Select the “Best” Korean Translator for Your Project

To get the “best Korean translation,” you must first set your priorities. You cannot expect a Korean translator to simultaneously provide you with the highest quality, fastest delivery, and best service, all while charging the lowest price. Usually only two or three–but not all four–of these value aspects are available. In other words, you may find someone to provide premium quality and a quick turnaround. But the job won’t be cheap. On the other hand, if you aim for low price and rushed delivery, you’ll need to settle for a horrible translation and/or a reduced level of service.

This article reviews the factors that go into providing quality, speed, price, and service. Keep these in mind when setting priorities for your project so that you can work with the “best” Korean translator for your needs.

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Get the best Korean translation for your needs and budget!

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Highest quality

Translation is a complex craft and producing high-quality translation is not easy. Here are the skills needed to produce the best Korean translation quality.

Flawless language skills

Of course, a translator between Korean and English must be skilled in both languages. This is common sense. However, though many people think fluency is enough, it is only the start. An able Korean translator needs more than language acumen to produce high-quality translation.

Excellent writing skills

A good translator must also write skillfully in the target language.* Because people write best in their native language, a translator should usually translate only into his or her mother tongue. Thus, if you commission a Korean-to-English translation job, make sure the translator is a native English speaker.

* The term “target language” refers to the language into which a text is being translated. The opposite of “target language” is “source language,” which means the originating language. For English-to-Korean translation, the target is Korean and the source is English. With Korean-to-English translation, Korean is the source and English is the target.

Subject matter expertise

Even a great translator will get stumped on a subject with which he or she is not familiar. Therefore, the “best Korean translator” for your specific project must understand the field of the document. For example, to translate a petrochemical patent, a translator needs a strong understanding of chemistry. To translate Korean medical records, fluency in medical terminology and concepts is essential. Always verify the subject matter expertise of the translator you are considering for your project.

The latest technology

Today’s translator must be equipped with the latest computer hardware and translation software. This means more than just Microsoft Office. I’m also not referring to machine translation tools like Google Translate, which is not useful to a translator aiming for the highest quality work. Modern computer-aided translation tools go by names like SDL Trados Studio and memoQ Professional, both of which are expensive software packages that are difficult to learn. Once a translator has mastered these, he or she can translate at a higher quality level, and often faster, than without the tools.

Familiarity with both Western and Korean cultures

The importance of this trait varies depending on the subject matter. Culture doesn’t play a big part in most patent translations. However, when translating other documents, including contracts, business emails, personal letters, news articles, and many others, understanding the cultures of both Korea and the West is a critical skill for ensuring that meanings are communicated in culturally appropriate ways.

Strong analytical approach

The task of translation is essentially an analytical exercise of parsing a source document sentence by sentence and reconstructing that meaning into the target language. Just because someone is bilingual doesn’t mean that person is ready to translate analytically. Furthermore, a good Korean translator must be able to maintain focus and motivation throughout the translation process. Many people not suited to translation find translation work tedious and exhausting. Ironically, language experts who have learned a language later in life often make better translators. This is because the analytical processes of learning the language are also well suited to the translation workflow.

A perfectionist mindset

Even with all of the above skills, expertise, and technology, a sloppy translator will still do a bad job. Inferior output takes the form of trivial typos and grammatical errors, as well as serious omissions and mistranslations. A perfectionist mindset comes from the heart and is manifested as patience and determination to deliver one’s best work. A perfectionistic approach is no less important than any of the other skills described above.

KEY QUALITY TAKEAWAY– A top Korean translator has invested years developing his/her skills and thousands of dollars on the latest equipment and software. If you don’t need the best work, then don’t pay for it. But don’t expect great quality in a rush at rock-bottom prices.


Fastest delivery

In today’s world, fast turnarounds are the norm. You do not need to wait weeks or months to get a two-page Korean translation back. On the other hand, it’s not realistic to expect your translation returned in a few minutes either (unless you just paste your text into Google Translator or another machine translation tool or use one of those “ten-minute” translation mill services).

So what is a reasonable schedule for a good job? Same-day delivery is often possible from reputable translation providers, both online and offline. However, unless you work directly with an available professional translator, your Korean translation provider will probably outsource the translation to a language specialist. In this case, fast turnarounds require more agile project management efforts, especially since finding a good translator available on short notice is harder than if the job can wait a day or two.

Thus, same-delivery may cost you in terms of price or quality, or both. True, there is always someone available out there in cyberspace ready to work at any given moment. But the best translators don’t work that way. Still, though the best Korean translators stay busy most of the time, we don’t always have schedules so packed that we can’t squeeze something in fast for the right price.

