Korean Translation: Interesting Facts

October 16, 2023 | Van Khanh Pham

Korean is a beautiful language, akin to a precious treasure created from unique and distinct vowels and consonants. For that reason, Korean translation can feel like a journey to explore the special characteristics of this language.

In the journey of discovering such beauty, translators may face many obstacles and difficulties in providing the most seamless and high-quality translations. So, what makes Korean translation special? Read on to find out interesting facts about the Korean language and Korean translation!

What makes Korean translation unique?

A complete guide to Korean Translation - Thao & Co.

The dawn and development of the Korean language is an interesting topic that many people are intrigued by. Delving into its origins is a way to understand more about this language.

The Korean alphabet is called “Hangeul” or “Hangul” in South Korea and “Chosŏn’gŭl” in North Korea. This alphabet was created by King Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty in 1443.

Before the advent of Hangul, the people of South Korea used borrowed characters from Chinese (known as Hanja) alongside various native writing systems. However, the complexity of the Hanja characters made it difficult for the lower classes of society at that time to read and write. Thus, King Sejong personally researched and introduced a new, simpler alphabet with the aim of making it accessible to many people.

For Koreans, Hangul is an essential part of their national pride and identity. This is why the Korean people specially designate October 9th as “한글날” (Hangulnal) every year to commemorate the birth of Hangul – a national treasure of South Korea. 

Today, the Korean language is almost perfect in every aspect. While the initial purpose of creating the alphabet was to make reading, writing, and overall literacy more feasible, the unique features of the language also present many challenges for translators.

Writing System

At first glance, Hangul looks like a system of ideographic characters, but it is actually a phonogram or phonetic script, where each written character represents a syllable or a sound.

Modern Hangul orthography uses 24 basic letters comprising 14 consonants and 10 vowels. Consonants often have curved or angular shapes to represent their pronunciation, while vowels have straight or vertical shapes with short lines on both sides to convey the concept of Yin and Yang in Eastern philosophy.

The structure of the Hangul alphabet is designed to combine consonants and vowels into different syllables, creating beautiful square letter blocks. Each such block can contain one or more consonants combined with a vowel, representing a syllable in the Korean language.

With the unique combination of vowels and consonants, the Korean language has approximately 1,149,538 words (Woori Mal Saem Dictionary, 2017). Compared to the number of words in English (according to the Oxford Dictionary), Korean has over 300,000 more words. This indicates that translating Korean into English can be challenging because not all words have equivalent meanings in English. In such cases, translators must find appropriate alternative expressions to create high-quality Korean translations.

What is Hangul of Korean language? - Thao & Co.
Hangeulnal – national holiday celebrating the creation of the Hangul

Sentence Structures

One of the things that makes Korean translation particularly challenging is its unique sentence structures. Basic Korean sentences follow the order of “Subject – Object – Verb“. Moreover, Koreans often omit the subject in daily communication or when the context is clear, while still conveying the intended meaning of the sentence. This is a significant difference from the English sentence structure, which follows “Subject – Verb – Object.”

An example of this difference can be seen in the common English sentence “I love you,” where “I” is the subject, “love” is the verb, and “you” is the object. However, in Korean, the equivalent sentence “나는 너를 사랑해” (Naneun neoreul saranghae) follows the structure with “나는” (naneun) as the subject, “너를” (neoreul) as the object, and “사랑해” (saranghae) at the end as the object.

In fact, Koreans rarely use the complete sentence “나는 너를 사랑해” (Naneun neoreul saranghae) in communication because using both subject and object in the sentence can make the conversation sound unnatural. They only use a sentence with both subject and object when they want to emphasize these elements in the conversation. Instead, Koreans often use the shortened form “사랑해” (saranghae) to convey a sense of intimacy and closeness when expressing their love. This difference can be confusing for some translators who are not familiar with the sentence structure and usage in Korean.

In addition, verbs in the Korean language always appear at the end of a sentence and convey the main information of it. Therefore, apart from the verb, other elements in a Korean sentence can be omitted if the context is clear. To properly express information, Korean people often use complex sentence structures that include multiple subordinate clauses.

