If you want to translate Korean, you only have five resource options.
Are you looking to translate Korean? Do you want a free resource? Or do you need good work and are you willing to pay for it? You have five categories from which to choose a Korean translation provider. Naturally, I would like you to pick my service to translate Korean for you. However, you may not have an adequate budget for a professional Korean translator, or your project may involve many other languages or be too complicated. In this case, I would instead direct you to one of the alternatives.
This guide presents a framework for choosing the right language resource. By making a good decision up-front, you will enjoy a productive translation experience in the Korean language.
Get as much value as you can when you translate Korean.
Photo by Steven S. Bammel
At Nami Island
1. Multi-language translation agency
Multi-language agencies translate documents, web sites, and other materials into and out of many different languages. They provide their translation services by contracting the translation of each language out to freelance translators and translation teams specializing in individual languages. Of course, if you need someone to translate Korean for you, these agencies will be glad to accept your job. Then, they will contract with an outside professional to do the work, and deliver it back to you when finished.
Large agencies specialize in coordinating the translation process on complex multi-lingual projects between subcontracted freelance translators and specialist agencies. As a result, they deliver value primarily through the project management process and are not a good option for simple jobs.
When working with a multi-language translation agency, it is likely that no one in the agency will speak the project language (especially for languages like Korean). Therefore, the agency will act as a middleman in the process between you and the actual translator. As a result, you will pay a higher price, and you probably won’t be able to communicate with the translation team directly.
On large, complex multi-lingual jobs, you should work with a multi-language agency. This will let you take advantage of the coordination services they provide on these projects. Your project will also benefit from the broad resources they have developed for doing good work in individual languages. On the other hand, if you only need to translate Korean, a multi-language translation agency may not be your best option.
- ADVANTAGES: Able to handle complex multi-language projects.
- DISADVANTAGES: Highest pricing. Client and translator cannot communicate directly.
2. Single-language boutique agency
Many translation agencies specialize in one or two languages and language pairs (e.g., English to Korean or Korean to English). These boutique firms offer a competitive quality-and-service-to-price ratio but are limited in their language reach. On the other hand, project managers at small agencies are often fluent in some or all of the languages their agency handles. They can answer client questions, perform deeper quality control, and competently select skilled translators (usually individual, professional translators, described below). If you hire a boutique agency to translate Korean for you, you still may not be able to communicate directly with your translator. However, the project manager can answer your questions, providing a higher level of service.
If you only need to translate Korean (either English to Korean or Korean to English), you should consider a specialist agency. But remember that the agency will charge a margin on the work they sub-contract out to individual translators. As with multi-language agencies, this higher rate includes a project management cost over and above the price charged by the translator, editor, and other resources working on your project.
Boutique agencies enjoy another major advantage over multi-language agencies on jobs within a single language pair (e.g., English and Korean). They can build a much richer resource database with just a couple languages than a large agency can do in 100s of language pairs! Thus, a specialist agency draws from a large pool of experts in diverse fields, such as law, medicine, computers
- 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 or a few other languages.
“Steven and his team could not have been more helpful. The project was completed on time, professionally, and efficiently. Steven was extremely responsive and clearly cared about the success of the project. I can recommend Steven and his team without hesitation.”Win Browning, Fore Reseach & Management, LP (New York, NY)
My company, Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc. operates as a boutique agency for English-to-Korean translation projects. As the president of my company, I work with a small technical team in Korea in several technical fields. Within our narrow niche, we offer a best-practice workflow that delivers the highest value and service for reasonable rates.
3. Individual professional translator
Working with an individual professional translator to translate Korean is an excellent option for many Korean translation projects. This approach gives you control over who translates your documents. You can also interact directly with that person throughout the process. You even cut out the agencies and their margins. Working with an individual professional translator offers the potential for lower prices and better service at the same time!
However, this option makes you responsible for the project management aspects of the job. You have to select from the many professional translators and make sure you choose someone who is skilled at their craft, competent in the subject of your materials, and available and committed to
Many companies, law firms, and individuals have good experiences working with individual translators. In fact, due to pricing pressures in the agency market, some of the best translators only work with direct clients. Thus, you would not get their work if you were dealing with an agency. Establishing a long-term relationship with a linguist you know and trust offers the best of all outcomes: great work, excellent service, and competitive rates. If you have a lot of work within a single language pair and subject matter, you should look for an individual professional, rather than an agency.
However, don’t forget that working with individuals means there are fewer backup mechanisms in place to ensure quality, service, and availability. What do you do if your translator is on vacation when you need work done urgently? During candidate screening, make sure you determine up-front the fields in which he or she is strong. A translator should also be transparent about his or her qualifications, experiences, and availability. In addition, your translator needs to be willing to turn down work that he or she is not qualified to translate.
- ADVANTAGES: Able to provide high-quality translation between English and one other language. Direct client communications.
- DISADVANTAGES: Can only translate between English and one other language in a limited number of areas of expertise.
“Thank youM. Harris Stamey, Esq. (Porter & Hedges LLP – Houston, Texas)
Steven. I appreciate all your help and your attention to detail. I will let you know if we come across any issues. It has been a pleasure working with you.”
I work as the only employee of my agency, Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc. In this capacity, I personally translate every Korean-to-English project my company takes on. I don’t contract any Korean-to-English translation work to others. This means I work as an individual, professional translator in the English-to-Korean language pair. Read about The Top 10 Traits of a Korean-to-English Translator and the specific subject fields I work in. Based on this information, decide for yourself whether I’m the right resource for your project.
4. Bilingual friend, acquaintance, or co-worker
For translation of personal letters, to get the main points of a magazine article in Korean, or for other similar jobs to translate Korean, you may consider people in your network who speak both English and Korean. Working informally like this, you can get work done cheaply on friendly terms. You’ll also help someone earn extra pocket money, too. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.
However, merely speaking Korean and English does not make someone a competent translator. Indeed, becoming a skilled Korean translation professional takes years of effort. (I’ve been at it for over twenty years!) Thus, if your documents are important or difficult, you should be careful about turning them over to someone in whom you do not have confidence. I encourage you to consider carefully whether you should set aside a budget to hire a professional. Still, in a pinch, the right friend can be a valuable resource.
- ADVANTAGES: Friendly and familiar, and potentially lowest prices.
- DISADVANTAGES: Unproven ability to translate well and quickly in technical fields.
5. Machine translation
Internet-based free translation services take plain text, documents, and web pages in one language and “translate” them into another. Google Translate is the most popular, but it is not the only machine translation (MT) program that can translate Korean. However, MT should be used only to get the gist of a document and not for understanding essential details. Even the latest machine translation versions, which produce written output that seems fluent, is often wrong.
If you use machine translation, you should edit your original document down to simpler sentences and words in advance. This will increase the chances that your output will be usable. Still, you must never take an important English business letter, shoot it through MT, and then send it off. The potential for errors and misunderstandings (or even complete nonsense) is high.
- ADVANTAGES: FREE!!
- DISADVANTAGES: “Get-what-you-pay-for” quality