South Korea – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette

August 3, 2011 by  
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Facts and Statistics

Location: Eastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the East Sea and the Yellow Sea

Capital: Seoul

Climate: temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter

Population: 48,598,175 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic Make-up: homogeneous (except for about 20,000 Chinese)

Religions: no affiliation 46%, Christian 26%, Buddhist 26%, Confucianist 1%, other 1%

Government: republic

The Korean Language

The Koreans are one ethnic family speaking one language.  They share certain distinct physical characteristics which differentiate them from other Asian people including the Chinese and the Japanese, and have a strong cultural identity as one ethnic family.
The Korean language is spoken by more than 65 million people living on the peninsula and its outlying islands as well as 5.5 million Koreans living in other parts of the world.  The fact that all Koreans speak and write the same language has been a crucial factor in their strong national identity.  Modern Korea has several different dialects including the standard one used in Seoul and central areas, but they are similar enough that speakers/listeners do not have trouble understanding each other.

Korean Society & Culture

Korean Family Values

. The family is the most important part of Korean life.
. In Confucian tradition, the father is the head of the family and it is his responsibility to provide food, clothing and shelter, and to approve the marriages of family members.
. The eldest son has special duties: first to his parents, then to his brothers from older to younger, then to his sons, then to his wife, and lastly to his daughters.
. Family welfare is much more important than the needs of the individual.
. Members of the family are tied to each other because the actions of one family member reflect on the rest of the family.
. In many cases the family register can trace a family’s history, through male ancestors, for over 500 years.


. The teachings of Confucius describe the position of the individual in Korean society.
. It is a system of behaviours and ethics that stress the obligations of people towards one another based upon their relationship.
. The basic tenets are based upon five different relationships: 1) ruler and subject, 2) husband and wife, 3) parents and children, 4)brothers and sisters and 5) friend and friend
. Confucianism stresses duty, loyalty, honour, filial piety, respect for age and seniority, and sincerity.

Korean Ancestors

. Ancestors are based on the male family line.
. Children are raised to believe they can never repay their debt to their parents, hence the popularity of ancestor worship.
. They hold ancestral ceremonies for the previous three generations (parents, grandparents, and great grandparents) several times a year, particularly on Chusok and New Year’s Day.
. On Chusok, people cook and set out food to celebrate their ancestors.

The Concept of Kibun

. Kibun is a word with no literal English translation; the closest terms are pride, face, mood, feelings, or state of mind.
. If you hurt someone’s kibun you hurt their pride, cause them to lose dignity, and lose face. Korean interpersonal relationships operate on the principle of harmony.
. It is important to maintain a peaceful, comfortable atmosphere at all times, even if it means telling a “white lie”.
. Kibun enters into every facet of Korean life.
. It is important to know how to judge the state of someone else’s kibun, how to avoid hurting it, and how to keep your own kibun at the same time.
. In business, a manager’s kibun is damaged if his subordinates do not show proper respect. A subordinate’s kibun is damaged if his manager criticizes him in public.
. Nunchi is the ability to determine another person’s kibun by using the eye.
. Since this is a culture where social harmony is crucial, being able to judge another person’s state of mind is critical to maintain the person’s kibun.
. Nunchi is accomplished by watching body language and listening to the tone of voice as well as what is said.

Etiquette & Customs in South Korea

Meeting Etiquette

. Greetings follow strict rules of protocol.
. Many South Koreans shake hands with expatriates after the bow, thereby blending both cultural styles.
. The person of lower status bows to the person of higher status, yet it is the most senior person who initiates the handshake.
. The person who initiates the bow says, “man-na-suh pan-gop-sumnida”, which means “pleased to meet you.”
. Information about the other person will be given to the person they are being introduced to in advance of the actual meeting.
. Wait to be introduced at a social gathering.
. When you leave a social gathering, say good-bye and bow to each person individually.

Gift Giving Etiquette

. Gifts express a great deal about a relationship and are always reciprocated.
. It is inconsiderate to give someone an expensive gift if you know that they cannot afford to reciprocate accordingly.
. Bring fruit or good quality chocolates or flowers if invited to a Korean’s home.
. Gifts should be wrapped nicely.
. The number 4 is considered unlucky, so gifts should not be given in multiples of 4.
. Giving 7 of an item is considered lucky.
. Wrap gifts in red or yellow paper, since these are royal colours. Alternatively, use yellow or pink paper since they denote happiness.
. Do not wrap gifts in green, white, or black paper.
. Do not sign a card in red ink.
. Use both hands when offering a gift.
. Gifts are not opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

If you are invited to a South Korean’s house:
. It is common for guests to meet at a common spot and travel together.
. You may arrive up to 30 minutes late without giving offence.
. Remove your shoes before entering the house.
. The hosts greet each guest individually.
. The host pours drinks for the guests in their presence. The hostess does not pour drinks.
. The hosts usually accompany guests to the gate or to their car because they believe that it is insulting to wish your guests farewell indoors.
. Send a thank you note the following day after being invited to dinner.