These characteristics of the Korean language make it challenging to produce natural translations. When translating Korean, linguists need to have a firm grasp of grammatical structure, the context of a sentence, or an entire passage or document to produce accurate and high-quality translations. 


The Korean language has one of the most complex grammatical systems in the world. This complexity is a result of a diverse system of verbs expressed through various aspects, tenses, modes, scopes, and different types of verbs, along with the intricate structure of sentences, consisting of numerous supplementary components.

Additionally, complex pronunciation rules in Korean require translators to have a strong grasp of grammar and context for precise translation. Korean pronunciation includes a range of rules such as sound linking, tensification, nasalization, vowel harmony, simplification, and aspiration.

With numerous grammatical rules, expressions in the Korean language are logical and coherent with high precision. Therefore, successfully translating Korean becomes a challenging journey where the translator deciphers the meanings behind each character.

Honorific system

What are Korean honorifics? - Thao & Co.

One common feature of Asian languages is the use of an honorific system to reflect social hierarchy and show respect for different communication partners. Honorifics are an essential part of daily communication and a cultural norm in Korean. The Korean honorifics system can be divided into three main types:

  1. Subject Honorifics: Subject honorifics are used to show your politeness to the subject who does the action in the sentence. To use subject honorifics accurately, it is necessary to determine the relationship between the subject and the listener in terms of status, age, experience, and familiarity.
  2. Object Honorifics: Object honorifics in the Korean language are carried out by humbling yourself in relation to the indirect object to whom you give something in the sentence. Using object honorifics is a common way to demonstrate politeness and respect for the listener or reader.
  3. Addressee Honorifics: This type of honorifics is also known as honorifics for the listener. Koreans use addressee honorifics to elevate the position of the listener. The use of these honorifics can vary through different sentence endings, and the choice depends on the social status of the listener.

Korean honorifics are not only flexible in the transformation of suffixes and verb endings but also in changing word forms to suit the entire sentence. With the complexity of the honorific system, the Korean language allows for subtle and profound expressions in every word.

It is evident that the honorific system reflects a deep cultural respect for elders in Korean society. However, it can pose significant challenges for Korean translators.

When translating Korean into languages that have a similar honorific system, such as Japanese and Chinese, the translation process is relatively straightforward. However, when translating Korean into languages that lack equivalent vocabulary for the Korean honorific system, like English or French, choosing the appropriate expression to convey accurate information and the spirit of the original can be extremely difficult. Without careful consideration, a translation can lose the cultural nuances inherent in the source text. 


In the Korean language, pronouns are incredibly diverse and serve to express various nuances in relationships. Depending on factors such as the intimacy of the relationship, social status, age, and experience, different pronouns may be used appropriately in the context of communication. Therefore, Korean pronouns are not merely a means of effective communication but also repositories of precious cultural values, such as traditions of respecting elders and a sense of community.

In Korean translation, the correct translation of personal pronouns is a matter of great concern. A slight mistranslation of a pronoun can convey an entirely different nuance and emotion compared to the original text.

For example, in English, the pronoun “I” can be used in all communication contexts. However, in Korean, there are many pronouns that can all be translated as “I,” but each carries a different emotional nuance, and even shortened forms of a pronoun can have entirely different meanings.

Accordingly, Korean people often use “나는” (naneun) and “저는” (choneun) to refer to “I”. Although they may have similar meanings, these words are used in different communication contexts. “나는” (naeun) is used in intimate communication situations, such as talking with friends, family, or people of similar age. On the other hand, “저는” (choneun) is used in more formal communication contexts with less familiar acquaintances or elders to demonstrate respect.

The way Koreans express their position, attitude, and intimacy with others in communication is subtle and profound. However, translating these nuances into English can be a demanding task. Therefore, for professional Korean translation, linguists must choose expressions that are suitable for the context of the original text.

Interesting facts about Korean culture

The challenges in translation don’t just stem from vocabulary or grammar but also from native culture because language is the first reflection of culture. To achieve seamless and high-quality Korean translation tailored to Korean cultural preferences, translators must have extensive knowledge of the unique and fascinating cultures of this country.

