Over the years, ITC has developed a strong network of translators whose native language is Korean. These linguists have passed several rounds of tests and are evaluated regularly. In addition, ITC project managers have drawn up language guides to help translators follow the specific rules that apply to Korean.

76 million

people have Korean as their mother tongue


most spoken language in the world

2 types

of number counting system

History of the language: translation into Korean

The Korean language began in the early centuries of the Common Era and was written in Chinese script. The hangul script was only introduced in the Middle Korean period, in the 15th century. Chinese writing was used widely during the Chinese occupation of northern Korea from 108 BC to 313 AD. By the fifth century AD, Koreans were starting to write in Classical Chinese—the earliest known example of this dates from 414 AD. The Koreans borrowed a huge number of Chinese words, gave Korean readings and/or meanings to some of the Chinese characters and also invented about 150 new characters, most of which are rare or used mainly for personal or place names.

The Korean alphabet was invented in 1444 and promulgated in 1446 during the reign of King Sejong (1418-1450), the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty. The alphabet was originally called Hunmin jeongeum, or “The correct sounds for the instruction of the people”, but has also been known as Eonmeun (vulgar script) and Gukmeun (national writing). The modern name for the alphabet, Hangeul, was coined by a Korean linguist named Ju Si-gyeong (1876-1914). In North Korea, the alphabet is known as 조선글 (josoen guel).

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Specific features of the Korean language

The shapes of the consonants are based on the shape the mouth makes when the corresponding sound is made, and the traditional direction of writing (vertically from right to left) most likely came from Chinese, as did the practice of writing syllables in blocks.

Even after the invention of the Korean alphabet, most Koreans who could write continued to write either in Classical Chinese or in Korean using the Gukyeol or Idu systems. The Korean alphabet was associated with people of lower status, i.e., women, children and the uneducated. During the 19th and 20th centuries, a mixed writing system combining Chinese characters (Hanja) and Hangeul became increasingly popular. Since 1945 however, the importance of Chinese characters in Korean writing has diminished significantly. Since 1949 hanja have not been used at all in any North Korean publications, with the exception of a few textbooks and specialized books. In the late 1960s, however, hanja teaching was reintroduced in North Korean schools and school children are expected to learn 2,000 characters by the end of high school. In South Korea, school children are expected to learn 1,800 hanja by the end of high school. The proportion of hanja used in Korean texts varies greatly from writer to writer and there is considerable public debate about the role of hanja in Korean writing.

Most modern Korean literature and informal writing is written entirely in hangeul, however academic papers and official documents tend to be written in a mixture of hangeul and hanja.