PASSPORT TO: South Korea - Why Translate Your Business Material For This Audience of 51,000,000?

Copious glasses of soju, ancient Buddhist temples, quaint coastal fishing villages and, of course, the forefront of technology. Steeped in history, but at the same time absolutely cutting-edge. It’s South Korea, of course.

This February, the global spotlight turns to the Republic of Korea (대한민국), specifically, Pyeongchang - the region will be hosting the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and the 2018 Winter Paralympics. South Korea, of course, sits on the peninsula that is home to the Korean language.

So, allow us your time to illustrate the potential importance of the Korean language to your business prospects. What makes South Korea worth your time, and why do you need a Language Service Provider (LSP) to get your voice heard?

A ‘language isolate’

The official language of North Korea and South Korea, Korean is also an official language of China where it is spoken spoken in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and the Changbai Korean Autonomous County. The total number of native speakers globally is approximately 80,000,000; over 51,000,000 of these reside in South Korea.

The language itself is considered by many a language isolate; that is, one with no immediate genealogical relationship to another language. Others see it as part of a small Koreanic family of languages. Regardless, this means it is considered extremely challenging to learn as a non-native speaker; the United States’ Foreign Service Institute ranks Korean as amongst only five “languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers”. They estimate it would take approximately 2,200 hours of classroom learning to reach a level of ‘general professional proficiency’ - French and Spanish, by comparison, are estimated to require only 575.

This means Korean translation is certainly not a DIY job for most people - particularly if you want your rendering to be technical or persuasive!


What’s in South Korea for my business?

In terms of economic growth, potential and development, there’s simply no place like South Korea. The business-minded reasons to train your eyes on the southern half of the Korean peninsula, quite simply, go on and on - and there is hardly enough time to explain all of them.

South Korea’s prosperous, tech-savvy citizens are eager to hear about products from around the world. At NINETY-FOUR per cent, South Korea has the highest percentage of Internet or smartphone users as a proportion of the population on the planet. Certainly worth considering for your next e-commerce venture.


South Korea superbly combines rich history with the best that high-tech has to offer, making the whole country a magnet for tourism as well as innovation. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea has been at the cutting edge. During the Miracle on the Han River,between 1962 and 1994, real GDP grew 10% per decade- and the Republic of Korea transformed rapidly into a highly-developed country.

South Korea ranks as the world’s 12th largest economy according to many measures, with a GNI per capita of US $22,670. Quite the difference from the early ‘50s, with a GNI per capita of only US $67. With Seoul the world’s third largest city by population, the country also boasts fantastic infrastructure and a geographical location on the doorstep of Japan and China.


누워서 떡 먹기

… is exactly what Korean translation can be, when enlisting the help of a language service partner - “a piece of cake!” And, yes, that is a common Korean saying too. As we know, native speakers are more likely to buy a product if information is available in their own language, but - here’s the catch - that’s only if the translations look trustworthy and accurate.

A good language service provider - cough, cough - will assign your translation project to a native Korean speaker who fully understands the subject matter - making lighter work of technical or persuasive pieces. Unfortunately, it’s often immediately obvious when text has been written by someone who isn’t a native speaker of the target language - this is certainly going to be the case if the target language is one as sophisticated and ‘isolated’ as Korean. A trustworthy LSP will partner you with a native Korean speaker who has the linguistic and technical know-how, guaranteeing an authentic translation.


Jeju believe it?

Due to both countries’ prolonged political separation, notable differences in vocabulary and pronunciation have emerged between North and South Korea. These dialect differences - called mal (말) - also exist throughout South Korea, although they are all generally mutually intelligible.

Despite these similarities, it’s always worth noting which area of the Korean-speaking world you wish to target with your business translation. For example, the dialect spoken on Jeju Province - Jejumal (제주말) - was sufficiently divergent from Korean to be actually classified as a separate language by UNESCO, despite being ‘critically endangered’. Even so, your translations are most likely to be based on the dialect of the area around Seoul, the standard language of South Korea.

늦더라도 안 하느니보다 낫다

Better late than never. It’s true that South Korea has already experienced incredible economic growth - but there’s still time to get in on the action.

Don’t hesitate - get in touch to get your business’ message to the Korean-speaking world, and that soju flowing.

After all, it is the world’s best-selling liquor.