about what happened and how he was heading straight down to the accident site. I'm not sure why, especially since he's not an office-holder; not even a candidate. He's a "preliminary candidate" for mayor. His sign says he'll be a mayor who is good at working; apparently he can't work quietly though. According to the news, they've finally chased out these scumbags from Jindo who were posing for photos and sharing in the free food brought in by real volunteers for the relatives of the missing. Way to go, Mr. Soong Huh!
Meanwhile, the government keeps throwing hundreds of rescuers, divers and ships into the mix and then talking about how hard it is to get into the sunken vessel. So here we are, five days into it, and they still can't find 80% of the kids even though they know exactly where they are.
I've got a detective friend here in Ansan who investigates deaths in the district where the school's located. He's gone off the grid and is surely down there at Jindo IDing bodies. He told me that after 20 years of this, he doesn't get any emotional feelings from his work anymore, but I bet this time is different.
Cauvery went to his first funeral a couple nights ago. He and Treasure don't seem too affected by the disaster, but who really knows, right? They have other friends with missing older brothers and sisters too so there should be more funerals in the schedule soon. As an aside, Treasure tells me the teachers at school are having an easier time than usual keeping the classes under control.
Lots of people I know are letting me know know they're praying for the situation. One competent dive team on the first day would have been worth more than all the prayer in the world though. Why does nobody ever point out the obvious and/or hold the pious accountable for the ridiculous claims they make about the power of speaking to the ether? To post this kind of opinion on my Facebook discussion where all the prayer comments have been posted would be considered insensitive and offensive. Thus, I'm hiding this over here on my blog that few of them are likely to read (if you did use the "p" word and then make it this far, sorry...) It seems at least as insulting to the deceased to bring up something as glib as prayer at a time as serious as this. This irritates me, big time, especially on Easter... you know, the day of resurrection and other superhero stories like that. 
For those who are curious, here's the address of the school: 426 Gojan-dong Danwon-gu, Ansan-si, Gyeonggi-do. (And here's the website:
I'm told that the authorities have closed off Danwon High School to anyone but students; I guess so many well-wishers from around the country were coming to express their condolences and lay flowers that it just became too much. The focus for related events in Ansan seems to have moved to Hwarang park, which is quite near Danwon High, and there's tons of room there, so it's a suitable place. As far as I know, evening candlelight vigils are being held there, starting around 8pm each day. 
For those wishing to visit, here's a map. The closest subway stop to the park is Choji station.
Myunghee reports that business at Only Coffee is way down since the sinking.

Guidelines for Preparing a Resume/CV and Cover Letter/Self-Introduction Letter for Getting a Job in Korea

As Korean companies expand their operations on the world stage, they are hiring a growing number of non-Koreans for positions both in Korea and overseas. The number of non-Koreans chasing such jobs continues to outpace supply though, especially at the entry level, and so applying effectively is more important than ever.

Unless you've networked your way to an unpublished position (it happens!) or have unique talents that would give you global competitiveness just about anywhere, you will have to do your homework and prepare adequately for the process in advance.

I've previously answered some questions regarding the job search effort:

We've also got the two following free Special Business Reports posted on Korea Business Central.

Focusing on seekers of entry-level or slightly higher positions, this article discusses the specifics of preparing key documents of the application based on questions I've received many times from KBC members and others.

1. What are the key differences between applying to a Korean company in Korea and a multinational company in Korea?

If you're applying to a multinational company, your documents can generally follow international standards for job applications and you won't need to adapt your pitch to Korean procedures, formats and sensibilities as much.

Generally, multinational companies are more likely to hire through recruiters, whereas Korean companies will have on-the-ground hiring departments that primarily handle this and they will follow Korean norms.

But appearances can be deceiving since some multinational companies allow their Korean operations to run fully (or nearly fully) on Korean lines. For example, even though Homeplus is owned by Tesco of the UK, the Korean office is more Korean than international (probably more Samsung than anything else, since it is run by former Samsung executives), even though a few foreign executives are dispatched from the UK. I'm told this is how Amway Korea operates, too. Therefore, those multinational companies where the Korean office is its own operation, rather than a small extension of a supra-national organization, you are likely to find yourself going through Korean processes when applying for lower-level jobs.

Keep in mind that even if you are applying to a Korean company, as a foreigner, you're still an unusual hire. Therefore, the hiring for these positions is done in a much more ad hoc way, rather than the twice-yearly hiring that many of the large Korean conglomerates schedule out in advance for their Korean applicants. Because of this, there is a lot more scope for you to take the initiative in the job search process, such as by finding jobs through networking, by reaching out to the hiring department personally, or by being creative (in a good way!) with the formats, information and procedures Korean applicants would otherwise be expected to follow.

2. What should go into my resume or CV?

Koreans resumes typically include a small photograph. This should be a head shot similar to what you'd submit with a passport application and not a family or vacation photo. It goes right up at the top of the first page, usually in the right corner. 

Unless you're closer to 50 or 60 than 25, I'd suggest you put your birthdate at the top, too. This may be a no-no for companies to ask back home, but the Koreans you are applying to would like to know (whether they come out and say it or not). Besides, if they've asked for your foreigner registration number or a copy of your passport, they'll know your birth date anyway. As with anywhere, but perhaps to a greater degree in Korea, being young works in your favor for entry-level positions.

Include your nationality and visa status, if an advantage (see below).

Other than that, include the standard stuff, such as education, work experience, and other professional skills and interests. Be specific so that your readers can know exactly when you were working or studying and look up your university and previous companies on the Internet by name.

You may not want to include work experiences that Koreans might misinterpret. For example, you're unlikely to get many brownie points as a "go-getter" if you mention your university work experience at Burger King. Back home, having a part-time job during high school or college shows a strong work ethic; in Korea, it can lead to unhelpful questions and assessments of you.

Most positions that Westerners from English-speaking countries apply for leverage English skills and your potential employer may not care that much if you speak Korean. (see also Reflections on the Benefits of Learning Korean to One's Career in Korea) Still, it's good to show your commitment to Korea by including any Korean-language courses you've graduated from, as well as other Korea-focused language or business certificates (the KBC Professional Certification Program is a great attention-getter!) You might even include experiences you've had with Koreans back home, such as volunteering with Korean student organizations there.

If you've been in Korea for very long, be sure to mention how long; the longer the better, since this shows your commitment to staying around and not leaving the position early because you got tired of Korea. If you've been off the beaten track in Korea, mention your travels briefly. If you like Korean soju or makgeolli, you might even mention this, as it's a great talking point and tells the company you'll be willing to join and participate in functions with alcohol (usually a good thing, though not as big a deal as in years past).

If there are online materials about your professional or academic experience relevant to the role, including a link to an online portfolio or to actual certifications can be helpful. It can't hurt to include a link to your LinkedIn profile, also.

When Koreans prepare their resumes, they invariably include a few lines about hobbies and other personal interests. I would recommend you do the same, but don't overdo it, such that your company thinks you'll be so focused on the weekend that you won't be willing to put in long hours during the week or that you'll be unavailable for weekend work, as it arises. (BTW, if you're not willing to work more than the standard 40 hours per week, you might reconsider whether Korea's the right place for you!)

Your resume in Korea will not be too long even if it has a bit more information than you might ordinarily put on a resume back home, but I'd still suggest you keep it at no more than two pages.

3. What should go into my cover letter and should I translate it to Korean?

Koreans call the cover letter a "self-introduction letter" and this is where you get past the raw facts to show why you're the best person for the job. This is not the time to list out how you want the work to help you; this is where you point out how your skills will benefit the company. The self-introduction letter is also not just a regurgitation of your resume but should emphasize your fit and strengths concisely.

Korean self-introduction letters sometimes go many pages, but I wouldn't recommend this at all. If you're writing the letter in English, a Korean recruiter (even one with good, but not native, English skills) can get bogged down in a lot of words.

I recommend translating your self-introduction letter to Korean; making it short will help you to keep the translation costs down, too. One thing to keep in mind when preparing your letter in Korean is to avoid creating unreasonable expectations of your Korean skills, or to think that this is a deal maker anyway (see link above about learning Korean). The purpose for presenting a letter in Korean is to help the recruiter get quickly to the information in your background that's relevant without a language barrier and to help you show an extra level of commitment to the position through having made this effort. If your Korean skills are not fantastic, it would be reasonable to include a sentence in the letter mentioning this. The HR person will understand then that you had the document translated, which can still show your sincerity, especially if you include a few words (not a lot!) about what Korea means to you personally. It never hurts to mention that you're willing and eager to learn more about Korea and Korean ways, too.

One more selling point can be your visa status. If you're in Korea on a visa that lets you work in-country without being sponsored by your employer, this both shows your commitment to Korea and takes a burden off your employer. Not only can the HR people avoid the hassle of paperwork, but the company also isn't legally responsible for your good behavior in Korea. Therefore, if you have one of these visas, mention it both in your resume and cover letter. (see also Answers to Top Questions about Business Visas in Korea)

There's certainly more to the job application process than a good resume and cover letter, but the guidelines above will help you make the best impression at this stage of the application process.

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans Don't Write Numbers Out Very Often

In a previous tip, we covered the fact that some Korean number units don't jive with English. The following tip points out that the way numbers are written also differs between the two languages.

In English, we generally spell out numbers through 100 and then use numerals after that. Here are a couple examples.

  • Materials prepared by third-party agencies are copyrighted.
  • Apnea occurs when you stop breathing in your sleep for ten seconds or more at a time.

However, this is how we might translate these into Korean.

  • 제3자 기관에서 준비한 자료는 저작권의 보호를 받습니다.
  • 수면무호흡증은 수면 중 한번에 10초 이상 호흡을 중단할 때 발생합니다.

This is not to say that Korean cannot be written out long form (it can!), or that English writers always follow this rule (they don't!). In fact, in technical English writing or for dates, dollar amounts, bullet points and plenty of other situations, numerals can be found in abundance in English prose.

But in general, you'll find that written Korean uses more numerals than English.

This causes trouble with quality assurance in the latest CAT tools (e.g. Trados Studio, memoQ) when setting things up to check for congruity of number units between source and target segments. Not only do the differences in Korean numbering units create confusion (see link in the first sentence of this article above) but the use of more numerals in Korean writing generates a lot of false-positives for potential errors and can be cumbersome to work through at the QA stage.

Korean Translation Tip: When checking for number congruity between a source English text and a target Korean translation, be ready for a lot of warning that don't mean anything. Or, if you just want to save time, set the QA checker to ignore these mismatches.

Applying for a Korean F-5 (Permanent Resident) Visa While on an F-6 (Spouse Visa)

I had previously looked into getting an F-5 visa through the points system, but though I had enough points, I was on a student visa at the time, and there is no way to transition from that to an F-5. However, I've been on an F-6 (Spouse Visa) for a few years now and recently applied for an F-5.

I found the information available online and at Immigration to be adequate, but minimal and a little confusing. I hope my explanation of the requirements is somewhat more complete and helpful (at least for American citizens going to the F-5 from an F-6).

To be eligible for the F-5, I had to be in Korea for two years on the F-6 first (it didn't matter that I've been in and out of Korea for much longer than that before) and any time I spent out of the country (such as back in the States selling our house in 2012) did not count toward the two years.

Here's what I was responsible to have in-hand when applying at Immigration.