Table manners

. Wait to be told where to sit. There is often a strict protocol to be followed.
. The eldest are served first.
. The oldest or most senior person is the one who starts the eating process.
. Never point your chopsticks.
. Do not pierce your food with chopsticks.
. Chopsticks should be returned to the table after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak.
. Do not cross your chopsticks when putting them on the chopstick rest.
. Do not pick up food with your hands. Fruit should be speared with a toothpick.
. Bones and shells should be put on the table or an extra plate.
. Try a little bit of everything. It is acceptable to ask what something is.
. Refuse the first offer of second helpings.
. Finish everything on your plate.
. Indicate you are finished eating by placing your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Never place them parallel across your rice bowl.

Business Etiquette and Protocol

Relationships & Communication

. South Koreans prefer to do business with people with whom they have a personal connection.
. It is therefore crucial to be introduced by a third-party.
. Relationships are developed through informal social gatherings that often involve a considerable amount of drinking and eating.
. Individuals who have established mutual trust and respect will work hard to make each other successful.
. South Koreans treat legal documents as memorandums of understanding.
. They view contracts as loosely structured consensus statements that broadly define agreement and leave room for flexibility and adjustment as needed.
. Under no circumstances insult or to criticize in front of others.
. Sensitive matters may often be raised indirectly through the intermediary that first made the introductions.
. South Koreans are extremely direct communicators. They are not averse to asking questions if they do not understand what has been said or need additional clarification.
. This is a culture where “less is more” when communicating. Respond to questions directly and concisely.
. Since there is a tendency to say “yes” to questions so that you do not lose face, the way you phrase a question is crucial. It is better to ask, “When can we expect shipment?” than “Can we expect shipment in 3 weeks?”, since this question requires a direct response.

Business Meeting Etiquette

. Appointments are required and should be made 3 to 4 weeks in advance.
. You should arrive on time for meetings as this demonstrates respect for the person you are meeting.
. The most senior South Korean generally enters the room first.
. It is a good idea to send both an agenda and back-up material including information about your company and client testimonials prior to the meeting.
. The main purpose of the first meeting is to get to know each other.
. Meetings are used to understand a client’s needs and challenges. They lay the foundation for building the relationship.
. Do not remove your jacket unless the most senior South Korean does so.
. Have all written materials available in both English and Korean.

Dress Etiquette

. Business attire is conservative.
. Men should wear dark- coloured, conservative business suits with white shirts.
. Women should dress conservatively and wear subdued colours.
. Men should avoid wearing jewellery other than a watch or a wedding ring.

Business Cards

. Business cards are exchanged after the initial introductions in a highly ritualized manner.
. The way you treat someone’s business card is indicative of the way you will treat the person.
. Have one side of your business card translated into Korean.
. Using both hands, present your business card with the Korean side facing up so that it is readable by the recipient.
. Examine any business card you receive carefully.
. Put the business cards in a business card case or a portfolio.
. Never write on someone’s business card in their presence.


June 23, 2011 by  
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The Sensitivity of Interpreting and Translation- an Issue that needs Attention

June 23, 2011 by  
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Charlene Lacandazo

April 25, 2011

Communication is not just important for businesspeople and politicians. It is almost always important to deliver the right message to your audience. Nowadays, in relation to communication and languages we often hear the word “lost in translation”. Though the phrase has become a bit popular, it should not become a habit for everybody.

Getting lost in translation can happen to everyone, whether you are conducting foreign business, court interpreting and even delivering messages on an international informative show such as a current affairs or news programs. We all know that the media are the most influential factor that can really affects human lives. Thus, media practitioners must be responsible in disseminating information to the masses.

One of the popular issues that media have been facing recently related to a speech that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak delivered. Several international news channels encountered some difficulties in understanding the Arabic language that the Egyptian President used. Most of the interpreters in that various international television channels were native speakers of Arabic, and their knowledge of English did not meet the requirements for interpreting or rendering the messages effectively. Thus, there were differing interpretations about Mubarak’s speech in the various television channels.

Interpretation and translation services are complex processes. It is worth noting to know that every important live on air speech can turn into a disaster if qualified and professional interpreters are not hired. Thus, it is most preferable to hire interpreters who have experience in rendering messages in some international organizations such as the United Nations, European Union or the Red Cross. It is beneficial to hire an interpreter who has experience in political interpreting as well.

