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Korean Localization

Korean isn’t generally considered to be a difficult language for an experienced language service provider. Aside from ensuring that honorifics and levels of formality are appropriate to the writer, subject and target audience, and that you use professional Korean translators with specific subject-matter experience, Korean localization does not usually pose a challenge.

Due to spacing between words, desktop publishing can even be performed by non-Korean DTP operators when carried out in the more typical modern page layout. Nonetheless, Korean internationalization aspects all need to be considered such as color and image appropriateness for South Korea, in addition to date format, time and currency conventions. As with any language, selecting the right localization partner with demonstrated experience translating for your target market is the key to success.


  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Machine Translation engine building
  • Machine Translation post-editing
  • Desktop publishing
  • Voiceover & dubbing
  • Subtitling & closed captions
  • Flash & multimedia localization
  • Linguistic testing
  • Functional testing
  • Interpretation


  • Documentation
  • Technical manuals
  • Marketing materials
  • Brochures & flyers
  • Packaging & labeling
  • Magazines & newsletters
  • Websites
  • Mobile applications
  • Software applications
  • Training & eLearning
  • Voiceover & multimedia
  • Video content

About Korean

The Korean language is generally considered to be a language isolate; i.e., a language that has no known ancestor in common with any other language. A number of historical linguists have theorized relationships with the Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, and Japonic language families, and hold these along with Korean should be incorporated into a proposed Altaic language family; however, this theory is subject to considerable contention. Korean is one of the world’s oldest living languages. Its development may be categorized in three stages: Old Korean (1st – 10th century CE), Middle Korean (10th – 16th century CE), and Modern Korean (16th century CE to date). Since the division of Korea into North Korea and South Korea after World War II, the language as used in the North and South has developed differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and orthography

As is the case with many Asian language, Korean has a system of honorifics, sets of special nouns and verb endings that are used to indicate the status of the speaker / writer in relation to that of the subject referent (whom is being talked about). In addition, Korean has a system of seven speech levels, each level using a different paradigm for verb endings, which indicate the level of respect that the speaker / writer has for the listener / reader (whom is being talked to).

Korean was originally written using Chinese characters, known as hanja, which were introduced into Korea through contact with the Chinese when the Han Dynasty established military outposts in northern Korea starting in the 2nd century BCE. Unlike Japan and the People’s Republic of China, where many of the Chinese characters currently in use have been modified or simplified, hanja used today remain almost entirely identical to their traditional Chinese counterparts.

In the mid-15th century CE, King Sejong the Great promulgated the hangul script, a phonetic alphabet, explaining that the Korean language was fundamentally different from Chinese, and that using Chinese characters was so difficult that it prevented common people from ever becoming literate. It was said at the time that an intelligent person could learn hangul in the space of a morning, and that a stupid person could learn it in the space of ten days. In modern times, linguists have described hangul with such accolades as “remarkable”, “brilliant,” and “the most perfect phonetic system devised.” Hangul is now the sole official writing system of both North and South Korea.

While the use of hanja was initially depreciated in North Korea, it was reintroduced into the primary and secondary school curricula in the mid-1960s, with 1,500 characters being taught in grades 5 – 9 and an additional 500 in grades 10 – 12. In South Korea, hanja is taught in grades 7 – 12: 900 characters in grades 7 – 9 and an additional 900 characters in grades 10 – 12. Nevertheless, the use of hanja characters has steadily diminished to the point that most printed material are written in hangul only.

Examples of hanja taught in grade 7, South Korea:

Examples of hanja taught in grades 10 – 12, South Korea:

 is written either in the traditional fashion, in columns read top-to-bottom and left-to-right, or in the fashion of English, in lines read from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. Although hangul is a true alphabet, it is not written sequentially, like English; hangul letters are grouped in blocks, each block containing one to five letters, including at least one consonant and one vowel; each block thus represents a syllable. The alphabet comprises 14 base consonants and 10 base vowels; in addition, there are 5 double consonants and 11 diphthongs.

Base Consonants:

Double Consonants:

Base Vowels:


For example, the word hangul comprises two syllables, han and gul . The syllable han comprises the letters h, a, and n, and the syllable gul comprises g, u, and l.

Korean Translation & Localization Challenges

  • When translating into Korean, the use of honorifics and levels of formality must be appropriate both to the writer, the subject, and the target audience. Due to both linguistic differences and political sensitivities, South Korean linguists should not be used to translate materials intended for use in North Korea, and vice versa.
  • Because Korean uses spaces between words, it is possible for a non-native DTP operator to perform line breaking correctly. DTP for Korean written in the traditional, columnar fashion is problematic, as only specialized software programs support this format in a native fashion.
  • With regard to voice-over recording, materials intended for the general population in South Korea should use Standard Korean, defined by the National Institute of the Korean Language as “the modern speech of Seoul widely used by the well-cultivated.” The Munhwao dialect should be used for a North Korean audience


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