How to Translate for Korea

Do you want to adapt your marketing content for South Korea? While across the globe more than 75 million people speak Korean, most of them reside in South and North Korea. South Korea is a fast-growing and lucrative market. Brands looking to effectively establish their presence in the country need to focus on Korean localization and translation.

Here are the things to know before expanding your business into the Korean market.

Things to Know About Korea

Before you expand into Korea, consider these factors:

  • Understand Korean Consumers
    Learning how your target audience shops is an important part of personalizing your content for South Korea. Here’s what you should know about shoppers here:

    • Over 90% of people in South Korea use the internet. This rate of usage is relatively high compared to most other countries.
    • Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, online shopping has been incredibly popular in South Korea. Mobile online shopping rates are some of the highest in the world.
    • Korean audiences prefer online research before making a purchase. Successful companies in Korea use influencer marketing and reviews to boost conversions.
    • Over 99% of Koreans access the internet with their smartphones. So, your mobile website or app can make or break your marketing efforts in Korea.
  • Get to Know the Korean Language
    The Korean language has more than 75 million speakers around the world. Most of them live in the countries of North and South Korea, with sparse populations also present across China, Japan, and Russia. The Korean language, especially in terms of grammar, is influenced by the Chinese language. Its script is known as the Hangul.
  • Think Beyond English
    Most people in South Korea don’t read, speak, or write English. According to data from Education First, English proficiency in Korea is moderate, between 52 to 59 percent. Moreover, proficiency levels differ amongst regions.

Korean Translation Best Practices

Here are some helpful pointers to help you translate a website for the Korean market.

Build Strong Relationships

Koreans place a lot of importance on building strong local relationships, especially concerning multinational companies. So, if you are contemplating entering the Korean market, establishing business rapport with the local community is the key to success. Many successful foreign start-ups in Korea have spent a considerable amount of time fostering local connections before launching their product or service.

Others failed to build relationships with the local markets and have had to struggle to retain their footholds in the country. For example. Uber has experienced considerable difficulties in operating in South Korea after failing to cultivate relationships with local taxi unions and the Korean courts.

Understand Cultural Differences

The Korean market is unique and attractive, but many multinationals have had to struggle to establish themselves in the country, although they have been immensely successful elsewhere.

Some big brands that have had difficulties include Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, Yahoo, Groupon, Lone Star, Airbnb, and Google. This shows that an American-based “copy-paste” approach to marketing campaigns in Korea without a deeper understanding of Korean culture can set a company up for failure.

Pay Attention to Honorific Speech

The Korean language has complex levels of honorific speech that define the relationship between speakers and listeners. For example, speech and word choice are often adjusted based on the listener’s social status, age, education levels, and more. If you get honorifics wrong, you risk offending your Korean audience.

Invest in Professional Translation

Korean is a nuanced language, with words that can change meaning depending on different tones and inflections. This makes it one of the more difficult languages to translate. To avoid errors or costly mistakes in language translation, it’s best to hire a qualified LSP (language service provider) or translation agency. Free machine translation tools like Google Translate won’t provide high-quality Korean translations.

Understanding the Nuances of the Korean Language

Before you begin your translation project, here are some things you should know about the Korean language.

Avoid Literal English to Korean Translation

The Korean alphabet called Hangul has 24 vowels and consonants grouped into blocks. Each block consists of between two to six letters with a minimum of one vowel and one consonant. Postpositions are short words or suffixes that are placed after a noun or pronoun. These suffixes determine the syntax and also indicate the relationship between the verb and the subject or object in a sentence. The choice of postposition depends on how the noun is pronounced. Because of this complexity, translating literally from English into Korean will give rise to many problems as it is not easy to understand which postposition is correct in each context.

Be Mindful of Formalities

The Korean language also has different speech formality levels. Lower levels of formality are for casual encounters, while two higher levels and three middle levels of formality are also adopted. The level of formality used in a context depends on the familiarity between the two people communicating. This needs to be taken into account by marketers when translating for Korea. For example, a lower speech level may be appropriate for a fast food brand, while a healthcare brand needs to impress consumers by adopting a higher level of speech.

Pay Attention to Differences between North and South Korea

Although both regions are united by a common language, Korean speakers have significant differences in alphabet, numbers, dialect, sentence structure and vocabulary depending on their location. For example, Korean vocabulary has evolved in different ways between North and South Korea. This is because South Korea opened itself up to the world and had much more cultural exchanges than North Korea, which stayed isolated. As a result, modern-day Korean vocabulary in South Korea is more inclusive of words and phrases from other languages.

Korean Translation and Localization
The Korean language written in Hangul: South Korean: Hangugeo (left) North Korean: Chosŏnmal (right)

Try Korean Translation Services from Localize

Translating and localizing for Korea can be more challenging than translating into Western languages. That’s why we recommend using a translation management system (TMS) to localize your website for a Korean audience.

A TMS like Localize uses both human and machine translation to deliver fast, accurate translations. Localize offers a powerful set of automated tools and features that make it simple to launch, translate, and manage your international web pages, videos, emails, and apps.

From Microsoft to Cisco, Localize helps hundreds of companies manage translations for their global marketing launches. To learn how we can help you meet your Korean localization goals, contact us today.

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