Legends and Myths

Every nation in the world has fascinating and captivating legends and myths about their origin that reflect the spirit of national pride, gratitude, and an awareness of their cultural roots. South Korea is one of the countries with various founding myths and legends. Among them, the most important and ancient is the legend of Dangun (단군), the first king who founded the Choson kingdom in 2333 BC.

Furthermore, South Korea has a rich tapestry of folk tales. To preserve their unique cultural heritage, Korean film screenwriters have incorporated elements of myths and folktales into impressive and captivating cinematic masterpieces such as “Goblin“, “My Girlfriend is a Gumiho“, and “The Legend of the Blue Sea“. It can be seen that Korean folklore carries an unwavering vitality and serves as an endless source of inspiration for filmmakers.

Goblin K-drama - Thao & Co.
Goblin – a well-known Korean TV series

While these stories are inspired by domestic myths and characters, the gripping plots, exceptional actors, and beautiful settings make this genre of Korean drama unique and appealing to local and international audiences. Through these films, the rich cultural heritage of South Korea has been brought closer to audiences around the globe.

Korean folklore not only serves as a basis for understanding the cultural subjects, spaces, and time of the country in the distant past but also represents the deep national spirit and the self-awareness of the Korean people.

Respect for traditional values

Traditional values are the gateway to the present and the future. South Korea is a country that greatly values its traditions in various aspects. The Koreans respect family values, honor their ancestors, and uphold virtues such as filial piety and benevolence. Alongside these values, they continuously maintain and promote traditional values in areas such as religion, art, architecture, national dress, and ceremonies.

One of the symbols of Korean cultural pride is the traditional clothing, Hanbok. Today, Koreans wear the Hanbok on most traditional holidays to express their national pride and gratitude to their ancestors.

Beyond preservation, Koreans also make efforts to promote their cultural beauty through period dramas and reality TV shows. Although the entertainment industry in “the land of morning calm” is highly competitive and requires leading domestic television stations such as KBS, MBC, and SBS to establish unique brands, they all share a common goal – the promotion of Korean culture.

In the Korean reality show “Running Man“, for example, cultural elements such as traditional Hanbok attire, traditional musical instruments, folk games, and historical cultural locations are cleverly integrated into each episode to bring the image of South Korea closer to international friends. Especially, traditional Korean cuisine, including dishes like Tteokbokki, Bungeo-ppang (carp bread), and Soju, plays an essential role, continuously appearing in various scenes. 

Running Man's Traditional costume episode - Thao & Co.
Running Man – a famous Korean reality show

In translation, understanding the unique traditional values of South Korea helps translators create high-quality translations that fully convey the cultural spirit of the country. Cultural differences set Korean culture apart, so when translating documents rich in Korean culture, content localization to suit the culture of the target language is essential to make the translation more relevant to readers.


The term “Chaebol” is one that piques the interest of many around the world. Chaebols refer to a group of large capitalist businesses or enterprises with substantial power in the business world. In South Korea, Chaebols are major national conglomerates run and controlled by family members.

The emergence of these Chaebols is a source of immense pride for South Korea. In 1963, South Korean President Park Chung-hee, after being elected, quickly set forth a five-year economic development plan, focusing on industrialization and modernization and the establishment of top economic conglomerates. After many years of implementing this plan, through unity and the unwavering determination of the people, South Korea achieved the “Miracle on the Han River“, which witnessed the birth of Chaebols.

One of the famous quotes from Lee Byung-chul, the founder of Samsung Group, is, “We don’t sell products, we sell dreams.”This somewhat reflects the resolute spirit, unwavering determination, and belief in the dream of a prosperous and developed South Korea. 

Today, five Chaebols in South Korea are officially recognized: Samsung Group, Hyundai Group, SK Group, LG Group, and Lotte Group, representing up to 50% of the South Korean stock market. These Chaebols exert significant influence over various aspects of South Korea, including politics, the economy, and society, and symbolize the miraculous development of the country.

