Two Koreas, but only one language - right?

Two Koreas, but only one language - right?

Communication challenges are a matter more lawyers are dealing with due to changing population demographics. Accommodating linguistically diverse clients comes with a distinct set of challenges. And when approaching the Korean language specifically, things can get a bit trickier. With six main dialects specifically spoken throughout North and South Korea, a pause for thought before developing a plan for communicating effectively with clients may be of use.

If this is your first time representing a Korean client - don't worry - we've done a lot of the work here for you. Read our guide to working with a client who speaks Korean

The spoken Korean language

In general, the spoken language of the DPRK (North Korea) and ROK (South Korea) is largely the same. Both countries use the Korean language, and the regional dialects and accents used by the people of each country are similar. However, there are a few differences in terms of vocabulary and usage. For example, words used in the DPRK may not be used in the ROK, and vice versa. Additionally, the DPRK's spoken language includes vocabulary from Chinese and Russian, which is not used in ROK.

Differences between the Korean language in North Korea and South Korea

When it comes to written language, there are more significant differences. In the DPRK, the written language is based on the North Korean dialect, which verged from the type of Korean spoken in the ROK since the country split in two in the 1950s, and is somewhat influenced by Chinese and Russian. In contrast, the written language of the ROK is based on the South Korean dialect and is more influenced by English loanwords. This means that written documents in the DPRK may come across as very 'old-fashioned' and may be difficult to understand for those who are used to the written language of the ROK.

To provide better service to a client who speaks Korean, it is important to be aware of these differences. For example, if the client is from the DPRK, it is important to be familiar with that country's vocabulary and writing conventions to understand what the client is saying and writing. In the same way, if the client is from the ROK, it is important to be familiar with the vocabulary and writing conventions of the ROK.

It is also important to be aware of the cultural differences between the DPRK and ROK. For example, the DPRK has a more formal and hierarchical culture, while the ROK has a more liberal and informal culture in comparison. This means that the way you address a client from the DPRK might differ from how you address a client from the ROK.

Remember that language is constantly evolving. The language used in the DPRK and ROK is no exception. As time passes, new words and phrases are added, old words and phrases are dropped, and the way people communicate changes. Therefore, it is important to stay up-to-date on the latest language trends to communicate with clients from both countries effectively.

Translating the Korean language

When it comes to printed translation for Korean language, things can get a little perplexing. To break things down, North and South Korea have the same writing system across the board, though a wide variety of localisms. Known as Hangul in South Korea, and Choson'gul in the North; Korea's writing system dates back to 1443 CE and uses 24 basic letters. And as we know, there are dialects spoken across North and South Korea; Gyeonsang and Jeolla, in the South, Hamgyong, Pyongan, and Pyukchin, in the North - as well as several central dialects. According to the Korea Times, 45% of Koreans have limited English proficiency - so one cannot rely on one's clients being able to speak English.

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