About Koreans and Their Attitudes Toward Translators

An associate asked me about studying to be a Korean translator recently. He did so in the context of trying to get a job in Korea. Unfortunately, while translation is a noble profession and one that pays well and for which there's a demand for good talent, it is not a job to take if you want to improve your reputation in Korea or get a high-paying job here.

This is how I replied to my associate's question:

"Korean professionals don't respect translators; it's as simple as that. I've sensed it for years from many people, but got a rude wake-up call from my Korean accountant recently. He's a fellow student at Hanyang and we'd had classes together. I went for tax advice to him about a year and a half ago and a couple months ago I went back to him to register my business in Korea.

When I mentioned how much I make, he just about fell out of his seat and responded, "Oh, I thought translation was just what unemployed people do!"… and it turns out that the advice he gave me a year and a half ago was wrong… because he had taken me so lightly knowing I was a translator, he hadn't bothered to properly consider my situation. Just figured that if I said I was a translator, I surely wasn't making enough to worry about Korean taxes and blew me off…

So, that pretty much sums up what a translation degree will do for you in the Korean business world. In the mind of Koreans, it's two steps up from English teacher… This, incidentally, is why I went back to school in Korea… so I could stop telling Koreans I'm a translator and start talking to them about serious subjects. đŸ™‚

Sorry to sound so negative… it's just that I've been through it myself already… And by the way, Americans DO respect translators…


I'm told that one cultural factor in this matter is that language professionals were not held in particularly high esteem during the years of the the Chosun Dynasty either and that this thinking continues even until today. I don't really know how much of an effect such attitudes from 100+ years ago would have today, but it's at least in accord with what I experience.

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