How to Localize for Korea

Do you want to localize for Korea? While across the globe more than 75 million people speak Korean, the majority of them reside in South and North Korea. While 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. Here are the things to know before expanding your business into the Korean market:

English Language Proficiency Levels Differ

A common assumption is that English is spoken by a majority of people across the globe. The fact is that although English is spoken in many Asian countries, proficiency levels vary. According to data from EF (Education First), English aptitude levels in the Philippines and Singapore are high at 62 to 69 percent. In Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, and South Korea, proficiency is moderate, between 52 to 59 percent. Moreover, proficiency levels differ within South Korea itself. For instance, people in Seoul and the Incheon region are slightly more accomplished in English as compared to the rest of the country.

Building Strong Local Relationships in Korea is Crucial

Koreans place a lot of importance on building strong local relationships, especially with respect to 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. Some others failed to build relationships with the local markets and have had to struggle to retain their footholds in the country.


Uber has experienced considerable difficulties in operating in South Korea after failing to cultivate relationships with local taxi unions and the Korean courts.

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, WalMart, 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 the Korean market can set a company up for failure.

Understanding the Nuances of the Korean Language is Vital

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.

Korean Language 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 localize 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.

Why Choose Localize?

Utilizing professional localization services is the only way to understand the contexts, nuances, and formal speech levels to be used when communicating to your target audience in the Korean language. Localize enables you to have access to native Korean speakers who understand the right context and grammar necessary to effectively deliver your all-important marketing messages. We employ cutting edge translation and localization technology to ensure that your brand is ready for the Korean market. Contact us today for more information.

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