1. Police report from my home country (해외범죄경력 증명)

In my case, this took the form of a Criminal History Summary Check through the FBI (unfortunately the US Embassy in Korea provides no help at all in this matter). I found various information online about applying for this through a "channeler" or through a local office in my state, and even the online information about going through the FBI was confusing and made me concerned that the FBI wouldn't fulfill my request or that the document issued by them would not be usable for the visa application. But I took a gamble and went ahead and applied based on the information at the following link: 

To do so, I downloaded the standard fingerprint form (FD-258) at and took it down to my local police station. A detective on duty was happy to take my fingerprints.

I then mailed that with my application and credit card payment details (see link above for instructions) to the address shown and waited about a month to get it back.

Unfortunately, Immigration wouldn't accept this; it needed to be certified with an apostille (another service that the US Embassy doesn't provide). To get this, I had to send the certificate to the US Department of State in Washington, DC to request authentication. For details on that, I followed the instructions at this link:

The instructions include a requirement to provide a self-addressed prepaid envelope, but being in Korea, I didn't have access to US postage for the return. So, I prepared everything without the postage and sent it to my father in the US, asked him to get the postage (for both the outside envelope and return envelope) and forward on the documents to the US Department of State. Another month later, I received my authenticated criminal background check back, ready to submit.

The problem with this process is not just that there are so many points along the way where something can go wrong, but Korean Immigration will only recognize documents under three months old. That means, once you get your criminal background check in the mail, don't wait to send it in for authentication. And after getting the authentication, don't wait to take it down to Immigration and apply. I slid in just a week under the three-month deadline since I had not moved as quickly I should have to apply for the apostille.

I was told the first time I asked that I didn't need to get the criminal background check translated. However, when I showed up with the final application, a different person was at the desk. She told me it had to be translated into Korean. She also said I could do it myself and that I didn't need to hire someone else (which was nice!). She was even prepared to accept a hand-written translation, though I took it to the office and typed it up nicely there. Finally, upon submitting the translation, she gave me a certificate to sign saying that I'd translated it accurately.

2. Original AND photocopies of US passport and US driver's license

I might have only needed one of these documents, but I took both just to be safe.

3. W200,000 in revenue stamps

Apparently the cost used to be W70,000 but went up just this year. The revenue stamps (수입인지) can be purchased directly at the Immigration Office.

4. A filled out Permanent Resident Eligibility Application Review Report (영주자격신청심사보고서)

It looks like the following and can be picked up at the Immigration Office.


5. A filled out application form (통합신청서)

This is the main application filled out for all types of visa applications and is available at the Immigration Office, too.

6. One color photograph

This must have been taken within the previous three months (though who's really checking?). The instructions say it's supposed to be 반명함 (half business-card) size, but Immigration rejected the photo I took, saying it was too small. When I took it back to the photographer, he insisted he'd given me the right one the first time. I still got my photo printed again, though, this time bigger (3.5cm x 4.5cm), and it turned out that this is what Immigration wanted.

7. Official copies of whatever family documents my local government office (동사무소) could provide for my wife, my kids and me, including 주민등록표, 기본증명서, 가족관계증명서, 혼인관계증명서.

I don't think I needed all that; but why risk leaving something out?

8. Proof of assets

They wanted to see proof that my wife and I have at least W30 million in assets in Korea. For this, I went down to city hall and got registered copies of the titles to our apartment and my office (등기 부등본). I also threw in my business registration (사업자등록증) for good measure, but that got returned to me, so I guess they didn't need it.

9. Wife and her ID

They would not accept the application without my wife being there too and presenting her ID.


Having submitted all of this at one time, I was issued a document evidencing that my application had been received (체류허가 신청확인서) and the officer told me that they'd contact me within ten months. She said that I would not be contacted before then, so I guess I just wait, though she did say it might be a little less than ten months. When I was in the office asking about things a month ago, the officer at the desk at that time told me it was an eight-month wait, so there's apparently some flexibility on this.

I can't say that the above documents and processes will be the same everywhere (things vary mysteriously) or that the requirements won't change between now and tomorrow. Also, the process for getting the criminal background check will be different for each country, and I got the impression there was a way I could have also gotten an acceptable document through the state rather than the FBI.  But at least, the above describes how I did it and it worked, so hopefully this explanation will be helpful to others facing the same challenge.


UPDATE: January 26, 2015

Immigration contacted me early last month to have me bring in current versions of documents proving that my wife and I are still married and that we still own our apartment. About a month after doing that, I got a call on January 6th, telling me I could pick up my new alien registration card on the 20th, which I did. It looks like this:


This means that after about three months of getting my documents in order and submitting them, it then took almost another year to be issued the F-5 visa.

Even Google Can't Keep the Korean Version of the Chrome Browser Free of Mistranslations

If you use the Google Chrome browser, you're sure to have come across this message at the top of the browser window:


Here's what Korean users have been seeing here:


The indicated Korean says, "Not Completed".... Hmm... So Google asks if you want your password saved and Korean users can choose from "Not Completed" and "Yes"? There's a Korean saying for situations where the answer doesn't match the question: 동문서답, "East question; West answer".

How did "Never" get translated to "Not Completed"? It's probable that the word "Never" appeared in a long list of words and phrases from the Google Chrome interface which was then provided to the translation team for localization to Korean. I bet the translators were not even told that "Never" was one of the possible answers to the above question.

Without context, the translators just guessed at how "Never" would be used. It's hard to think of any situation in which "Never" could be translated as "Not Completed" (and the translators were probably not selected or compensated in a way that would have resulted in more than a split-second of thought about this). Perhaps they supposed this to be the answer to a question about whether someone had completed a particular study course or something...

Even in English, "Never" is a bit of a strange response to this yes/no question. Just translating it as 아니오 ("No") would not have been bad, but to catch the emphasis of "Never", I'd recommend this be changed to 절대 아니오 ("Absolutely not"). Unfortunately, to cover in Korean the full implied English meaning of "No, and don't ever save it... and don't ask me about it again either, dammit" would take more space than is available for the button.

Interestingly, the Korean translation of the question is phrased badly, too. It's not completely wrong, but the grammatical tags in the text personalize the Chrome Browser in a bit of a quaint way and the text asks if the user wants to save the password "in" the website. That's not right... (Just in case Google's listening...), here's a better translation: "Chrome에서 이 사이트에 해당하는 비밀번호를 저장하도록 하시겠습니까?". 

Korean Translation Tip - In a recent article, I identified five common failure points in localization projects. The above mistakes were caused by not following my advice for the following three.

  • Failure Point #2 - Attempting to translate long lists of words and phrases without adequate context
  • Failure Point #4 - Focusing on budget and turnaround without considering the ROI
  • Failure Point #5 - Wasting resources on inefficient review steps and ignoring vital Q/A tasks and processes

* For the full article, see Rethinking Korean Translation and Localization: Process Failure Points.

* For lots more translation errors: A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

With all the hullaballoo about Google's technical prowess, including online/statistical translation that supposedly leverages crowd-sourcing (they even provide their own free online translation platform in order to mine the work of a gazillion professional translators for insights!), how is it that years after the Google Chrome browser was introduced, this very common user message is still in such bad shape? It reminds me of the Windows 7 error that I found about three years after Windows 7 had been released...

Many mistakes, once made, never get fixed... Considering this, you'd think more effort would go into getting things right the first time.

Applying Best Practices to the Translation of Korean Survey Responses to English

How do you create a good translation of responses to surveys and questionnaires? With smooth target-language sentences and phrases that convey the rough meanings of the source? Or with translations that accurately and consistently represent the way the original writers expressed themselves, including as many nuances as possible between terms and writing styles, and even mistakes and truncated phrasings?

I know these are leading questions, but I find it necessary to explain. If a customer is unable to read the Korean source, they may not realize that an excellent English translation will likely include funny punctuation, broken sentences, awkward phrasings and other apparent blemishes in order to communicate the source meanings more accurately. In fact, these unexpected variations in the translation can actually make it appear that the translator was careless.

Many decisions in translating this type of content require that the translator strike a balance between accuracy and readability. I usually put more emphasis on readability for survey responses than, say, for legal text. But I still make an effort to stay as close to the source as possible.


I recently translated several hundred responses from consumers to a survey question about why they chose one of two specific technologies. There were a lot of similarities between responses and, in particular, three particular words were used to describe the advantages of the technology that each respondent chose. 

  • 간편하다 - simple, convenient, easy
  • 편하다 - comfortable, relaxed, easy
  • 편리하다 - convenient, handy, easy
  • There were actually two more which came up one time each (편의하다 - also "convenience"; 편안하다 - more like "peace of mind") but I won't include these below in the discussion.

As you can see, there is considerable overlap in the meanings of the words; they are almost interchangeable. However, while it would have been easy just to translate them all the same way (such as "easy" or "convenient") or to not bother to use the same word each time, I decided to assign each a specific English translation and use that consistently throughout the project as follows.

  • 간편하다 - simple to use
  • 편하다 - comfortable to use
  • 편리하다 - convenient

Strictly speaking, the Korean didn't generally include the word "use" in the source, but because "simple" and "comfortable" can have other meanings when written on their own, I added "to use" to maintain fidelity of meaning. 

Sometimes "comfortable to use" seemed a bit awkward in context, but in keeping with my desire to give the client as nuanced (but consistent) a delivery as possible, I stuck with my phrasing. However, in one case, I translated 간편하다 to "tidy" rather than "simple" because it was clearly the more proper translation.

Verb and Sentence Forms

Another issue that comes up in Korean survey responses is related to inconsistency of grammar used. Respondents generally write in as quick and easy a manner as possible and often don't use complete sentences or check their writing, and each person has their own style and terminology. So, as just one example, when responding to the question of why they chose a particular technology, there were various ways that respondents expressed "convenient".

  1. 편리 - This is the shortest way to say it and so my translation here was just "convenient".
  2. 편리성 - The last character converts the adjective to a noun, so "convenience" is the closer translation.
  3. 편리하다 - This is the root form of the word but can also be used as a complete standalone sentence in the short form. Although the Korean doesn't include the words "It is", in English we would say "It's convenient", and so this is how I translated it.
  4. 편리합니다 - This is the formal form of #3. In these cases, I made sure to write "It is" rather than just the contraction "It's", which would be about as close as we can get in English to representing the difference between these two versions.
  5. 편리함 - The last character converts the adjective to a noun, but the nuance is a bit different than #2 above. It's basically an abbreviated form of #3 (편리하다) and so I translated this in an abbreviated way too, by not adding "It is" or "I" as a subject and just using "Convenient" (same as #1).
  6. 편리해서 - This one and the next four all include implied causation: "Why did you choose it? Because it is convenient." But "because" is a long word; in this case, the form of "because" in the Korean is short (just one character) and the shortest way to express the same in English would be "as it is convenient".
  7. 편리하니까 or 편리하니 - I chose "since it is convenient", not because ~니까 or ~니 specifically mean "since", but in order to distinguish it from the others.
  8. 편리함으로 and 편리하기에 - I couldn't think of another way to express either of these without getting really long (e.g. "due to the fact that it is convenient" or "due to it being convenient"), and since these only appeared once each, I broke my rule of insisting on a unique translation for each version and went with "as it is convenient" (same as #6).
  9. 편리하기 때문에 - The ~기 때문에 is nice and long, so "because it is convenient" was the suitable variant since it uses "because", a long word.

This is a cultural matter, but Koreans often avoid giving responses that would seem too direct. Rather than write "It is convenient", they might say something closer to "It would probably be convenient". At the risk of the translation sounding a little different than what American survey respondents would have written, I attempted to reproduce this nuance also. As there was more than one version of it, I came up with set-piece wordings that I used throughout, even though the meanings are basically the same.

