Korean Translation Tip: Keep an Eye Out for Unique Number Units in Korean

It’s extremely easy to become a millionaire in Korea. In fact, nearly everyone earns over a million every month…

I’m talking about Korean won, of course, and with an exchange rate a bit more than W1,000 per US$1, it’s easy to see that $1,000 is more than one million won! (You can thank high inflation in Korea in the 1960s and 1970s for this…)

It gets a little tricky at the 10,000 and 100 million units levels, though, since Korean has a specific unit for 10,000 (만, "man") and another for 100 million (억, "eok"). These even go as high as 1 trillion (조), 10 quadrillion (경) and 100 quintillion (해) but, except for a trillion, the higher numbers are rarely found in texts for translation (or anywhere, for that matter).

So, 25,000 would normally be translated to Korean as 2만 5천 (literally: 2 ten thousands and 5 thousand), 50 million would be 5천만 (5000 ten thousands) and W7.5 billion is 75억 (75 hundred millions).

If you’re familiar with lakhs (100,000) and crores (10 million) from India, you’ll understand how persistent these traditional numbering systems can be in daily usage and Koreans are no sooner abandoning their old ways of counting than Americans are moving to the metric system…

I’ve gotten plenty of laughs from listeners when mistakenly asking in Korean for W10,000 as ten one-thousand wons, rather than one ten-thousand won.

Since these are so easy to get confused, this is one item I frequently spot check before client delivery on the English>Korean work that my team handles and I double-think the conversions when doing them in Korean>English translation projects myself.

Korean Translation Tip – Because of the large denominations of money in Korea, it is frequently necessary to convert Korean money at the 10,000 and 100 million unit levels. Don’t be surprised when the numbering doesn’t quite jive with the English.

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