Decoding Technical Jargon in Korean: A Translator’s Challenge

Korean technical translation is a major necessity for businesses that are looking to expand in that market. And there’s a good reason for this.

Not only are technical translations necessary for effective processes, standardization, and best practices, but they can also help reduce health and safety risks.

With this in mind, this article offers a quick snapshot of the South Korean market, explores the challenges involved in Korean technical translation, and provides some effective strategies for overcoming those challenges. Let’s explore further.

A brief snapshot of the South Korean market

South Korea has a booming economy that’s driven by a combination of a broad array of sectors. Despite their vast differences, some of the strongest sectors include:

  • Technology
  • Automotive
  • Healthcare
  • Entertainment (music, dramas, movies, etc.)
  • Fashion and beauty (e.g. Korean skincare products)
  • Food

In addition, the country is well-known for its advanced technology and innovative startups. That’s why it makes for an excellent market for tech companies looking to expand.

This is also partly driven by the fact that the country offers a strong and robust infrastructure, a skilled workforce, and advanced research and development capabilities in a broad array of sectors including cloud computing, big data, deep learning, and more.

Why are technical translations important?

Although we already alluded to the fact that Korean technical translations are an absolute necessity for enterprises seeking to enter the South Korean market, there are other reasons to consider its importance. Firstly, technical documentation in Korean is often reserved for much smaller audiences that are familiar with technical jargon and industry knowledge.

These specialists are usually quite well-versed in such technical jargon and therefore they can quickly pick up if a translation is of poor quality. They are therefore a highly discerning audience whose needs must be met.

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Whether it’s to gain authorization approvals for introducing your product to the local Korean market or anything related, you need accurate Korean technical translations because any minor error can set you back (both in terms of costs and time). In such cases, you need to strive for perfection in your translation efforts. And apart from the subject-matter experts, another part of your audience is the general public.

That’s because technical documents such as user manuals, information sheets, or anything similar must be easily comprehensible to them otherwise your product could be inaccurately used, causing damage and requests for refunds or returns. This, in turn, can lead to a poor user experience and result in your organization receiving poor or negative reviews.

The challenges of translating technical content from Korean

Korean technical translations are neither simple nor easy. They come with highly specific challenges. That’s why translators and linguists must be well-versed in both language use and rigid industry rules that specify the nature of the communication of specific information and technical details. Examples of some of the challenges include:
South Korean market

  • Consistency: you and your team of translators need to ensure consistency in Korean technical translations. For example, the term “software” has few other variants and there must be an agreed-upon use of the term throughout the technical text that’s applied consistently throughout. Any inconsistencies can lead to confusion and inaccuracy.
  • Accuracy: it is also essential to always choose and use the most accurate term in the Korean language. Although it may be tempting to use a variation of words to refer to the same thing, this is actually not a best practice and should be avoided.
  • Tone: The tone of voice used in your Korean technical translations should match the target audience. If you are translating for a group of engineers, this must be reflected in the proper and accurate use of precise industry-accepted language that the translated document requires.
  • Glossaries: Another frequent challenge when it comes to performing a Korean technical translation is the absence of glossaries used by linguists to translate technical words. Language teams should never cut corners on translations and using a client’s or internally-developed glossary is a necessity.
  • Culture: Because Korean culture is so specific and unique, it requires a nuanced approach to communicating across different cultures effectively. That’s why translators are often required to understand cultural nuances, idioms, and even customs to convey the intended meaning in Korean. This is an important way of losing face or creating misunderstandings.
  • Grammar: There are vast grammatical differences between English and Korean, starting with sentence structure, word order, and of course, the issue of honorifics, which requires the right level of politeness to be chosen. Furthermore, Korean’s grammar system is complex in that its verb endings can express time, mood, and politeness.
  • Idioms, regional dialects, and slang: Because idioms often contain cultural or historical references that may not exist in either the source or the target language, it is often difficult to find equivalent expressions with the same meaning. To further compound the challenge, some idioms are region-specific, making it even harder to find direct translations. Slang is also challenging to translate and requires a translator’s creativity to convey the correct meaning.
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Effective strategies for handling technical terminology in Korean translations

Despite the challenges outlined above, there are ways to work around these, with the right experts at your side who follow best practices when it comes to Korean technical translations. Some of these best practices include:

  • Researching the target audience and mindfulness of the target culture
  • Enlisting the help of native language proficiency translators
  • Compiling glossaries to maintain consistency in technical translations
  • Working with high-quality source texts
  • Understanding the technical terminology and having the right specialized knowledge
  • Awareness of local customs and preferences
  • Using unique, industry-specific terminology to maintain clarity and precision
  • Hiring translators with subject-matter expertise and who understand technical jargon and terminology
  • Reviewing the technical translation process before it starts to iron out any uncertainties
  • Proofreading and editing before publishing
  • Steering away from machine translation as it can lack precision and understanding of technical terms

Conclusion: Creating high-quality Korean technical translations

Creating high-quality Korean technical translations is a necessity for any organization seeking to enter the Korean market and thrive. But with so many cultural and linguistic nuances and challenges to overcome, the task may seem overwhelming. However, there are certain partners you can trust to follow industry best practices so that you can make the most out of your market penetration efforts.