  • 편리할 것 같다 - It would probably be convenient
  • 편리할 듯하다 - It seems it would be convenient

Other Issues

As far as punctuation goes, in cases (such as full stops) where Korean uses the same punctuation as English, I included it if it was in the source and left it off if not. For punctuation expressed differently between English and Korean, I tried to translate in a way that gave the English the same "flavor" as the Korean. (e.g. Korean's like to put a tilde (~) after sentences and phrases to give an informal feeling; ellipsis marks (...) might be a good way to communicate the same thing in English.)

In nearly every Korean response that would have been translated as a full sentence, the subject was left out. That's normal for Korean, especially in this situation where the subject is particularly clear from the context and/or not particularly relevant. As shown above, sometimes I just used "It" as the subject to represent accurately the meaning in English. In other cases, the subject "I" is implied, and so I added this, even though it was not in the source. A few times I guessed.

There are plenty of other small ways to maintain precision and consistency in a task like this. For example, some responses use the word 차량 and others 자동차 or 차. While the words may be very similar, "vehicle" is clearly the right translation for 차량, "car" for 차 and "automobile" for 자동차. Picking a term and sticking with it throughout may not normally be a big deal but it is still a best practice.

How about misspellings in the Korean source? If they didn't impact the translation and the meaning was clear, I just translated those into correctly spelled English as it's not possible to recreate the same mistake with English letters and explaining these individually to the client would not have been worth anybody's time.

Ever so occasionally, the Korean used a term that implies a somewhat longer meaning in English but didn't come out and say it explicitly. For example, in this job there was a phrase about not using data, but what it really meant was not using up the monthly allocation of data under one's phone rate plan. I translated this as "without using [one's] data [quota]" to show what was in the original and what was implied.

Alas, these rules aren't always hard and fast because of the language differences. I've been known to compromise consistency in order to increase readability if it doesn't detract from correctness. In this job, the adverb 별도의 seemed to be better translated as "separately" sometimes, but "additionally" in other cases, and so I tried to match this translation to the situation.

Translating survey responses may often look easy since the responses can be so similar to each other. However, making the extra effort to translate in the way I've described above helps to give the client a better final product, even though it requires more effort by the translator.

Rethinking Korean-Language Translation and Localization: Process Failure Points Demonstrated with Examples of Korean Mistranslations from Microsoft, Google and Instagram

I'm seeing a steady increase in the number of software and online translation projects we handle for the English to Korean language pair.

At the same time, I've noticed that client and translator expectations about budgets, processes and client-vendor involvement are not always in sync with the difficulties these projects present. In addition to lack of context, programming codes embedded in text and other technical challenges of the translation process, differences between languages in terms of structure and cultural and grammatical interpretations of the written word can easily confuse matters and introduce serious errors that impact the final product. Since the differences between English and Korean (both linguistically and culturally) are much greater than those between Western languages, the translation and localization of English to Korean is particularly challenging. 

Typical inquiries for software localization work often sound like the following: “Translations must be completed in our online interface within six hours. There’s no guarantee of volume or minimum fees. The material would be tech in nature (software).” or "We've got an Excel spreadsheet of phrases here for translation by tomorrow morning and our budget is $XX. Be careful not to mess up the coding in the text. And make sure you check your work."

Amazingly, the first project request mentioned above came in for work that was to be provided to a large software company. And is a final exhortation to "check your work" a way for the client to try to get something for nothing? Does that mean we don't check our work otherwise?

When translation is regarded as an afterthought to be taken care of as fast and cheaply as possible by whoever happens to be available at the time -- and sometimes in as few steps as possible -- is it any wonder that I keep finding errors in the Korean versions of leading software and online interfaces from tech names like Microsoft, Google and Instagram?

The standard localization process involves three basic steps. The source text is first translated into the target language by a single translator. Then, a second linguist proofreads the translator's work. Finally, the proofread translation is placed into the software or online interface (or if printed materials, then a design program, such as Illustrator or InDesign) and reviewed in-context by a linguist (possibly the original translator or proofreader) to catch final errors.

There can be slight variations in this workflow, such as the inclusion of reference files and special localization-related instructions at the beginning, translator questions along the way, sending back of the proofreader's changes to the translator for re-verification and/or a second post-layout proof. But these three steps remain as the underlying workflow in most translation processes we work on.

I've identified a number of key failure points in this workflow though, and I believe the explanations and examples presented below demonstrate that the standard process is not up to the task of producing the highest quality work on a consistent basis for English to Korean localization work.

Some of my recommendations demand higher budgets, but new approaches with the latest software can also achieve enhanced efficiency through proper up-front preparation, more (and more effective!) ongoing communication between the client and translation team to work out issues, redesigned workflows with a new linguist role (that of the Korean-speaking tech-savvy English native-speaker who functions as the central point around which the process runs) and a longer schedule for all the back-and-forth.

Failure Point #1 - Ignoring the impact of inter-language sentence structure differences on translation

Software often includes text with embedded variables for which values are to be inserted dynamically to create complete sentences that are then shown to users during use. Here's an example of what we might be asked to translate:

Segment 1: <b>In any given single month over the coming one year, how likely are you to buy at least ^f('X5').

Segment 2: toNumeral()==23?"Y300":"$10"^ from an online store, such as ^pineOrp()^?</b>.

* Text altered to protect client confidentiality.

When translating from English to Korean, more often than not, the sequence of variables may have to be moved around (assuming the translators even know what the variables mean). Also, when sentences are broken into segments like this, it's seldom possible to translate the parts individually; they have to be translated as a whole and then resegmented.

In some cases, the spellings of words can impact other text in a sentence, too. For example, in English, inserting a person's name can affect the gender of pronouns elsewhere in the sentence. And a variable for a noun may require either an "a" or "an" before it, depending on whether the first letter is a vowel or a consonent. These issues have to be taken into account when writing the English sentences but this effort does not necessarily transfer in translation as there are completely different complications that might crop up in Korean, such as the impact of spellings on surrounding grammatical tags. (See Here's Why You Can't Blindly Search-and-Replace in a Korean Text.) Even just asking for someone's first name and last name on a Korean form will get everything backward from the English!

Here is a sentence from my Korean Translation Buyer's Guide to illustrate just how different the sentence structures are between English and Korean:


What all this means is that the effort to get things right when variables are embedded in the text can be significant. It requires adequate budget for the time taken, as well as responsiveness from the client, and a translation team that is attentive and patient enough to identify and point these issues out and consider solutions, even at the cost of interrupting the workflow.

The translation of texts that consist of fragments of English sentences to be translated individually should be avoided at all cost. Without proper advance planning and ongoing effort, these texts usually result in nonsensical translations since it's not always possible to identify word-for-word correspondence from language to language. Here's an extreme example (with the text altered to protect client confidentiality) we were asked to translate recently. 


Example Error from Google

Recently I discovered an error on the Google Android phone which illustrates this very problem. When uploading photos from the phone, I got the message (in Korean), "uploading 344 of a total of 200 [photos]” when it should have said something like “Uploading photo 200 of a total of 344 photos.” In other words, the numbers were switched.

The mistake would have occurred when the English source provided to the translation team consisted of the GUI text with coded variables embedded for the numbers. The translator should have switched the variable sequence to match the Korean sentence structure, but for one reason or another (possibly because of software limitations), the English order was maintained in error. Even when sequencing can be maintained, it frequently results in awkward wordings or confusion for the end user.

Rethinking the Process

Every sentence which contains variables needs to be reviewed to check for issues. If the meaning is unclear or if there are word order or other considerations, such as potential changes to the surrounding text caused by certain potential variable values, the translation team should discuss with the client about the impact this has on the translation.

In my experience, these issues are not always obvious before starting the job; it is only after much work has been done that awkward translations become evident. Therefore, while an initial review of the document should take place to be sure the issues won't be excessive, the really careful check can be part of a later review by a native speaker in the source language who also knows the target language.

Some jobs just aren't doable. The London fog example above was part of a huge project to localize an ESL program to Korean. There were so many issues with the job (even beyond the example provided) that I had to refuse the work as, to do it right, would have required a translation team to be embedded in the client's office for weeks to work painstakingly through the text. Some projects just aren't conducive to an outsourced approach, even though an in-house approach is unworkable or cost prohibitive.

Failure Point #2 - Attempting to translate long lists of words and phrases without adequate context

Translators need to work from context and it is not realistic to expect a perfect translation of just an Excel spreadsheet or Word document with nothing more than long lists of words and phrases to be translated. Without context, even the best translator will not always be able to figure out how a word or phrase is to be used.

Just telling a translator to send back a list of questions for clarification may also not be enough because there's no guarantee that a translator will know that he or she has misunderstood something. And (to be really frank here), translators hate to interrupt their workflow with this stuff, and so the temptation to just translate and move on can be compelling.

In fact, even though translations into Korean should be done by native Korean speakers, I've found that as a native English speaker, I'm often in a better position than my Korean team to grasp the nuances of the English source text and detect mistranslations or identify questions to ask the client. I also find that these issues jump out at me more vividly after I've received the translation from my team, not before the work starts, since I can see how the text was understood (or misunderstood) by my team and make a comparison.

And finally, I am often dismayed to see that clients do not recognize the challenges non-native English-speaker translators face and are not interested in getting involved. For example (to take an actual issue we encountered not long ago), it takes a pretty nuanced understanding of English to know that "property" can refer to real estate or the sum of one's assets; but "properties" is only real estate. Fortunately, by adding my additional role to the process, I can take care of many issues myself without going to the client for clarification, helping to reduce the burden on both the translators and the client.

Example Error from Microsoft

Here’s another example of what can happen without context. The following phrase in the Korean version of Windows 8 appeared when trying to use the camera app while a camera was not connected to the computer:

“카메라를 연결합니다”

When I first saw this message, I thought the computer was telling me to wait while it connected to a webcam (although the Korean text used here isn't exactly right for that situation either). However, based on the context (which is made doubly clear because the options on the screen are grayed out pending a camera connection), the Korean text should be a command telling the user to connect a camera in order to use the application. 

In this case, the Korean text has a meaning more along the lines of a declarative sentence describing the action of connecting a camera because the translator understood "connect a camera" as an infinitive phrase (e.g. the phrase "to connect a camera" in English) rather than a command.

Rethinking the Process

Translating word and phrase lists properly takes considerably longer than working in normal prose. That's because word and phrase lists don't serve as their own context like ordinary text does, and so a careful translator referencing client explanations, screenshots and other materials will spend longer than normal on the work. Sure, a translator can rush through, but without having and using additional reference information, there are likely to be some mistakes, possibly many.

In my experience, issues with a lack of reference material can be greatly alleviated through a careful review by a native English-speaker Korean translator (i.e. someone like me) after the translation has been completed by the Koreans. This is an important value-add for identifying problems and potential issues to be discussed with the translation team and/or the client; or even for solving problems without bothering the client. However, while this additional review step can reduce the requirements on the client to provide context and respond to questions, it takes a lot of time to manage the communications with the client and translators. 

Failure Point #3 - Focusing on budget and turnaround without considering the ROI

In addition to support from the client and effectiveness of the workflow, the quality of a translation project rests also on the basic translation skills of the linguists, their fluency with the subject matter, their ability to work in the tools and their effort and aptitude to do a good job. When you consider that even a premium translation effort represents only a fraction of the total cost that an end client puts into developing their materials and the fact that the accuracy of a translation can ultimately make or break the ROI of a localization project, it would seem that cost should only be one factor in the decisions about resources and workflow.

