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Can I be a Korean-English Interpreter or Translator although I am not a native Korean? My native language is English and I am currently a sophomore undergraduate student attending university in the US. My school only offers Korean at the first and second level, so I was wondering how to go about from there.

asked 05 Aug '13, 13:58

Nonnativekorean's gravatar image


edited 06 Aug '13, 09:55

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If you aim to be a translator, working from KO to EN only may be feasible. As an interpreter, it is likely that you would be expected to work in both directions. That means: if you go for translation, you will need to develop an excellent passive knowledge of Korean and also of Korean culture. If you go for interpreting, you will need to add to that an excellent active command of the language. Either way you can expect to invest a major amount of time in getting there - and I don't say that to discourage you; we have all done exactly that.

To be realistic, Korean 1 and 2 are not nearly enough. If you have your heart set on this career path, you should think about transferring to a university that has a full program in Korean, including an exchange program that would allow you to spend time in Korea. Following that, you should consider spending yet more time in Korea, e.g. by finding a job there. The Korean government has a wide-ranging program to bring in native English speakers to teach in public schools - that would be one possibility. And then after a few years in Korea, go for a post-grad degree in either translation or interpreting.

It may sound like a long road, but look at it this way: it's also a great adventure and you can do all of that by the time you are 30 - and getting an MA at 30 is fairly common in our field. And if half-way through you decide it's not for you... well, you'll still have learned a whole lot that will serve you well in life and work.

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answered 05 Aug '13, 23:02

Luigi's gravatar image


To add as a Korean living in Seoul: As Luigi suggested, the best option would be to spend some time in Korea. To come here on an exchange programme, a Master's degree, or an ESL job.

I have seen several American, French and British students come here as a BA or MA candidate, settle down, find jobs, and learn to speak Korean fluently. Schools like SOAS have great language programmes embedded into their culture-related degrees (1 term or 1 year abroad module), although I'm not sure how the case is in the US.

Korea has a high demand for native English speakers, both for teaching and non-teaching jobs. And you don't need to be highly qualified to transfer to top universities, or to find scholarships. Also, living costs are lower overall when compared to Europe or the States.

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answered 26 Aug '13, 12:12

tchoko's gravatar image


You do not have to be a native Korean to work as a Korean-English interpreter or translator. Actually, it is strongly recommended to work into one's native language (Korean into English in your case). I do not know how good or how bad the first and second level at your school are, but you need to understand Korean very well to even think about becoming a translator/interpreter and getting some qualification in this field. Spending at least a year in Korea before that would be a reasonable choice.

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answered 05 Aug '13, 15:12

Joanna's gravatar image


You could interpret only from Korean into English and thus be a Korean -> English interpreter. But, I'm not sure at all if (and actually doubt that...) there is any demand on this specific market for interpreters who work only one way (i.e. not doing also English -> Korean).

All AIIC interpreters who have Korean in their language combination work both ways.

To achieve this level of proficiency in a language and work as a conference interpreter, you'd probably need to spend ten years or more learning it. And I'm not sure the demand for this language pair is so high that you could make a living with it.

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answered 05 Aug '13, 15:48

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Gaspar ♦♦

As Gaspar has said there really isn't much demand for Korean to English interpretation only. Korean interpreters usually have to be able to go both ways to and from another major conference language. Secondly, the Korean/English combination is more common on the private market - for things like business - as Korean is not the working language of any organisation that I can think of. Because of that, a bi-active (meaning KO > EN and EN > KO) combination is necessary. This is the case for most Asian languages still, but by the time you go about your studies in CI, things may have changed. All that being said, Korean to English TRANSLATION is very much in demand. This would require an excellent command of Korean as well as a deep understanding of Korean culture, history and society, in addition to above average writing skills in English. So, do not give up hope because the markets are not in your favour. Native English speakers who can translate from Korean are certainly quite useful both in Korea and in the United States.

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answered 10 Aug '13, 06:06

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question asked: 05 Aug '13, 13:58

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