Korean which is the official language of North and South Korea is spoken by around 72 million people in the Korean peninsula. Language translation experts should keep in mind that there are slight differences in the North and South Korean versions of the language. These differences lie in the realm of the alphabet, spelling, and vocabulary. Beyond the Korean peninsula, Korean is used as the first language by about 2 million people living in China. A further 2 million use it in the US; Russia has around 500,000 Korean speakers in its Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan regions, while Japan has 700,000.

A few unique features of the Korean language knowledge of which would help English to Korean Translation experts are –

  • The Korean script originally used Chinese characters which were pronounced in the local style. The script was called Hanja. In the 15th Century, Sejong the Great developed a national alphabet which is now known as Hangul. It consists of 24 letters in which there are 10 vowels and 14 consonants.
  • Individual letters in Hangul were modeled on the physical morphology of the tongue, palate and teeth.
  • Korean script is written in blocks containing 2 to 5 characters. Here it differs from the Chinese script in that it is not an ideographic system. A syllabic unit is formed by up to five letters.
  • Korean language is quite similar to Altaic languages considering that both do not have grammatical elements, like articles, gender, number, voice, fusional morphology, and relative pronouns.
  • Korean is also related to Japanese as both languages have comparable grammatical structure.
  • There are five major dialects of the Korean language in use in South Korea. North Korea, on the other hand has a single dialect. Though there are socio-political and geographical dialect differences, speakers of different dialects can understand each other easily because it is a relatively homogeneous language. Korean language translators should tailor their translations for region specific translations.
  • The standard Korean language that is Pyojunmal or Pyojuneo of South Korea developed from the dialect of the region around Seoul. The standard language for North Korea on the other hand developed from the dialect spoken in P’yongyang. Most of these dialects are similar and mutually intelligible except the ones spoken in Jeju Island. Some Korean linguists in fact, classify the dialect spoken in Jeju Island as a different language.
  • A significant difference between the dialects used in South and North Korea lies in the use of stress. South Korean speakers use very less stress and hence their language has a flat intonation. The speakers of Gyeongsang Dialect on the other hand have a pronounced intonation which makes the dialect sound similar to a European language.