Unfortunately, I get, on a daily basis, BCC emails sent out by agencies to umpteen translators at a time offering texts to be translated or proofread on a rush basis and at rates that don't attract my attention. Furthermore, the fragmented way these jobs are sent out means there's little to no continuity between tasks and this compromises the final output in various ways, particularly in terms of consistency.

I will also use this as an opportunity to point out that hourly rates for editing and proofreading fall below what skilled Korean>English translators can earn on per-word translation work. This means that review work is often handled by lesser or beginner resources and avoided by veterans. I haven't figured out the entire dynamic here, but there seems to be a lot more client tolerance for proper rates at the early stages of the process than the end, especially when the rates can be expressed in units of word output rather than units of time input. (For a bit more of my soapbox here, see Ten Reasons to Avoid Proofreading, Editing and QA Tasks on Korean Translation Projects.)

Example Error from Google

Consider the following awkward Korean phrase I discovered on the camera help screen of my Android phone and what it would convey if written in English:

“인물 단체는 베스트페이스 모드를 이용합니다.”

“Use Best Face mode for [taking photos of] groups of humans.”

Humans? How about "people"? In fact, the problem is even worse than this because the rest of the Korean translation is poorly written, too. The English on-screen documentation had gems like the following: “It provides best picture automatically changing scene mode in according with the environment”.

Either the Korean was poorly translated from bad English or both were translated from a third language by the camera's supplier and the translators or writers working on the project were not competent in either language.

Rethinking the Process

Putting together a good localization team means working with translators who can and will make the effort required. But it's not just about more money. Translators skilled in CAT tools (such as Trados or memoQ) and other technical skills to use the software, as well as experience in the field, are able to bring higher efficiency to the process and often deliver large jobs at lower rates than expected after considering volume and fuzzy/rep/match discounts. They also meet deadlines. This means that focusing on the base rate quoted for a job does not always take into account the real costs.

Furthermore, improved workflows can extract more value from less effort. But even the best translators may still slide into "good enough" workflows if better ideas and structures are not provided. Unfortunately, many client-imposed structures are so fragmented and cumbersome due to a lack of Korean-language skills at the project management level that efficiency, quality and consistency are all compromised. I believe that smooth end-to-end outsourced workflows from the Korean provider would add value in many ways. Those are the processes I am working to develop with my team to deliver even better quality to clients, even while cutting out the fat of inefficiency.

Failure Point #4 - Not considering the importance and difficulty of maintaining consistency

There is almost always more than one correct way to translate the same text, but if a project is handled as a sequence of independent sub-projects, if multiple translators are working simultaneously on different sections of the same job (even if accessing an online TM together), if a translation team is switched in the middle of a project -- or even if a translator working alone doesn't make the effort to use the latest tools diligently throughout a single project -- inconsistencies can creep in, both in terms of terminology and style, especially if the client isn't in a position to to demand rigorous accountability. These inconsistencies can be hard to prevent, difficult to find and nearly impossible to remove later on.

A project style guide is good, as is a glossary. Both should be prepared at the beginning of a project. And translators should always be provided with previous translations handled for the same client or project as reference. But with today's tools like Trados Studio or memoQ, there are also lots of other ways to improve consistency, such as with a proper termbase, use of the concordance function, LiveDocs (in memoQ) and the built-in Q/A checkers of the various CAT tools. (At this point, I don't know if machine translation plug-ins can make constructive contributions to the process for Korean and English.)

Unfortunately, at least with the English to Korean language pair, there are very few translators who have the software AND know-how to use it beyond the basic functions AND are all that interested in working through the complicated processes of setting up and using all those extra files and windows while translating. You can clearly see how unimportant Korean is to the CAT tool makers by counting how many of these software interfaces and help files are available in Korean: zero, as far as I know. The resistance I get from my resources when it's time to upgrade and learn new ways of working shows me that the local Korean translation market does not demand proficiency in CAT technology.

Example Error from Instagram

What happens when consistency is lost? Consider the following sequence of Korean text in the Android Instagram app: “공유하기”, “삭제”, “사람 추가” and “복사 공유 URL”

The first of the four items was translated into Korean using a style that is different from the other three. In the English interface, the four phrases appear as "Share," "Delete," "Add People" and "Copy Share URL" in the imperative form, each line starting with a verb. In other words, the grammar of the English text is written consistently and correctly while the grammar of the Korean text is not. 

Rethinking the Process

It has become clear to me that I'm not in a position to expect high levels of CAT-tool competency from the full field of English to Korean translators I work with in Korea. But limiting our work only to those who are skilled in Trados means missing out on some of the very best linguists for the technical fields we handle. 

Fortunately, I am also realizing that everybody on the team doesn't need to know how to use the advanced tools of our trade. One central player in the process who is proficient in the tools can cover for a team of competent translators who utilize just the basic CAT-tool functions (or don't even use them at all, sometimes).

This person (a native English-speaker) can start things off with a good glossary, prepare the files into packages for use by the translators using the professional version of the software so that the translation environment is set up in advance for the translators, review the translation with a native English-speaker's eyes, communicate with the client on all matters for clarification, and run the Q/A checks (including analysis and leverage of internal fuzzies), making final changes as necessary. 

This is perhaps even the most efficient way to run a process that focuses on and maintains consistency during the job since one person stays responsible for these aspects throughout. A client's project manager can conceivably do this too, but without Korean skills, that person will struggle to fill in all the cracks along the way, even if skilled in the CAT software and efficient workflows.

I also believe that style guides and glossaries should be viewed as living documents, to be finalized at the end of the project. Just because a particular term seems right when setting out doesn't mean one won't get better ideas while working on the job. Sending out lists of high-frequency translation units at the beginning of a project is a good way to support consistency in later work, but only if these can be reconsidered at the end of the project and updated as necessary. Everything can't be set in stone at the beginning; a final consistency review and update at the end will help to tie things together. This is an extra value-add, though.

Failure Point #5 - Wasting resources on inefficient review steps and ignoring vital Q/A tasks and processes

Translation errors can crop up anywhere. In fact, it often takes multiple sets of eyes and an adequate in-context review effort to spot these mistakes. However, even with competent and properly compensated resources at this stage, the process can make all the difference.

I find that some clients introduce an additional review step the sneaky way... by demanding additional work without paying for it. This is done by sending a proofread job back to the translator to be "validated", meaning that the translator checks each of the proofreader's changes and prepares a final version. I generally insist on billing for this review (See On Charging for Additional Translation Reviews.) and it loses me business sometimes. But I also don't think this is an efficient way to handle the review process anyway, especially if there are more steps to go, such as layout.

It has become clear to me that the differences between Korean and English are so great that true fluency is virtually unachievable if second-language learning begins later in life. I've also found (at least with Korean and English) that those born into a bilingual environment and who don't go through the pain of learning a new language the hard way often don't appreciate the necessity of achieving translation precision through careful text analysis. This is further exacerbated by the low opinion Koreans often have of translation as a profession (See About Koreans and Their Attitudes Toward Translators.), leading some who might thrive in this field to move on to more "respectable work".

How many times have you scrutinized the same text several times and overlooked an obvious error that someone else would notice right away? (That's sure to have happened to me several times in this article!) This is, of course, why multiple linguists are brought into a project. However, if the translator, proofreader and quality-assurance professionals are too similar in certain ways (such as by being native Korean speakers with a good, but not perfect grasp of English), they may all miss the same issues. (BTW, the same problem happens in a different way in translation/back-translation workflows.) In my various translation tips, I've pointed out repeated examples of things Korean translators tend to overlook (including punctuationacronymstildesmore acronymscapitalization). So, just throwing on more layers of review is not a sure-fire way to squeeze out the most quality if the same blind spots remain. 

Example Error from Microsoft

Consider the following Korean translation error on the Windows 7 dialogue box that appeared when cleaning out the Recycle Bin: 


The problematic text (circled in red) says "source copy" in Korean, but this has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the text that should appear there. This is just the familiar dialogue box telling the user about how many items are being deleted from the Recycle Bin and the word "from" appears at that spot in the English version of Windows 7.

How did this unrelated text creep into the dialogue box? Perhaps Microsoft sent off for translation an Excel file consisting of thousands of context-less interface messages without screenshots or maybe the translators were in a hurry because of an early deadline (or just wanting to finish and collect payment). Or maybe the mistake slipped in later and didn’t get noticed because corners were cut in the review steps.

How persistent can these types of translation errors in software or GUIs be? I found this one after Windows 7 had been out for about three years and this isn't even an obscure window. When I posted it to my weblog, Microsoft contacted me to say they finally fixed it thanks to my article.

* For my original article about this, see There's a Translation Error in the Korean-Language Windows 7 Interface, Too!

Example Error from Google

Here is an example of the kind of mistranslation a native English-speaker review would catch easily. My Android phone has the following menu item:


The tab labelled “설정 진입” literally translates as "Settings Entry" because the first word (“설정”) means “settings” while the second word (“진입”) means "entry, penetration, enter, penetrate". But what is this "Settings Entry" tab supposed to do? The tab has a clearer meaning in the English interface as “Settings Shortcuts.” Apparently, the translator couldn’t think of the right word here. But Korean has a perfectly suitable translation for "shortcut" and this tab should be corrected to “설정 단축 키”.

A better translator might have chosen the more accurate choice of Korean words the first time. But even if not, one of the follow-up reviews should have caught it.

* For my original article about this, see I'm Pretty Sure this Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface Came from Google.

Rethinking the Process

I have been experimenting recently with adding an additional review workflow to some projects for my best clients where I myself do a word-for-word proof of the entire English to Korean translation my team sends me after they've finished their translation and proofreading. To be honest, I'm surprised how much I have improved our deliveries by making this sizable additional investment of time.

For sure, a second proofreading step can only contribute to improvements anyway. I mean, is it really fair to expect a proofreader to catch every mistranslation, improve styling, check for terminology consistency, notice each and every typo (and not create a couple more while improving styling) and, where applicable, thoroughly consider localization factors, such as cultural appropriateness, even while making sense of phrases out of context and embedded variables, and do it all in one workflow? 

But beyond all that, my English native-speaker eyes catch mistranslations that the eyes of a Korean overlook. (For examples, see English>Korean Translation Errors Discovered Through a Proofreading Step Performed by a Native English-Speaker Translator Who Usually Handles Korean>English Translation Work.) This value-add is in addition to the stylistic matters Koreans tend to let slip by. By dedicating one workflow to issues the Korean team may miss, as well as to intra-team and team-client communications, the communication phase is condensed into a single project stage and allows the Korean team to maintain extended focus during the translation and first proofreading steps.

The extra workflow also takes the burden off the Koreans to even ask those questions. Who wants to interrupt a train of thought to send off questions for later replies in the middle of working on a document? Ideally, translators will ask anyway, but in practice, I've found it rarely gets done, especially if the linguists are afraid of exposing their ignorance on something they should have known. (I can comment on this with confidence because I experience the same thought process on my own Korean>English translations jobs, too!)

This extra proofreading step is a frustratingly time-consuming task because of all the time it takes to work things out, but it can be combined with the various Q/A work in the CAT tool to also take other burdens off the translator and proofreader (such as perfect consistency) who may be subject-matter experts but not fans of the technology. 