Language barriers may affect the relations between all countries. Hence, interpreters and translators can have a big impact globally, both in effective interpreting and in being lost in translation. Even the United States of America admitted that they have poor translation services, mainly in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which became obvious when they needed to publicize information about the 9/11 attack in New York City. It seems that there is a crisis of hiring credible Arabic to English translators in the FBI. This is because most Americans have difficulties trusting dual citizen translators, specifically in the Arabic to English language combination. These translators help to translate whatever messages they would receive from alleged and potential terrorists inside and outside of the U.S.

This could also be a big problem in the translation industry. Translation and interpretation must be based on the original and precise truth of the messages and thus, it should not be biased for any reasons. In translations for Government translation, this can sometimes lead to friction between the government and the translators themselves.

Language matters in every way to us, and so do interpretation or translation. Reliable translation companies mostly hire professional and credible translators. A translation company does not do business only in the translation world but they are a highly efficient medium to everybody to create, measure and attain understanding as well. As long as the world has language barriersFeature Articles, translation companies are the homes of reliable translators that are capable of communicating at a  global level.

Conference Interpreters and Equipments for UCLA Event

January 31, 2011 by  
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Provided Spanish ,Portuguese, and Vietnamese simultaneous conference interpreters and equipments for UCLA event, October 21-28, 2010

October, 2010 provided Spanish, Portuguese, and Vietnamese simultaneous conference interpreters and equipments for major seminars held at the Anderson School of Management in UCLA.  Those were the seminars for dentists, and business people.  Our certified translators arrived on time and performed excellent interpreting satisfactory to the customers.  The state of art interpreting equipments and the tabletop soundproof glass booths made it easy for the interpreters to quietly deliver their interpreting in a controlled environment.

모기지 융자서류번역 의무화

September 1, 2010 by  
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모기지 융자서류 대출자 언어 의무화
로컬 번역업체 ‘즐거운 비명’

최근 모기지 융자 서류를 대출자가 사용하는 언어로 준비하는 것이 의무화되면서 로컬 번역업체들이 바빠지고 있다. koreaninterpreters.net에서 저렴한 가격에 융자서류의 영한번역을 제공한다.

30일 LA비즈니스저널이 전한 바에 따르면 모기지 융자에 있어 대출자가 영어에 익숙하지 않을 경우 은행을 비롯한 렌더들이 융자관련 정보를 대출자가 사용하는 언어로 제공해야 함에 따라 이에 대한 서류 또는 설명을 번역업체에 번역을 의뢰하는 일이 늘고 있다.

캘리포니아주에서는 모기지 대출자들이 융자를 하면서 영어 사용에 어려움으로 인해융자에 대한 정확한 정보를 숙지하지 못했다는 불만이 많아지자 지난해 영어외에 한국어와 스페니시, 중국어, 필리핀어(타갈로그), 그리고 베트남어로 된 융자 조건에 대한 내용을 설명하는 것을 의무화하는 법안(AB 1160)이 마련됐다.

이 법안은 지난해 10월 아놀드 슈워제네거 주지사가 서명을 했으며 지난달 1일부터 본격적인 시행에 들어갔다. 이 법안은 이들 언어 사용자가 모기지 융자를 할 경우 주요 내용을 대출자 사용언어를 사용해 서류 또는 구두로 융자조건을 정확히 알려주도록 하고 있다.

은행들이 융자에 있어 새로운 언어로 서류를 준비하거나 설명해야 하면서 이들 서류 및 정보를 제공하기 위해 번역회사들에게 번역을 맡기고 있어 번역업체들은 불경기 속에서 적지 않은 수입을 올리고 있으며 늘어나는 일감으로 인력채용을 하고 있다.

노스할리우드지역에 위치한 번역회사인 ISI 번역서비스의 조지 리마로어 사장은 “새 법안 시행으로 인해 번역 주문이 늘어나 4개의 스페니시 번역팀을 새로 만들었고 직원수도 17명에서 21명으로 늘었다”고 말했다.

엘에이 동시통역대학원 부설 통역번역센터는 각 은행에 한국어, 중국어, 베트남어, 스페인어, 필리핀어로 모기지 융자서류를 번역하고 있다.

Ambiguous Korean translation – free or not?

July 8, 2010 by  
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Sign on the refrigerator door in the hotel.

“The beverage which is by the refrigerator inside inside is no charge and per the reorder hour bottle it pays thousand won fees and it does.”

I was very confused as to whether the bottled water was complimentary or if I get paid for drinking it.

by Rosa Li (Producer)

While traveling in Korea, we find many broken EKorean to English translations. Can the central or local governments pay attention to correcting those mistakes for the convenience of Engish speaking visitors?