South Korea film industry

When it comes to South Korea, one cannot ignore the global cinematic phenomenon known as Korean dramas (K-drama). Perhaps everyone has once immersed themselves in the cinematic world of this leading regional and even worldwide film industry.

Most K-dramas are rich in romantic elements, but Korean filmmakers apply diverse storytelling techniques to this familiar genre, transforming it into captivating stories across various themes like military, school life, horror, historical, and medical dramas.

Some have rapidly gained global popularity, such as “Crash Landing on You“, “Squid Game“, “Train To Busan” and recently, “Parasite” which impressively won the leading four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best International Feature Film, and Best Original Screenplay.

Parasite movie - Thao & Co.
A scene from the Oscars-winner Parasite

K-drama is one of the strategies for South Korea to promote its culture worldwide. Through these remarkable motion pictures, global audiences have the opportunity to be exposed to and learn more about the culture of this nation. However, cultural differences can sometimes be a barrier to accessing Korean dramas and Korean culture. Therefore, content localization in Korean translation is the optimal solution to make Korean translations more relevant to the public in the target language’s culture. 

K-pop and Hallyu

The spread of Korean culture and art is a long-term strategy founded on the meticulous production of K-dramas. However, K-pop – Korean music is the real catalyst that has ignited the explosion of Hallyu (also known as the Korean Wave), which has been booming globally since the mid-2000s.

Particularly, the worldwide phenomenon of “Gangnam Style” by singer PSY was the keystone success that asserted the influence of K-pop in international music. Through its development, K-pop has now established a solid position on the world music scene, with iconic idol groups like BTS achieving remarkable success, including their music video “Dynamite” topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Massive global fanbases and the allure of these K-pop groups have encouraged people to explore Korean culture. This is evident in the statement made by the language learning app Duolingo, which pointed out that Korean is the second-fastest growing language globally. Moreover, K-pop not only promotes Korean culture and image to international audiences but also significantly contributes to the country’s economy.


Korean Beauty, often abbreviated as K-beauty, is a term used to describe the unique beauty industry in South Korea. It’s not just a passing trend; K-beauty sets high standards in the world of beauty.

K-beauty is renowned for its skincare products made from holistic ingredients, focusing on nourishing the skin from the inside out. The standard for beautiful skin in Korea is often described as “glass skin” – smooth, glowing, and full of vitality.

Korean glass skin standard - Thao & Co.
The “glass skin” standard of K-beauty

Some “Made in Korea” beauty brands have gained global recognition, including names like 3CE, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, Innisfree, among others. These top-quality beauty products from Korea have various price points that cater to a diverse customer base. As a result, an increasing number of consumers worldwide prefer to use products from the “land of beauty.”

The birthplace of eSports

In South Korea, it can be confidently stated that eSports is more than just about games; it’s a distinct facet. Although eSports (electronic sports) have existed since the 1960s, South Korea is the country that transformed it into a leading industry, as it stands today.

In South Korea, eSports are recognized as a professional sport, and professional gamers are considered genuine athletes. Every year, tens of thousands of fans attend their favorite eSports competitions at stadiums. For instance, during the “League of Legends World Championship” held in Seoul in 2014, the legendary finals drew a crowd of 40,000 enthusiastic spectators.

The global spread of eSports culture from South Korea has reached countries like the United States, China, and various European nations. To this day, eSports has become a distinctive cultural trait of South Korea. If you ask any player in the world, most of them will often acknowledge South Korea as the “birthplace” of this modern sport.

The robust development of Korean culture is part of a comprehensive strategy that contributes to the “soft power” of this nation. The success of Korean culture plays a significant role in the achievements the country has made over the past decades.

eSports in Korea - Thao & Co.
The eSports community in South Korea

Common uses of Korean translation

The exceptional progress South Korea has made in various fields in recent years is the result of a combination of many elements, including economics, politics, and entertainment. To achieve global influence, Korean translation is one of the key factors.


South Korea’s massive entertainment industry is not simply a tool for promoting culture but a multi-billion-dollar industry contributing significantly to the country’s economic growth.