I've alluded above to the issue of an inefficient review step demanded of translators by some clients. But rather than creating a new workflow just to check the work of a proofreader, it would be better to integrate this additional check into the final post-layout proof and other quality assurance tasks, which need to be done anyway. Every additional workflow incurs costs (Check out Getting Things Done by David Allen for an excellent book about personal efficiency and the hidden costs of individual tasks, even small ones!) and each step is an opportunity to get files confused, introduce new errors or miss deadlines. Combining work here is surely recommended, especially as the post-layout environment is different than the translation environment (it's a different screen) and so helps to bring a new perspective on the text rather than just going back to the same document with the same blind spots again. Having all this done by someone other than the translator and proofreader mixes things up yet again, to avoid these blind spots.


As shown above, even leading companies don’t always get the localization process right and I can tell you that the Korean translations of many of the mobile apps on Google Play created by smaller providers are almost incomprehensible when handled through Google Translate or some other cut-rate approach. 

There are so many subjective aspects to translation that it may not be realistic to talk about a "100% perfect" translation; what one person considers a bit stilted may be what another views as a very precise and correct rendering. And even if we can get away with using numbers, 100% on a large project may still be out of reach. But getting from 98% to 99.5% is a worthy improvement that can be achieved by thinking outside the box and applying more effective and realistic roles and workflows.

Of course, it's worth asking if a client is willing to make the investment to achieve this level of improvement, especially considering that many errors remain invisible to the end without causing any grief to anyone (case in point: that translation error I mentioned above that remained in Windows 7 for three years before anyone bothered to fix it). In fact, the current three-step workflow has worked fine for us over the years, too.

Still, I'd like to think that we can do better and my goal is to develop workflows with my team that take advantage of all the resources at our disposal to deliver even better work than ever before and to do it without putting undo strain on clients and their budgets. I hope to release new workflow designs soon.

Eight More Tips (This is Set #3!) for Helping You Handle Your Korean Translation Projects Properly

We've just reached yet another milestone!

That’s right...

I've posted three sets of Korean translation tips (eight each), and so I’d like to celebrate by summarizing the latest batch for you here:

Don’t forget that you can also review my first and second sets of eight tips, too!

English>Korean Translation Errors Discovered through a Proofreading Step Performed by a Native English-Speaker Translator Who Usually Handles Korean>English Translation Work

Translations from English to Korean must be done by a native Korean speaker. Otherwise, the Korean writing style will not sound natural. However, sometimes only a native English speaker can fully grasp the nuances of a source text or "smell out" oddities with the source that need to be fixed.

Here are some examples.

Excel file with a long list of phrases to be translated for the GUI of a personnel management system

1. "Change Progression Steps (Hourly Only)". To a native English speaker, it seems suspiciously like "Hourly Only" should be "Hourly Employees Only". This would not be easily clear to someone without true English fluency, especially as there was no context provided in the source.

2. "Grade" - There was enough context from nearby entries for me to realize it means "Pay Grade". But is it reasonable to expect an average English>Korean translator to know this?

3. "Induction Checklist" - My team got this one right even though there was no context. It is a checklist of all the things an employee has to be taught upon entering the company.

4. "License" - In Korean, there is one word for a license to operate machinery and another to be licensed to practice a professional specialty. Which one is it?

5. "Lists" - The Korean word for lists of people is different than for lists of things. It's important to get clarification from the client on this.

A document related to accounting and taxes

6. "Other Properties" - Since it's plural, we know it's real estate. But if it has said "Other Property", it might not have been real estate and if not, there would have been a different Korean word to describe the collection of all of one's assets.

7. "Current debt (not paid by insurance)" - Is "not paid by insurance" a phrase by itself? Or is it more like "Current debt which is not paid by insurance". It makes a difference and without a quick fluency in English to shuffle through the options, it's easy to overlook the ambiguity.

8. "Multi-family" - As a fluent English speaker, this immediately caught my attention, thinking that "multi-family home" would probably be the correct complete phrase here (which it was).

A document related to medical care

9. "Check for interactions; this can happen when you take two or more medicines that affect how the other medicine works." - What does "this" refer to? "Check"? Or "Interactions"? It matters... In fact, as "this" is singular, it grammatically should be "check", but in fact, it was "interactions", which changed the translation completely.

10. "With good planning and organization, your pharmacist can work with you to:" - So, is it the pharmacist who has good planning and organization? Or does the helping work the pharmacist does require good planning and organization?


Book Review: Dominion from Sea to Sea by Bruce Cumings

2014-02-14_23-00-48I enjoyed Dominion from Sea to Sea, though I would have liked to find more specifically Asia/Korea historical content. This is just a personal preference though and knowing US history interpreted through a Pacific lens is good.
I can't say my reading level is as advanced as Cumings' writing skills in parts. He's the master of the literature review, and my eyes glazed over in sections like the intro and appendix as he discussed Schumpeter, Marx (two thinkers I've heard of) and others (many who I haven't heard of).
My favorite parts were the sequential presentations of history, and especially when explaining about the movement of people over time. I was a bit surprised how nasty and cynical Cumings got attacking the major actors of Silicon Valley. It was fun to read though, and Seattle's now tops on my list of places I'd like to move to in the US (if I can get out of Texas; hate that place, but it's where the roots are...)
There was one thing in the book that really did stand out as a question mark. Cumings writes with such skill most of the time about complicated concepts, that I take it as policy to respect his intellect and not ask too many questions or advocate alternative opinions. (He'd be a scary person to disagree with in person!)
However, when he got to one section that I know a bit about, I rather felt he got petty. While recounting his visit to US military bases in Korea, he didn't sound any more profound than the average expat two weeks into his Korea experience. At one point, he referred to the "sad state of Korean-American relations", and I couldn't figure out where that came from, as well as "In the camp towns around American basis in Korea the atmosphere is often malevolent, with an air of resentment and cold stares". Cold stares? Well, Koreans don't generally smile at strangers anyway.... but no. And it was certainly not in context with the rest of the paragraph. So it did make me wonder if Cumings is just a bit too dramatic thoughout, even on the parts I can't speak about with confidence.
Anyway, I generally feel embarrassed about my own writing after reading Cumings. He must have a photographic memory with perfect recall; I can't imagine how he puts so much solid information into such a compact space, and then wraps in such masterfully crafted prose.
I probably won't read this one a second time but it now joins my collection on the bookshelf of valuable literature for future reference back.

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.

Ten Reasons to Avoid Proofreading, Editing and QA Tasks on Korean Translation Projects

Translation is a funny business... I've been working in this field now for about fifteen years, and I enjoy translating from Korean to English. However, I avoid, at almost all cost, proofreading, editing and performing other quality-assurance tasks of Korean to English translations done by others. (BTW, this does not apply to doing QA on the work of my teams for English to Korean translation, which I get involved in deeply.)

Reason #1 - Rates are too low.

These additional tasks are generally billed at hourly rates. But on translation, I can charge per-word rates, and I'm a fast, efficient worker. In the calculation of hourly rates, the market doesn't take this into account; clients look at the dollar value first and last, meaning that I can make nearly twice as much on translation as on other tasks. Because this hourly rate is so symbolic of one's overall value in what's, unfortunately, a semi-commoditized business, I'm forced to quote unremarkable hourly rates in order to avoid the stigma of charging above the average. 

Reason #2 - Schedules are inconvenient.

Proofreading, editing and Q/A are often regarded as afterthoughts, to be scheduled in around the really important tasks. This means that the turnarounds on these jobs are usually rushed, and if the translator gets behind schedule, it's the proofreader who has to accommodate.

Reason #3 - I'm burdened with final responsibility for the project.

Because clients have often chosen their translators based on lower rates (or just easier availability), the work I get to check is a mixed bag. This is especially true if the client was thinking they could use a cheap non-native English-speaker translator on the expectation that their proofreader would fix everything. (This happens in the Korean>English language pair a lot!) Once a project reaches me, the client wants to get back something perfect.

Reason #4 - I have to think and work outside my comfort zone.

I find that editing, proofreading and Q/A work requires more mental flexibility. On translation, I start with a clean slate and can just translate through with my own style. When working on what others have produced, it can be hard to make corrections and revisions in a consistent way, which creates a lot of thought dissonance and slows me down. Perhaps it would be different if I were given better translations to check or if I got more used to this type of work, but I find proofreading, editing and QA unpleasant compared with just doing the translation myself from the beginning.

Reason #5 - I am responsible for a budget without knowing how much effort the job will take.

It's very hard to know in advance how much time and energy investment these jobs will take, but hourly rates still come with both explicit and implicit budgets. As explained above, I end up checking work at various levels of quality. Make too many changes, and the costs go up (the client isn't happy) or make too few changes and the client wants to know why I didn't fix this or that (the client still isn't happy). If I manage to charge a per-word rate on the job, I might still get taken to the cleaners if the original translation is worse than I expected and requires a lot of extra work time that I'm not paid for. And if an hourly job takes less time than expected, then the client gets the full benefit from this and I'm left with an unpaid hole in my schedule.

Reason #6 - I have to deal with offended translators.

Clients frequently forward a proofread document back to the translator for comments, review, approval, or reflection -- or even to make the translator take notice of the errors so that he or she will do better next time. I tend to make a lot of changes since I take Reason #3 seriously, and a translator can get defensive if feeling unjustly criticized. This can lead to emotionally exhausting and time-consuming follow-up discussions that are, of course, not included in the job price.

Reason #7 - I become the go-to person for all project matters.

Perhaps it's because I'm at my computer all the time and am easy to reach, or because I can comment with more confidence about various translation issues due to my long experience, but I find that after I deliver (regardless of whether it's a translation or a proofreading/editing or Q/A), the customer makes me the main point of contact for the work through to the end. These requests are generally just assumed to be free, and if I was already underpaid for the work (Reason #1), it's hard to get excited about further distractions from other projects I am working on.

Reason #8 - The standards are higher for proofreading, editing and Q/A.

I try really hard to deliver good work, but an isolated typo, missed text or mistranslation isn't the end of the world at the translation step. However, if I, as the proofreader, miss one of these in someone else's translation, bad things happen. Unfortunately, if the proofreading or another quality assurance task involves a lot of changes, then mistakes get missed and new errors creep in and that ends up reflecting badly on me. And if there are a lot of fixes on a post-layout proof, I'll often get asked to check again (for free!) to "make sure it's good now."

Reason #9 - Many of these projects tend to be more complicated than usual and this can lead to inadvertent errors.

Many times, an old source document has been updated and so the translation based on the original also needs to be updated to match. But calculating the per-word rate for this is tough, since the changes are interspersed in the document. Therefore, hourly billing is the norm. In addition to the (unfavorable) hourly rates, updating a translation based on Tracked Changes in an old MS Word document is complicated and unpleasant. Not only that, with pressure to stay within whatever budget the client thinks the work should take, I need to move through quickly. In an already complicated updating situation, this leads to mistakes. And mistakes... lead to unhappy clients and free follow-up support.

Reason #10 - Clients rarely proofread my translation work, making translation even more attractive by comparison.

Perhaps it's because I do such a good job (^^ pat on back ^^) or maybe it's just that everyone else in our business hates proofreading, editing and Q/A work too, but for the Korean > English translations that I handle, it's rare that a client adds an editor or proofreader to the process. It can be a problem if they do, since if they send the other linguist's review of my work back and want me to go through and prepare a final version, they usually expect this to be free but I want to charge. Mercifully though, this seldom happens and so once I deliver a job that I've translated myself, I'm almost always home-free after delivery.


For all these reasons, I find it is good practice to respond to proofreading, editing and Q/A job requests with "Unfortunately, I'm very busy this week on other projects. I'm sorry for being unavailable this time."

