Korean Translation Services Buyer’s Guide

You are preparing to pay someone to translate your document, web site or other written materials and have set aside a budget for the work.

This in-depth Buyer’s Guide presents a framework for achieving a good translation experience.

Over the years, I have seen well-meaning clients and prospects choose the wrong vendor for their projects, not follow work procedures that would have made the process go more smoothly, and not feel properly educated about the Korean translation work they commissioned.

As I specialize in translation into and out of the Korean language, this Buyer’s Guide is certainly a product of my desire that you work with me.

But I also realize that my team and I are not the most appropriate supplier for every job. Therefore, I have packed this with information that will help you complete a successful project regardless of whom you hire.



Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Step 1: Understand the translation resources available to you and determine which vendor category is right for your project.

1. Multi-language translation agency

Multi-language agencies handle translation of documents, web sites and other materials into and out of many different languages and add value by coordinating the translation process between various subcontracting freelance translators and specialist agencies on complex multi-lingual projects.

When working with a multi-language translation agency, it is very likely that no one in the agency itself will speak the language of the project (especially for “exotic” languages like Korean). Therefore, the agency will act as middleman in the process between client and translator and it is unlikely that you will be allowed to communicate with the translators directly.

On important multilingual jobs, you should work with a multi-language agency in order to take advantage of the coordination services that they can provide on these projects.

Advantages: Able to handle complex multi-language projects.
Disadvantages: Highest pricing. Client and translator cannot communicate directly.

2. Single-language specialist agency

There are many single-language agencies specializing in various individual languages and such agencies, like Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc., are major subcontractors to the multi-language agencies mentioned above a moment ago. In our case, we handle translation of Korean, primarily into and out of English, but we can translate between Korean and other languages too.

Single-language agencies are very competitive in terms of the price/quality ratio and you should seriously consider using a specialist agency for translation projects between English and a single language.

Every translation agency maintains a database of translators. Agencies that handle 100+ languages must keep files of translators in each language and it is impossible to deepen such resources in any meaningful way within such a broad range. On the other hand, single-language agencies can achieve much deeper resources by concentrating in just one language!

This means that while multi-language agencies struggle to keep up with just a handful of vendors in each language, single-language agencies can call upon the services of many more linguists, each specializing in specific narrow fields. This is one reason that single-language agencies are able to provide a very competitive price-quality ratio.
Thus, within a language specialization, a specialist agency can draw from a large pool of experts in diverse fields like law, medicine, computers and technology, business management, literature, advertising and more and assign just the right translator to each job.

Furthermore, while agencies handling many languages only verify the quality of their translators indirectly, single language agencies can cull and trim their database through direct quality control in which the expertise of the translator in each respective field is verified. This way you are assured of the highest quality output for your translation project.

Advantages: Able to provide high-quality translation across a wide range of disciplines. Direct client communications. Less expensive than multi- language agencies.
Disadvantages: Only handle projects between English and one other language.

3. Individual professional translators

It is possible to get even lower prices by finding an individual translator handling the language pair that you need. However, what about the field of your document? If you need translation of a chemical patent, it won’t do to hire a translator that usually translates general business-related documents. And just because a translator says he/she is competent, how do you know ?

While hiring an individual translator for your project may turn out well, it is often a hit-or-miss experience. Since you don’t speak the foreign language yourself, there is no way to assess the quality on your own. At the very least, you should hire an individual translator based on a referral, rather than by just cold-calling around.

Many companies have had good experiences working with individual translators. The result depends on how competent the person is. Your translator should be honest and up-front regarding the fields in which he/she is strong — and the subjects for which you should find someone else.

Advantages: Able to provide high- quality translation between English and one other language. Direct client communications.
Disadvantages: Can only handle translation of English and one other language in a limited number of areas of expertise.

4. Friend, acquaintance, or co-worker who is bilingual but is not a professional translator

For translation of personal letters or to get the main points of a magazine article in a foreign language or other similar job, there is no reason you should ignore the translation resources around you. Many times, you can get work done on friendly terms and help someone earn some extra pocket money too.

However, merely speaking a couple languages does not make someone a skilled translator. Indeed, translation is a profession that takes many years of experience to become good at and if your documents are important in a business sense, you should be careful about turning them over to someone that doesn’t have a rigorous professional background. You would be particularly well-advised to entrust business and technical documents to a professional translator or agency that knows what they are doing.

Advantages: Able to provide high- quality translation between English and one other language. Direct client communications.
Disadvantages: Can only handle translation of English and one other language in a limited number of areas of expertise.

5. Machine translation

There are various Internet-based free translation services that take a document or web page in one language and “translate” it into another. However, machine translation should be used only to get the “gist” of a document and not for understanding important details.

You must NEVER take an English business letter, shoot it through a machine translation program, and then send it off to a business counterpart. The potential for errors and misunderstandings (or even complete nonsense) is great.

Advantages: FREE!
Disadvantages: Get-what-you-pay-for quality

Step 2: Determine which provider within your chosen category will deliver the highest value to you.