From K-pop to K-drama, the appeal of South Korean entertainment is enormous on a global scale. However, for successful global outreach to potential audiences, Korean translation is essential. Additionally, effective global marketing strategies are crucial to maintain excitement in the entertainment industry. At this point, Korean translation can eliminate language barriers in marketing content, motion pictures, videos, or messages, enabling marketing strategies to be effective worldwide.


For many decades, technology has always been the leading edge of South Korea’s industries. Leading Korean tech giants like SK Telecom, Kakao, and Naver have impressed the world with cutting-edge technologies in various domains.

Korean translation in this field is considered a “lucrative land.” Through translation and localization, technical products like software, apps, and websites become highly compatible with local users in each respective country.


The South Korean manufacturing sector has long been famous for producing high-quality products. With significant competitive advantages, South Korean manufacturing companies have ventured into many new potential markets. An increasing number of local companies have established manufacturing plants in various countries within the region such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai Motors, to name a few.

Korean translation now plays a crucial role in translating technical documents or conducting technical interpretation, ensuring that local companies understand the manufacturing processes of Korean companies.

Healthcare and beauty

South Korea excels in healthcare and beauty worldwide. Many businesses in this country invest heavily in research, product development, and services related to healthcare and beauty. Therefore, South Korea leads the world in top modern beauty technologies such as stem cell technology, cosmetic surgery, and laser technology.

The health and beauty industry in South Korea attracts considerable attention from other countries worldwide. This creates a significant demand for specialized translation services for documents related to this field. For these documents, translators need to possess a strong understanding of specialized knowledge and industry terms to provide the most accurate translations.


South Korea’s tourism industry is a significant global attraction due to its unique cultural aspects. In 2019, the country’s tourism industry contributed a remarkable 8.3% to the national GDP.

What makes the travel and tourism industry of South Korea successful? The success of South Korea’s tourism industry primarily stems from the promotion of its cultural identity through various media and excellent TV shows. Korean translation plays a vital role in making these strategies successful.

Travel to South Korea - Thao & Co.

Korean translation rates

Korean translation rates are not fixed and depend on various factors. There is no specific or accurate pricing scale for these translation services, but you can consider the following influential factors:

  1. Length: Korean translation rates often depend on the length of the document to be translated. Some translation agencies measure document length in characters or pages.
  2. Complexity: The complexity of the translation project can also affect the cost. Highly complex documents requiring additional effort, research, or specialized knowledge may cost more.
  3. Target Language: The rate of translating Korean into any language is generally not the same. Less common target languages may cost more due to the limited number of translators available.
  4. Type of Translation: Different types of translation may have a certain influence on the costs. With types of translation that require a complex set of skills such as interpreting, subtitling, dubbing, or large-scale projects that need to allocate more resources to complete, the price may increase.
  5. Other requirements: Specific requirements from clients may affect the translation rates. Those include quick turnaround times, Desktop Publishing, or Customized Integration, any of which can add to the overall cost.

Prior to initiating the translation project, it is essential to discuss with your chosen translation agency any special requirements or complementary services. This helps enhance the quality and avoid incurring additional costs in the translation process.

At Thao & Co., a professional translation agency, we will swiftly provide a detailed quote before commencing your project. When working with Thao & Co., you can rest assured that translation rates are always transparent and upfront.

Professional Korean translation services

Translation plays a crucial role in various fields. Therefore, choosing a professional Korean translation service is a matter of utmost importance for businesses. But how can you select a reputable Korean translation service provider that guarantees quality?

To create a high-quality and professional translation, the translation agency should meet requirements for linguist quality, translation technology, effective workflow, and extensive experience in similar projects.

With many years of experience in Korean translation projects, Thao & Co. is committed to offering you professional and high-quality Korean translation services. We employ modern translation technologies, paired with an efficient and optimized workflow to ensure that you receive professional and accurate Korean translations.

You can visit our Get a Quote page to connect with Thao & Co., or go to Thaonco.com to find detailed information about our services!

Source: Thao & Company
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