Korean Translation Tip: Korean Capitalization and English Hieroglyphics

By now (if you've been reading my past tips herehere and here!), you should know that Korean punctuation doesn’t always match English punctuation.

Another aspect of Korean writing that doesn’t jive with English is CAPITALIZATION.

In fact, Korean has no concept of capitalization whatsoever. It’s no more possible to capitalize a Korean word than it is to write English in hieroglyphics.

So, what is a translator to do when an English source text emphasizes information by capitalizing every letter in certain words and this extra impact needs to be conveyed in the Korean translation?

Here are the options: underline it, bold it, increase the font size, switch to a different color or italicise it... or try a combination!

Korean Translation Tip #1 - If capitalization is used in an English document to emphasize certain text, then the Korean translation will have to use a different method to achieve the same result; there’s no way to capitalize Korean.

This capitalization aspect can impact a Korean translation in another way, too.

Sometimes certain words in a Korean translation are left in English. Perhaps it's because a very technical term is best communicated in English (even within a Korean translation) or is translated but also provided with the English term following in parenthesis (ex: the words "costochondritis" or "Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" in a medical text for physicians). Proper nouns, such as company names, are often left in English. And occasionally a certain English word or phrase is just considered really cool for a Korean readership (ex: "Gangnam Style").

However, a Korean translator may not be clear on whether this English should be capitalized or not, especially if it was not capitalized the same way everywhere in the source text due to English rules of capitalization.

And since capitalization isn't a part of the Korean language, Korean writers don't naturally think of it as important. In fact, sometimes it really isn't important if words are just being left in English but not connected to an English grammatical structure.

The upshot is that it's not uncommon to find English words in a Korean translation capitalized inconsistently.

It's unlikely that any Korean reader would ever notice or care but to the eyes of an English-speaker, this issue stands out like a sore thumb.

Therefore, when proofing a Korean translation, the final polishing step should consider consistency of capitalization and this is one matter I pay particular attention to when reviewing the work of my translation teams.

Korean Translation Tip #2 - The capitalization of English words interspersed in a Korean translation is likely to be handled inconsistently, even by otherwise careful and competent translators. Try to check for and correct this in the final document proof.

Key Considerations for Translating Korean Emails and Other Documents Related to Legal Disputes

I frequently translate Korean emails and other documents to be used in litigation. These generally come to me during the discovery phase before trial while the attorneys for the non-Korean side are preparing their case using materials obtained from the opposing Korean party.

In these situations, the attorneys are interested in knowing exactly what the Korean says, not more and not less. Therefore, I put the highest priority on correctness and completeness and only focus on style and smooth readability after achieving a precise translation.

In other words, I make it my goal to help the end client understand through my English translation exactly what the Korean says. As much as possible, I seek to convey source meaning and tone, as well as errors, redundancies, and even punctuation mistakes. If it's not pretty in the source, then I don't make it pretty in the translation.

Respect and Formality

Of course, there are limits here. As I've explained before, it's virtually impossible to translate all of the elements of formality and respect into English from a Korean source document (see "To My Esteemed Reader"). Still, I am not without tools for communicating these aspects. While I can't use a humble form of the pronouns "I" and "we", insert honorific tags into the English sentences, or even change verb endings to indicate formality, I can communicate these nuances with terminology and phrasing.

In a highly formal Korean business email exchange (and Korean business communications are generally conducted with greater formality than American ones), I retain the addressing of individuals in Korean by their titles by using corresponding English job titles, rather than first names. (Even "Mr. So-and-So" without a job title isn't quite the same in English as it is in Korean.)  

I also choose phrasings like "I hereby send you the attachment", rather than "Here's the attachment" or "I'm sending an attachment." Oftentimes, Korean terms and phrasings translate most directly into expressions we might consider a bit difficult in English, so that "I am sorry for our results which are not commensurate with the efforts you've made on our behalf" may be a truer reflection of the original Korean meaning AND help to communicate formality more effectively than "I'm sorry for not delivering the results you deserve."

Gender, Pronouns and Plural/Singular

There are other ways that an English translation can't always convey the Korean perfectly. Korean doesn't indicate gender as often as we do in English (such as by using he/she pronouns) and it often leaves out plurals (see "Korean Has a Plural Form; It Just Doesn't Get Used Much"). If it's possible to grasp these from context, I use the correct gender or singular/plural in English. If I don't know and it's not that important, I sometimes just choose one or the other and use that. But if it's not possible to know but choosing one or the other could be misleading to the reader, I occasionally phrase things a bit awkwardly to avoid creating confusion (ex: "Please send him/her the document(s)." or "Please send document to the person".) Note how the second example is even slightly incorrect grammatically; if it's a choice between correctness or grammar, I choose correctness.

One exception to the pronoun usage rule is that I don't translate 우리 or 저희 to "we" when these are used in the common sense for "our country" (우리나라) or "our wife" (저희 와이프). These are usually best translated as "Korea" or "my wife" without changing the writer's meaning and intent (see "Koreans Are All About 'We'").

Consistency with Existing English in the Source

Another issue that comes up is consistency with English in a document. What do you do when a Korean's job title in an email clearly corresponds to a certain English title (ex: 전무 > Managing Director) but -- and Korean companies do this ALL THE TIME -- the email footer includes an English title that's inflated (ex: 전무 > Vice President), presumably so that recipients of his English emails will think he's more important than he really is? The best approach for this is to translate the Korean correctly and then provide a separate explanation somewhere to the client about the situation.

If the source document has English words interspersed in the Korean and they are misspelled or used incorrectly, I generally spell them correctly or correct the usage in my translation if it's clear what was intended. 


Punctuation can be an issue, too. As mentioned above, I try to reproduce incorrect punctuation. However, if the punctuation in Korean is not wrong, just different because that's the way Koreans like to do it, such as by adding a space before colons (see "A Quirk of Punctuation Usage in Korean") and not adding periods correctly around acronyms (see "Koreans See Punctuation of Acronyms from a Different Perspective"), I go ahead and use accepted English punctuation. I also change Korean-style smileys to English ones (see "Koreans Smile Differently When Writing") and tildes to dashes (see "Korean, English, Tildes and Dashes").

Cultural Adaptation

As for Korean political correctness or cultural sensitivity, I make no effort to soften things or depart from what the source says. If it's offensive or emotional in the source, the attorney need to understand the intended impact. Sometimes this can require an extra translator's note, such as explaining that an untranslatable change in the level of respect in the Korean source was intended to offend.

There are a number of set Korean expressions commonly found in Korean emails. Not only do Koreans continuously exhort each other to work hard and suffer more (rather than to take it easy - see "Koreans Work Harder Than Anybody"), but they also have a standard opening greeting that ends in a question mark... or doesn't (see "Is the Standard Korean Greeting a Question or Not?"). At the end of messages or reports, Koreans often write "The End", even though we wouldn't normally do so in English. I don't change the "work hard" phrasing to "take it easy" and I certainly include "The End" if it's in the source. For the standard greeting, I've lately taken to translating it as "How are you?" when the writer uses a question mark and "Hello" otherwise. Though both versions are actually the same, at least this helps to match punctuation, and it doesn't change the intent of meaning at all.


Unfortunately, it's not always easy for a non-Korean client to evaluate the quality of a job translated using this precise approach. In fact, if I go out of my way to convey flaws (such as by including superfluous punctuation) or bad writing style (redundant phrasings, run-on sentences, etc.) of the Korean source in my English translation, the client could easily think I was careless and judge my exceptionally good translation as inferior to one where the translator has smoothed things over.

What can be done about this?

That's what this article is about.

If you're reading this, it may be because I forwarded you the link before starting a job or with a delivery. If you come across things in the translation that seems odd, ask me about it; don't assume it was a mistake. If you don't like the writing style, ask me why I expressed things the way I did. I do check my work and, while I do make occasional mistakes, I don't make many, and flaws or awkward phrasings and terminology in the translation are probably there by design to help you/your client's attorneys know EXACTLY what the Korean documents I translated say.

The Not-So-Secret Formula of Korean 70s TV Dramas

Over the last couple years, I've watched three Korean TV series set mainly in the 1970s.

Light and Shadows (빛과 그림자, MBC) (64 episodes at 70 minutes each)

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Samsaengi (삼생이, KBS) (120 episodes at 35 minutes each)

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Eun-Hee (은희, KBS) (140 episodes at 35 minutes each)

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One way or another, this genre has turned out to be particularly interesting to me, and I've sometimes attributed it to the idea that these shows give me some insight into how Koreans remember the decades before I arrived in Korea, which I'd like to think gives me a better understanding of the culture as it is today. (I referred to Eun-Hee in an article I wrote a few months ago: "Reflections on Face...")

However, having watched these three shows in succession, I'm starting to wonder if I'm mainly just getting to see the basic template on which the writers are taught to base their stories (not to mention nearly about every building at Hapcheon Image Theme Park, where all three shows were filmed in part, and which we visited in 2012 - photos here, here and here.)

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So now yet another 70s show is starting next week on KBS called Sungeum's Land (순금의 땅). Sungeum is the name of a girl and literally means "pure gold". Samsengi and Eun-Hee were also named after girls who grew up to become women on the show, so we can assume some similaries just from the naming. This is, however, the first to choose as its promotional graphic an image of a single person, rather than the set of four people (two males/two females) of the other three; I wonder if they'll change this once the story gets underway.

I'm not privy to any special information about the new series other than having watched the preview, but by pulling out my crystal ball (and analyzing my notes from watching the previous shows), I predict that Sungeum's Land (or Land of Pure Gold or whatever they call it in English) will include the following story elements.

1. Hidden Parent/Child (and Sibling) Relationships

Samsengi and another girl were switched at birth so that Samsengi grew up thinking she belonged to a family she didn't. Eun-hee was raised by an aunt whom she thought was her mother. In Light and Shadows, one of the leading parts grew up as an orphan but was actually the long-lost daughter of a rich Korean businessman in Japan. 

2. An Almost Justifiable Act of Original Deceit by a Person Trusted by the Main Family Who Then Ends Up Ruined

Samsaengi was switched at birth by a man who worked for her father and continued to live in the home of her father even as Samsaengi grew up and learned the truth. Eun-hee's father was accused of murder by a close friend who was the actual murderer. Both of these acts of deceit laid the basis for the plot of their respective stories and the persons committing the deceit did so for reasons that could be somewhat justified, having not started out as bad people. The perpetrators though spend the length of the show trying to keep the secret hidden, even resorting to murder to maintain the lies, but ended up committing suicide or going crazy.

I don't recall a key act of deceipt like this in Light and Shadows, but a childhood friend of the main character went into politics and turned against the family that raised him, and finally killed himself and another evil character in the end to redeem himself. 

3. Basis in the Korean War

The elements of #1 and #2 above all started during the Korean War; without the war, these terrible lies would never have gotten started.

4. Families Moving from the Countryside to Seoul

The main characters of Light and Shadows came from a small town with a made-up-name, but Samsaengi's family was from Daegu and the families of Eun-Hee were originally from Kaesung. In all three cases, they ended up in Seoul (or in Eun-Hee's case, Incheon, next to Seoul).

5. Underworld Figures, Corruption and Politics

All three stories involve gangsters, corrupt political figures, borrowing from moneylenders (with the main protagonists losing or almost losing everything) and torture of one or more main characters by the Korean CIA at "Namsan"). At least two of the shows included political demonstrations against the government and references to actual political events of the times.