Once you’ve determined which of the above vendor categories is best- matched to your project, you are then faced with the choice of which vendor to choose within that category. Again, there are pros and cons to each option.
For the sake of simple explanation, the following assumes that your project is a single-language translation of Korean > English or English > Korean. However, the points below will be relevant regardless of the type of vendor you choose or the languages you are working in.

Deciding whether or not to go offshore

While single-language agencies located in the respective foreign country can offer lower prices than those in the US, you should evaluate the pros and cons in light of your requirements before taking your projects offshore.

Advantages of choosing an agency in the US:

  1. Agencies in the US work with translators in both the US and/or Korea. Therefore, they will make sure that your document is translated competently for your market.
  2. Agencies in the US are open when you are. Call or email them during the US business day and get immediate responses to your project-related questions and feedback.
  3. Your work always stays on schedule thanks to easy real- time local communications between you and the project management team.
  4. There will be no need to speak slowly or worry about communication issues while you discuss the project with them or while you are trying to assess their suitability.
  5. As US business entities, they will take their responsibilities within the US legal system seriously and this is something that offshore providers cannot do. Also, you should always make sure that your translation provider protects its clients with errors & omissions insurance.
  6. Project delays from translation errors, time wasted trying to communicate complicated ideas and reworking project steps that weren’t done right the first time can all be avoided by dealing with agencies based in the US.
  7. US agencies will be glad to sign a non-disclosure agreement and, unlike offshore vendors, are legally responsible in a practically enforceable way for their commitments to you.

Advantage of choosing an offshore agency:

  • You will likely receive a cheaper project quote.

Step 3: Prepare your project for translation/typesetting

Once you have chosen a translation resource to handle your project, you will need to take some steps to ensure that the translation process goes smoothly and that you get what you are expecting.

Prepare your documents right the first time

Make sure that the documents you have requested to be translated are in final form. Nothing is more frustrating for translators or creates more confusion than when a previously “final” document goes through further revisions after the translation process has started. If you request revisions to the source document after the project has begun, you should expect that additional charges might be required.

Provide your translation resource with adequate information

These are the questions we ask our clients before starting a project. Regardless of which vendor you work with, you might consider providing this information up-front.

  • Do you have an existing Korean translation of similar content that you’d like us to refer to on this project?
  • Do you already have a glossary of key terms with their preferred Korean translations that we can refer to on this project?
  • Do you have a Korean speaking resource that will be reviewing our work after delivery? If so and if this is a large job, may we send you an early delivery/glossary for their review in advance so that we can reach early agreement on the translation of key terminology and style?
  • Who do you see as the main audience for your translation project?
  • Have you had previous experiences with Korean or other translation projects that inform your expectations on this one? What are your main concerns with the current project?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about the job that could help us deliver more value to you on this project?

Schedule your project wisely

Keep in mind that “time is money” in the translation business and that more time leads to better quality.
This is true not only in terms of the amount of effort your translation team puts into the work itself; it also applies when scheduling the project. Many of the most competitive translators stay busy most of the time and to fit in rush work can be very disruptive, often leading to higher costs to clients, or even unavailability. On the other hand, if you give your translation provider enough time to schedule your project in comfortably with the team best matched to your work, you can keep your costs down AND enjoy better quality.

One more issue arises from repeat work, such as monthly translations of a newsletter. You need to maintain stylistic consistency from job to job but assigning the work to a different linguist every time means that vocabulary and style will vary. Even if the basic quality of the work is excellent, this ongoing variation does not make the best impression for your materials and should be avoided. There are methods for alleviating these issues by using CAT tools, referring to past jobs and using a glossary, but the very best way to ensure consistency is to use the same translation team every time. However, this reduces your translation provider’s flexibility in assigning the work to whichever linguists are available at the moment and can lead to work bottlenecks if the translation team finds itself in the middle of other work when your project comes in. Thus, to achieve the best results on ongoing work, you should make an extra effort to allow adequate time and to set and follow a schedule that the translation team can anticipate and plan for in advance.

Prepare in advance to receive the translated files

The fonts of Western European languages are single byte; but the Asian fonts for Korean, Japanese and Chinese are double byte. Even though recent versions of today’s leading office software provides support for these languages, the challenges in their implementation can still be daunting when working in desktop publishing software.
Be prepared to accept the translation in a format that you can use. If you’re having an English document translated into Korean, then you’ll want to be clear on the final format of the document. We’ll be glad to discuss this with you and to send you sample files in advance to ensure that the post-delivery phase goes smoothly for you.

Table of file formats for Korean text

FormatsTo work with the document, you will need:ViewPrintReformat
Hardcopy or faxNo software requiredYNN
.jpg, .gif, .tif and other graphics formatsStandard Internet browser or graphics programYYN
.pdfAdobe Reader (free download at www.adobe.com)YYN
MS Word (.doc, .txt, .rtf ) MS PowerPoint (.ppt) MS Excel (.xls)MS Office 2000 (Older versions do not support Asian fonts.)*YYY
or emailAppropriate encoding packets for your browser or e-mail clientYYY
Professional-level printing and publishing formatsAdobe Illustrator, Adobe Pagemaker, Adobe FrameMaker, QuarkXPress and othersYYY/N
Print-ready .epsThese files are prepared to go straight to your local printer for professional output as you will probably not be able to do anything with them on your system. That’s why it’s important to receive an Adobe Reader .pdf proof file first for review before forwarding the .eps file to the print shop.