In general, you should be able to get a good translation of a ten-page document in 4-5 days, maybe faster, without paying rush rates. But don’t expect to get 100 pages done in the same time unless you’re willing to pay more and have multiple translators working on your document at the same time (which introduces consistency issues that are difficult to remedy).

On the other hand, offering a Korean translation provider an abnormally long delivery schedule doesn’t help at all. Long deadlines are just an invitation to the translator to procrastinate and can even lead to your job getting forgotten. Therefore, even if you have a two-page document that you don’t need back for a month, you should still ask your Korean translation provider for a reasonable delivery, say, 3-4 days. You won’t save money by setting a one-month deadline on it.

KEY SCHEDULE TAKEAWAY– An overly urgent delivery schedule can hurt you in two ways. First, rushed schedules lead to sloppiness, and if the project gets split up between translators, inconsistencies. Second, your best Korean translation options may be working on other jobs right now. If you can extend your deadline, you’ll be able to get better work by working with better translators.


Lowest price

Of course, all other things equal, a lower price is better. But as explained above, excellent translation quality is the product of a range of factors, none of which are easy or cheap to deliver. Fast delivery schedules also impact availability, and thus price and even quality. Therefore, you have to evaluate the price based on the value delivered.

In addition, Korean translation pricing is not as straightforward as you might think. The following list includes some factors that go into a pricing decision.

  • Size of the project
  • Translation direction (English to Korean, or Korean to English)
  • Type of content
  • Internal repetition and ongoing work
  • Condition of the original documents
  • Formatting and/or typesetting requirements
  • The location where work must be done
  • Target use of the translation

If cost is your only concern, then working with machine translation or with a friend may be your best option. However, if high quality is a goal, then you have to be more selective.

KEY PRICE TAKEAWAY – If cost is your only concern, then working with machine translation, with a friend, or one of the many online translation mills may be your best option. Cheap resources are also fast; you won’t have to give up speed for price. However, don’t expect consistently high quality and good service at low rates.


Other service considerations

In addition to the quality and schedule factors described above, the following are yet several more service factors you should keep in mind when evaluating translation price against value.

Location

Location is important for two reasons. First, if you’re working with translators overseas, you must take into account the time difference, which may hinder your ability to get fast replies during your local business day. If a project is complicated and requires multiple rounds of communication to keep things clear, time differences may delay the work schedule and introduce workflow inefficiencies. Second, translators located outside your jurisdiction cannot easily be held legally accountable for their work. Also, very few translators outside the United States and Western Europe
carry errors and omissions insurance, which is a layer of protection that you should expect from any reputable translation provider.

Type of resource

There are five types of Korean translation resources you can choose from: multi-language translation agencies; single-language boutique agencies; individual professional translators; bilingual friends, acquaintances, or co-workers; and machine translation. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of each so that you can compare and make a good decision.

Reliability

Working with a new translator is risky if your deadlines are non-negotiable. Location comes into play on this somewhat, in that translators working within the North American business environment understand deadlines in a way that those in other parts of the world may not. Go ahead and pay the price to work with a reputable local agency if your translation deadline is make-or-break.

Communication

Working with a Korean translator you can’t get hold of by phone (even during the translator’s local business hours), who responds very slowly to your emails, or whose communication is incomplete, or even, difficult to understand, can cause you serious problems in your project outcomes. A Korean translator who doesn’t like to answer questions, or who ignores detailed instructions is also not a good partner for important projects. Don’t forget the communication and service aspect when evaluating Korean translation options.

Confidentiality

Depending on the type of content you are working with, confidentiality may or may not be important. Of course, you probably don’t want to find your translation posted on the Internet the next day no matter what the job is about. However, confidentiality concerns go much deeper than this. With legal, business, and medical documents, even machine translation tools may be off limits. Don’t hesitate to demand a signed confidentiality agreement from your translation provider, but don’t forget that such agreement are virtually unenforceable outside your legal jurisdiction. Working with a reputable provider who doesn’t cut corners is your best assurance of confidentiality.

KEY SERVICE TAKEAWAY – Don’t ignore the service aspects of your job. Quality, speed, and price are the factors you may think of first, but service can add a lot of value on top of that. If your “best Korean translator” isn’t dependable with deadlines, confidentiality, or communication, then he/she had better be cheap!


Conclusion

There are many factors to consider when selecting the “best” Korean translator for your project. Your decision must be based on a balance of cost, speed, quality, and service. Don’t think you can get everything you want at a cheap price; if you skimp on budget, you should expect that quality, service, and/or speed will get sacrificed in the process. Keep your priorities and the trade-offs in mind so that you can make the best decision for your project and get the “best Korean translation.”



Thank you for reading!

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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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