6. At Least One Character Spending an Extended Time Overseas

In Light and Shadows, the hero spends a couple years in exile in Japan. Samsaengi's friends study abroad in Europe. And Eun-Hee's husband-to-be leaves for the US on at least three occasions to get away from it all.

7. A Faked Injury by Someone

I'm not sure why, but women in these shows like to fake injuries to manipulate others to do what they want. It happened in all three shows; no reason to expect otherwise on Sungeum's Land.

Completion Certificate for Course on Research Ethics for University Researchers

I was just awarded this certificate for completing an online course on ethics in research by the Korea Institute of Resource Development (or something like that. The actual name of the institute is 국가과학기술인력개발원 but the only English they provide for this is the acronym "KIRD").

Not a big deal but I was proud to finish with a 90% on the final exam on my first attempt since the course and exam were all in Korean. I'd figured I'd need to go through everything twice, but I guess not!


What You Need to Know About Korean Holiday Greetings and Gatherings

Christmas is a national holiday in Korea and the many Korean Christians do celebrate the day. In addition, the holiday season comes to stores across the nation, just as in the West, though shopping for gifts surely does not reach the frenzied level you'll find in places like the US.

Having said that, Koreans don’t generally hold Christmas parties.

Instead, Koreans are much more focused on the new year, and every self-respecting Korean attends several end-of-year parties (called 송년회 or 연말 모임) each year. These get-togethers are generally held on a personal basis and for business throughout the month of December (not much at all happens on December 31, though). Because the end-of-year gatherings are frequently scheduled months in advance, it can be hard to arrange evening meetings with several people at once during this time because of prior commitments, so try to plan as far ahead as possible if wanting to meet Koreans on business in December.

I'll also point out that because of all the partying (and other factors, such as not knowing what sudden administrative changes the new year will bring), very little business gets done in Korean companies in December, and no important outward-focused decisions at all get made during this navel-gazing time.

Koreans don’t commonly wish each other “Merry Christmas” (though this greeting is becoming more popular, and it is usually expressed in English). Instead, they focus on the new year… Both the Western new year on January 1, and the lunar new year (aka Chinese New Year) in late January or early February. Thus, new year’s greetings are often given twice!

You can't go wrong wishing Koreans a “Happy New Year” and there's really only one way to say it in Korean: “Sae hae bok mani baduseyo” (새해 복 많이 받으세요)

However, in writing, "Happy New Year" can be expanded out in many ways. For ideas, check out these collections of holiday greetings in Korean.

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans Work Harder Than Anybody

Korea is known as the Land of the Morning Calm, and indeed, Koreans are the epitome of the yin and yang, deep meditation over a cup of tea and all things mellow. They don’t work hard, they take long naps in the afternoon, spend lots of time reflecting on the deeper meanings of life through martial arts and calligraphy, and are all around easy-going folks....

Umm... Not exactly...

Apparently, a European visited Korea long ago and coined the term "Land of the Morning Calm" based on a faulty understanding of the country. Even if it might have been a bit true back then, sometime in the last century, that reference to Korea became completely anacronystic.

Today, Korea is a dynamic, fast-moving place and Koreans work longer hours than just about anybody in the world. This is a point of some pride to Koreans and the phrase “fast, fast” (빨리 빨리 in Korean) is a modern buzzword.

There’s a saying among high school students that in the highly competitive process for getting into college, those who sleep five hours per night get into the mediocre colleges but those who wanting to reach the top universities should only sleep four hours (presumably because they're studying so hard the rest of the time).

This cultural rat race makes its way into the language, too. In the West, when we talk to someone in business on the phone, we might close with “Take it easy” or “Don’t work too hard”.

But when Koreans greet someone in business, they open with “You’re working hard” and when closing (such as hanging up the phone or walking away), they say, “Work hard”... or even, if the the person is really struggling with something, “Suffer a lot!”.

Gee whiz... That seems so mean and unsympathetic... But that’s the way it is.

And when translating emails, letters or transcripts of phone conversions between Korean and English, this comes up a lot. The decision of whether to localize for the audience generally depends on the direction of the translation.

Korean Translation Tip - If a document is being translated from Korean to English to help the client know exactly what was in the Korean document, then I generally leave the “working hard” greetings as-is. On the other hand, if an English document is being translated to Korean in order to be sent to a Korean readership, then changing “take it easy” types of greetings to “work hard” is generally advisable.

BTW, awhile back I covered other aspects of greetings in Korean, including this one about the question mark at the end of hello and a tricky situation when it comes to addressing people in written greetings.

Korean Translation Tip: Keep an Eye Out for Unique Number Units in Korean

It’s extremely easy to become a millionaire in Korea. In fact, nearly everyone earns over a million every month...

I’m talking about Korean won, of course, and with an exchange rate a bit more than W1,000 per US$1, it’s easy to see that $1,000 is more than one million won! (You can thank high inflation in Korea in the 1960s and 1970s for this...)

It gets a little tricky at the 10,000 and 100 million units levels, though, since Korean has a specific unit for 10,000 (만, "man") and another for 100 million (억, "eok"). These even go as high as 1 trillion (조), 10 quadrillion (경) and 100 quintillion (해) but, except for a trillion, the higher numbers are rarely found in texts for translation (or anywhere, for that matter).

So, 25,000 would normally be translated to Korean as 2만 5천 (literally: 2 ten thousands and 5 thousand), 50 million would be 5천만 (5000 ten thousands) and W7.5 billion is 75억 (75 hundred millions).

If you’re familiar with lakhs (100,000) and crores (10 million) from India, you’ll understand how persistent these traditional numbering systems can be in daily usage and Koreans are no sooner abandoning their old ways of counting than Americans are moving to the metric system...

I’ve gotten plenty of laughs from listeners when mistakenly asking in Korean for W10,000 as ten one-thousand wons, rather than one ten-thousand won.

Since these are so easy to get confused, this is one item I frequently spot check before client delivery on the English>Korean work that my team handles and I double-think the conversions when doing them in Korean>English translation projects myself.

Korean Translation Tip - Because of the large denominations of money in Korea, it is frequently necessary to convert Korean money at the 10,000 and 100 million unit levels. Don’t be surprised when the numbering doesn’t quite jive with the English.

Seeking Korean Partner/Consultant to Promote ESL Website, Part II (How To Connect to Korean Consumers Offline)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a former client asking how to market his ESL website to Korean consumers. He's tried various online approaches which haven't worked and my previous article discussed that in detail, including some concise tips at Korea Business Central)

In addition to the online aspects of his efforts, he also asked about how to connect to his market offline:

...To help my chances, I'd like to begin searching for someone in Korea who can help. This person might act as a recruiter, or even work together to launch a new online ESL business. I'm keeping a very open mind on this. So, if you think you might know anyone who'd be interested or can advise me on where to begin looking, please let me know.

Here's my answer:

As I pointed out in my previous post, the market for ESL education in Korea is big, but crowded. I don't think an online-only approach is likely to work in Korea for various reasons. I agree with your conclusion that you need someone on the ground to support you offline. I suspect that "someone" may need to be you, as I'll explain below.

The first reason you can't just market online is simply that there are so many ESL websites out there that, to get seen in your market, you've got to stand out from the crowd with a strategy that does more than just throw time and money at Google, Naver and Daum. 

But beyond that, while there may be a few lone rangers in Korea who are bypassing the offline options and are going to the Internet to resolve their English learning needs, the vast majority of Korean language learners start their search with resources closer to home.

Furthermore, the average student doesn't just call up institutes and English teachers in the local phone book; he/she goes where his/her friends are studying (for kids) or where his/her co-workers are studying (for adults). Though I'm not prepared to say with confidence that this is unique to Korea (or East Asia) because of the group-oriented culture (though this might be an aggravating factor), the normal way for someone to get into the English study track is through personal referrals (often the mothers of other students) or company directives, and usually to a local institute or teacher.

Not just that, while Koreans are certainly interested in learning English due to an internal desire to speak better, the short-term motivation is usually more down-to-earth: to get better grades at school or fulfill a career requirement. And so Korean ESL students will generally put priority on courses that take them over the shortest distance to these external goals, and once they've done that, very few have the time or energy left to also study online with a course that isn't directly linked to these immediate needs. 

Not only are you competing against other English programs geared toward pragmatic ends that enjoy an offline referral network, but you also have to contend with everything else in the average Korean student's schedule. Remember, Korean kids aren't just learning English, they also take after-school classes to learn a ridiculously long list of other subjects and by the time they reach middle school, the diligent students are often getting home from "cram school" at 10pm, 11pm or later... 

One more thing you're working against is the social benefits that kids get from going to the institute. Since they're studying so many hours during the day, the institute is an important place for spending time with friends. But an online option is presumably a one-on-one thing, or at best, a group discussion environment of people from a variety of places who don't know each other. A sizable portion of your market won't be interested in a study approach that removes the social aspects which are rooted in their existing social network. At least, I know that this has been an important factor in my kids' after-school study choices.

It seems to me, then, that you will have to get your business connected to a local network and be able to credibly present your service as an alternative (or better, complement) to local resources that help learners get better grades on their tests at school or meet career requirements at their place of employment. Considering how price inflexible Korean mothers can be when trying to get the best education for their kids, you won't be able to do this with a marketing appeal that focuses mainly on lower cost; you've got to offer quality differentiation on a variety of dimensions that your market will find important.

This will take both strategic marketing AND program development.

It will also take "boots on the ground", though I don't think it will require you to learn Korean or become an expert in the Korean culture, nor do I think you're going to find a stranger willing to recruit for you on a commission-basis. Everybody wants that; just today I received yet another request to help (wait for it...) an online ESL website get students in Korea.

One approach could be to connect to an offline service provider and complement their service without them feeling threatened by your role or being tempted to replace you. What I mean is that by offering lessons by a native-English speaker, you could plug into the teaching efforts of independent Korean teachers or small Korean institutes that are struggling just like you and would benefit from having a native English speaker on staff to supplement the grammar lessons they are giving their students. If kids at an institute are being taught English for three hours a week, you could offer to add on a 30-minute or 60-minute Skype call direct to the classroom with the kids gathered around the computer, to help them practice what they've learned. I suggest small institutes or independent teachers since large institutes and corporations are already making their own arrangements for this and won't be open to your value proposition.

At the same time, you have to figure out how to build relationships or share equity or something else that overcomes conflicts of interest, where your Korean counterparts worry you'll rip off their students after getting access or where you won't worry they'll just change Skype teachers at some point in time. Thus, you're not going to recruit these partners by email.

I suspect you're going to have to come to Korea and immerse yourself in the ESL industry (such as by teaching English) for awhile to make contacts and build relationships and experiment with approaches that work and that Koreans respond to. This knowledge of the market (and a little of the culture, which you can get up to speed on quickly and affordably with the KBC Professional Certification Program) and a lot of sweat equity on the ground is probably the only way to bootstrap your way to a successful online business.

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Web-Based ESL Business Offline to Korean Language Learners?"

Korean Translation Tip: Don’t Spell Korean Proper Nouns Wrong in English

My last tip about emoticons in Korean was pretty interesting, no? ^o^ ㅋㅋㅋ

Another issue that causes confusion sometimes is the correct Romanization of vowels in Korean proper nouns.

There’s because certain Korean letters (especially vowels!) can be rendered with more than one English spelling.

For example, the Korean 우 is pronounced as “u” as in lucid or “oo” in noodle. But “u” can also sound like the dull “u” sound of “full” (sometimes rendered as “으” in Korean, but more often as “우”) and “oo” as in book”. “u” also carries a short sound, as in “funny” (which can also be the “o” in Monday, and rendered as 어 in Korean).