* Special note about Microsoft Word files – You’ll need Microsoft Office 2000 or later version with the Asian Fonts Pack installed (an installation option on the basic Microsoft Office 2000 installation CD) in order to view, manipulate and print a Korean Word file. Without Word 2000 or later, you cannot simply ask us for the fonts and install them as they won’t be compatible.

Step 4: Review your project and evaluate the service you received

If you have hired a competent vendor to handle your translation, then you won’t necessarily need to have it proofread by someone else. Indeed, “reckless” proofreaders that try to re-write a perfectly good translation based on personal preference are most commonly found among bilingual individuals without a translation background. You should keep in mind that there might be stylistic differences of opinion between translator and proofreader, but that the most important thing for the proofreader to check is “accuracy”.

If you choose to have an independent reviewer proofread a translation done by a professional translation agency or translator, be sure that the reviewer is clear on what he or she should be checking. Competent translators that have good writing skills do not deserve to have their work chopped up and re-written by a novice reviewer with an overenthusiastic eye for revisions. Besides commenting on the overall style and writing skill of the translator, he or she should only make specific comments about material inaccuracies in the translation.

Example of stylistic differences

VERSION #1: Trying to save a few bucks on a translation can end up costing much more in the end when the translation fails to communicate effectively.

VERSION #2: Translations that are done on the cheap are not always effective in communicating correctly and the result is that the final cost can be greater.

No benefit is gained by rewriting version #1 to version #2 since both sentences mean the same thing. A reviewer should not make this kind of change when proofreading a translation.

Example of factual differences

VERSION #1: Single-language translation agencies are always the best value for your money.

VERSION #2: Single-language translation agencies that specialize in one language are able to bring a lot of value to certain projects.

There is a material difference between the two versions. When faced with version #1, a reviewer would be right to point this out if the source language has the meaning of version #2.

Your evaluation of the quality of translation services you received should focus on how well the document communicates to your audience in terms of accuracy, style and formatting. Your vendor must work with you to ensure that the process goes smoothly and be available to help with post-delivery matters. The “cost” of your translation is measured in more than just the price you pay the translation vendor; it also involves all the issues of reaching your target market.


Your evaluation of the quality of translation services you received should focus on how well the document communicates to your audience in terms of accuracy, style and formatting. Your vendor must work with you to ensure that the process goes smoothly and be available to help with post-delivery matters. The “cost” of your translation is measured in more than just the price you pay the translation vendor; it also involves all the issues of reaching your target market.

I hope this guide will help you with your translation project. If you decide to have Korean Consulting & Translation, Inc. handle your Korean translation project, you can be assured of an excellent job!

Korean translation project best-practices cheat sheet

1. Bundle your work together

Rather than commissioning many small jobs, you’ll get a much better deal by bundling multiple translation tasks together into one workflow. Many providers offer additional volume discounts for larger jobs, and so might save money that way, too. On the flip side, you can expect minimum charges even for very small jobs, since it’s really not much easier to handle a 10-word job than it is to do a 100- word one.

2. Leverage repetition

If your project has a lot of text which is repeated between documents or parts of the document, make sure to ask your provider for a quote that takes this into account. Many good translators use CAT tools (see explanation about these elsewhere in this guide) and will be able to use those to reduce the price significantly for repeated content.

3. Leave yourself time

Rush rates can be brutal… and rushed projects can result in sub-par results. If possible, give your translation provider time to do the work right, and on a regular budget.

4. Hire at the right level

Don’t use Google Translate for an important document; likewise, you don’t need to hire a high-priced multi-language translation agency in order to get the gist of a Korean newspaper article. Refer to the information in Chapter II, Step #1 about the five categories of translation provider available to you and choose wisely.

5. Respect the process

If you send a non-final version of your document for translation and then later, come back with revisions to it, you not only increase the workload for your translation provider (and possible higher costs for you) but you also increase the odds of errors and delays being introduced into the process.

Furthermore, if your project involves both translation and professional layout, if you want a chance to review the translation, make sure you ask your translation provider for the chance to do so before layout, since revisions requested after layout is done cost much more, and again, add complexity to the work which can result in mistakes. 6.

6. Get proof of insurance and get a guarantee!

The best translation providers carry errors and omissions insurance (also called E&O insurance) which protects YOU in case of mistakes in the translation that cause you monetary damages. If your project is financially important and you’ve chosen to go with a professional agency or individual, ask for a copy of their E&O insurance.

Also, if your translation project is important, make sure you’re comfortable with the guarantee that your translation provider gives you.

Steven Bammel

Steven S. Bammel is president and chief translator/consultant at Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington (B.B.A. Economics) and Hanyang University (M.S. Management Strategy), Steven has worked for over twenty years in Korean business and translation. | more about Steven

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