You don’t have to memorize the above stuff!

I’m just trying to make a point that letters in English don’t correspond one-for-one with letters in Korean; the correct spelling from one language to another varies from word-to-word.

But consistency is often important and to keep things under control, Koreans have come up with some rules for transliteration that are usually (but, alas, not always!) followed.

Here are some Romanization examples where the resulting spellings can seem a little odd in English.

  • u as in lucid (우) -> woo
  • oo as in book (으) -> eu
  • u as in funny (어) ->  eo
  • a as in apple (애) -> ae

This is why Daewoo is spelled with a “w” (it should just be “day-oo) or Seoul is spelled with an “eo” (though the “u” should actually be a “woo”). According to the official rules, Hyundai should be spelled “Hyeondae” and Samsung should be “Samseong”.

For more information on the Revised Romanization of Korean, check out Wikipedia (for the long version) or my Korean Translation Services Buyer's Guide (for the short version).

I try to follow the Revised Romanization approach (including the recognized exceptions) when translating documents to English but this doesn’t always square with the way a client wants things spelled in their English translations.

Korean Translation Tip - This can be a big issue when translating official personal documents from Korean to English (such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, etc.). It’s a good idea to ask the client in advance for the English spellings they want used for Korean proper nouns in the source text.

I'm Pretty Sure This Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface Came from Google

I few weeks ago, I came across a Korean translation error on my new Google Android smartphone. At first, I thought it was a mistake in the Android interface itself, but in the end, I decided it probably came from the Chinese camera supplier and just got plugged in to the phone UI without being properly checked.

However, this one in the basic settings section (reached by simply sliding one's finger down from the top of the screen) looks to be part of the main Android interface itself.


The marked text could be translated as "settings entry". According to Naver, the second Korean word (진입) here means "entry, penetration, enter, penetrate". (The first word 설정 correctly means "settings".) Perhaps this is the tab for getting into the settings menu, or something? Well, not exactly...

First, even if it means "entry", the word 진입 is extremely awkward. It doesn't belong in this context at all. But beyond this, it's just a mistranslation, which we can know by comparing with the same screen in English:


Ah, so the Korean here should have the meaning of shortcut links to key phone settings... Apparently the translator misunderstood "shortcut" as meaning "a shortcut to enter" the settings menu. But there's a suitable Korean term for computer shortcut and a correct translation here would be "설정 단축 키", which means roughly "shortcut keys for settings".

Korean Translation Tip - It's unreasonable to just send Excel files with hundreds or thousands of phrases and words to a translator and expect him/her to translate it all correctly without context. Not just that, translations of disjointed words and phrases (even when context is provided) take much longer to translate than normal text and so the budget should be adjusted accordingly. It goes without saying that competent translators must be hired, but even they will not necessarily get everything right the first time, and so a final review within the UI should be performed and to do it right, this process will take time and at least require screenshots and explanations. There are no two ways about it; it's a tedious process.


* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

Seeking Korean Partner/Consultant to Promote ESL Website, Part I (How To Market Online to Korean Consumers)

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"


The Internet has opened up possibilities for new business models, and many new online businesses are sprouting up in the field of teaching English as a second language. It's not hard to understand why. Rather than fly native English speakers around the world to live in unfamiliar surroundings to teach English to locals, instructors can now connect to students over Skype and educate without travelling. It's a great way to reduce costs and avoid other cultural and logistical difficulties while delivering value to language learners the world over.

With falling barriers to entry, the field has gotten crowded though, with thousands of websites cropping up to offer these virtual/remote English lessons. Over the years, my team and I have had the privilege of translating a few of these sites to Korean so that our clients can connect to the market in Korea for ESL instruction. Unfortunately, a nice website that communicates well is only the first step, as the following message from a previous client makes clear. 

Hi Steven, My name is ________. Last year I had you do the translation for my ESL website. I was impressed with your service, and knowledge of Korea, so I wanted to reach out to you on something. So far, I've had a real tough time attracting business in Korea. Early on I had foolishly spent money on Google Adwords, and Twitter advertising, which didn't generate results. Not to mention large amounts of time with social networks, and the like. When I found out about the popularity of Naver & Daum, I hired a professional SEO service to optimize my site, along with "guest blog posts". After that, I saw a small uptick in traffic, but still not converting into new clients. It's been frustrating, and depressing at times. I'm willing to the spend the time and money, but I feel like not knowing the Korean language and culture is putting me at a disadvantage....

 I answered my client as follows.

It's nice to hear from you. I remember working on the Korean localization of your website and I'm glad to hear that our service met your expectations. I recall that your attitude to the localization process put quality above cost and I believe you when you say you're willing to spend the time and money to make the endeavor work. In fact, as someone who has spent a ridiculous amount of money and effort on online marketing efforts of various kinds, I have a great deal of sympathy for your situation.

You asked near the beginning of our business relationship about the value of having Korean text alongside English YouTube videos and about whether it would be effective in attracting Korean students. I just dug back into my archives and found my following reply: 

"It's a tough call, especially as you're jumping into a very competitive market. If you've got the marketing strategy in place to support the YouTube funnel, then of course, the Korean text can be an asset. If you're not sure what kind of traffic you can pull to these videos, you might put that cost off until later. I've seen more than one businessperson (myself included!) spend a lot of money to get all set up only to find that the marketing is lacking." 

In advising you, I'd like to first discuss some insights about online marketing in Korea. At this point, I should point out that I don't think this will ultimately be cost-effective for you in your business, but the following does describe a starting point for understanding how a successful campaign might be put together.

You mention that Google Adwords was a waste of money. It all depends on what niche you're in, but for ESL, I'm sure the bid prices on keywords are through the roof and too many non-converting visitors will drain your bank account quickly. The only way to make it work is to have a deep sales pipeline with an integrated range of goods and services that you're marketing effectively to those who click on your Adwords ads. Top advertisers on major keywords are prepared to lose money on the initial leads in order to harvest value over a longer period of time.

I'd be interested to know how you operated and targeted your Google advertising. Did you do it yourself? Regardless of what Google says, Adwords is not for the faint of heart, and not just because the tools are complicated (and getting more so everyday) and the underlying algorithms secret. I would even say that Google's representations of their system to novice advertisers are even misleading and incomplete. But as you may have found out, working with a competent (or even incompetent!) SEM professional is expensive, and even if your consultant does know what he/she is doing, you often won't get the level of focused and sustained attention you need to make it work. 

In fact, in your market, there are bound to be a lot of competitors, some with deep pockets (thanks to cash flow from offline, successful English institutes in Korea but without a sustainable strategy), just throwing money into the marketing effort. This makes Google rich, but leaves everyone else paying more than they should.

Furthermore, running a Google Adwords campaign in English isn't going to get you very close to your market since your potential students probably aren't doing most of their searching in English. That means your ads need to be localized, too. But since Google Adwords isn't a set-it-and-forget-it approach, you can't just get your ads translated once somewhere and then throw them up online. The ads must be constantly monitored and optimized, not just from a standard marketing perspective but also in terms of language and culture, which makes it a high-touch/high-specialization/high-cost adventure. (BTW, I've written about a surprising aspect of character limitations that applies to Korean ads on Google Adwords.)

Besides, even if you do get your online marketing program going effectively on Google in Korean for Korean consumers located in Korea, you'll then be reaching... just 10-15% of the search market. As you noted already, the movers and shakers in the Korean market are still Naver (with about 60-70% of the market) and Daum (with around 20-30%).

You said that you tried SEO for the Korean search engines, but these native Korean portals also run their own proprietary advertiser tools modeled on Google Adwords. The interfaces are in Korean and the complicated Korean government-mandated requirements make it next-to-impossible to register to advertise as a non-Korean. I tried it about a year ago on Naver just to see if I could, and I barely managed to sign up, but I still had to register as an overseas marketer since my websites are owned by my US corporation, which meant that the process had to be jury-rigged to get me through the ad approvals every time. I ultimately never did anything with it; just too much trouble. This means you would ultimately have to work with a Korean agency to get directly to Daum and Naver, and to do that, you're looking at talent of dubious competence and high cost and you won't be able to transparently monitor the process.

At any rate, if you do choose to move forward with online marketing to Korean search engine users, I would recommend the following approach which, done right, would minimize your costs and maximize your effectiveness.

Stage 1 - The online advertising interfaces of the Korean portals are primitive compared to the Google system and I don't recommend you start with them. Instead, work with an SEM provider who is qualified to advertise on Google in English and supplement this with a Korean language consultant who can localize and adjust ads as instructed by the SEM professional. Keep this up until you've got a strong campaign going that generates profitable leads and until you've exhausted the potential that Google is giving you in its 20% of the Korean search market. Be sure you have Google Analytics installed on your site and know how to use it; you'll need that both to optimize for Google, as well as for Stage 2 below.

Stage 2 - Once you've wrung out all the value from Stage 1, you're ready to attack the Korean portals. Do this by working through an SEM professional in Korea. You won't need the best expert here (good thing, because they're hard to find!); just someone who knows the nuts and bolts and has an account that is authorized to to resell advertising for foreign advertisers on the Korean portals. Make it clear that you'll be providing the optimized ads and keywords from your Google campaign and so only minor optimization within the Naver and Daum ecosystems will be required. Then feed the ads, keywords and other demographic information directly or through your Korean language consultant to the Naver/Daum seller and tell them to set it up.

Normally, advertising on the Korean portals would be a black box, since you won't have easy access to what's going on there. But because you'll have the results of your Google campaigns to benchmark against, you can simply watch carefully through Google Analytics to make sure your Korean campaigns are generating results on par with Google. As you continue to optimize your Google campaigns, you can have your Naver and Daum campaigns updated as well.


Regarding marketing on SNS, don't bother unless you're prepared to engage in time-consuming conversation with your market. On the other hand, there are umpteen online "cafes" which you could join on Daum or Naver. These are online meeting places that bring together groups of people interested in the same topic. Some would be focused on learning English and if you were to make your presence known in these spots, such as by sharing value in the discussions, you might be able to get closer to your market. However, I haven't tried it and I don't know how practical it is because of the Korean-language interfaces. Done strategically, it could at least would get you into an under-served area away from the crowds at Facebook and Twitter. Even so, these are still vibrant online discussion forums in Korea today.

As for general search engine optimization, well, there's so much content out there now in the ESL field that I don't know how you'd ever get heard amidst everything else. Ultimately, I think you'll need to reach out to your market; not hope they find you through organic SEO. 


** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans Smile Differently When Writing

I’ve discussed punctuation a few times before in these tips (including about colons, and periods). I guess you could say I’m finding this area to be fertile ground for writing ideas.

The smiley is another interesting little difference between Korean and English.

In English, we have a variety of smileys, including: :-), ;-(, :-D, :/, etc.

But Koreans don’t like to turn their heads sideways, I guess, and so they take a different approach. These are what you’ll find in a Korean text:  

^-^, ^o^, T-T, O_O, -_-, ^_~, etc.

Hint: ^ is supposed to represent a raised eyebrow

Some Korean smileys even incorporate Korean characters:

ㅠㅠ (crying), ㅋㅋㅋ (LOL), ㅎㅎㅎ (ha, ha), etc.

Occasionally I’ll be asked to translate a Korean email into English and if it has emoticons, I generally localize to the way we'd do it in English.

Korean Translation Tip - Koreans no better understand :-) than English-speakers understand ^-^, so when translating, it would be a good idea to even match smileys to the reading audience.