What are the approximate prices of English to Korean translation and Korean to English translation on the market? Also, if you’re going to translate using English and Korean as your language pair anyway, and if you could choose a long-term direction for that, which of the two would be a better choice? (For those of you having a different language set, you can conduct a similar analysis for your own language pair.)
The price of something in a market isn’t its absolute value but is rather decided according to the relative value of that thing due to supply and demand. For example, the air we breathe is very valuable, but it has no price because it is almost infinite in supply, and although diamonds are useless (at least to me), they are very expensive, and that is because they are in low supply but in high demand.
In that context, it’s very interesting to find out the supply and demand of Korean to English and English to Korean translation in the market. It would be difficult to do a thorough analysis due to a lack of data, but there is some information available at TranslatorsCafé. Shall we take a look?

First, the source of the data is http://www.translatorscafe.com/cafe/EN/translation-market.htm. There is a lot of interesting data at TranslatorsCafé, including this. This is an analysis of the top 60 language pairs posted in the job posting section of the site over the course of one month, and through this you can see how much demand there is for Korean translation. English to Norwegian translation is in first place overall on this list for the month, while 2nd place is Korean to English translation and 3rd place is English to Korean translation (accessed on July 21, 2014).
Of course, there is quite a big difference between first and second place, but you can also see that there is a considerable drop after 3rd place to 4th or 5th place. Korea’s economic status is rising, there’s also a large volume of trade, there are many Korean immigrants in many different countries, lots of public and private exchange, many travelers… There are countless reasons for the quantity of translation materials to increase. Doesn’t the future of the translator look bright? Now, we’ve seen how important the English and Korean language pair is, and if you look a bit closer, you can see that the demand for Korean to English translation is higher than that of English to Korean translation. This is also a very interesting piece of information, and before I start analyzing this, I want to first explain to you two related concepts.
First, let’s say that there is an item in the market that we absolutely need (e.g. rice) and an item that’s nice to have but isn’t absolutely necessary (e.g. ornaments). In the case of the former, the demand is inelastic to the price, whereas the latter’s demand is elastic to the price. This means that people will still buy necessary items like rice even if the price goes up. So, when the supply is low, the price will increase steeply. On the other hand, items that aren’t completely necessary have high price sensitivity, so the demand decreases when the price increases. Because nobody really needs it, people buy it if it’s cheap but don’t buy it if it’s expensive. Then, due to the decrease in demand, the price will go down again. (So, if you hear that there was a “fluctuation” of an item’s price, you can assume that that item is a necessary item, because fluctuations don’t happen for unnecessary items.)
The second thing to think about is whether translation service is a necessary or unnecessary item. Of course, for most people in the world, translation is probably an unnecessary item. I mean, how many people really pay for translation service in their lives? While they probably read translated books or web content, they will probably never personally pay for translation service themselves. We need to think about this a little more carefully, though. It’s true that everybody eats rice, but not everybody needs translation. However, for people who need translation for whatever reason, translation is absolutely necessary. In other words, for governments, hospitals, companies, lawyers working on international lawsuits, companies applying for patents, etc., translation is a necessity, not an option. Odd, isn’t it? So in my opinion, if we disregard all the ordinary people and think about translation service only within the translation market, translation is a necessity. [bctt tweet=”Within the translation market, translation is a necessity.” username=””]
I’m saying that it’s rare for people who need translation to give up on it because of the high price. In other words, the demand for translation within the translation market is inelastic to the price.
Let’s start thinking about the supply and demand of Korean to English translation and English to Korean translation in this kind of situation. As you’ve seen in the chart, the number of jobs is higher for English to Korean translation than for Korean to English translation. Though the above chart is only a one-month analysis, it has always been this way. However, if you look at the ratio, the ratio of Korean to English translation is higher. This means that the number of Korean to English translation jobs compared to the number of Korean to English translators is higher than the number of English to Korean translation jobs compared to the number of English to Korean translators. This is why Korean to English translation is 2nd place and English to Korean translation is 3rd place.
You might be thinking, “So what?” but this is actually significantly related to the translation price. Why? Because translation is inelastic to the price! Even when there is a small difference in market supply and demand for necessary items, there will be a big difference in the price. There is no concrete data that I can show you to explain, so I can only tell you about my experience. My Korean to English translations are around 1.5 times more expensive than my English to Korean translations. Although the difference in supply and demand in the above chart is only around 7%, when this difference shows up as a price in a market inelastic to price, the difference is around 50%. This is the price difference between per target English word of Korean to English translation and per source English word of English to Korean translation. (Those of you having a hard time understanding some of the terminology can refer to the terminology explanation post.) On top of all this, I think there is room for the price of Korean to English translation to increase even more. In other words, Korean to English translation will make you more income than English to Korean translation.
Of course, it’s not as if a translator can choose whether he/she will do Korean to English translation or English to Korean translation. In most cases, because it’s the principle for translators to translate into their native languages, translators whose native language is Korean will be given more English to Korean translation work than Korean to English. These jobs will actually be easier for you as well. However, after I translated for around 2 to 3 years, ProZ contacted me to suggest trying out for the Korean to English translation “Pro” title. There were very few people in that field with a Pro title. That was when I started thinking more deeply about the supply and demand issue and slowly changing direction. So, although it was a bit tedious, once I went through the process of receiving the Pro title, I started receiving a lot more Korean to English translation jobs. (I don’t actually know the exact causal relationship of these two things. It’s hard to know whether the increase in the amount of translation work I received was due to my Pro title without surveying the agencies.) I also put in more effort in that area as well. As a result, after dividing one month’s income into Korean to English translation and English to Korean translation and comparing the two, it turned out that 74% of my earnings came from Korean to English translation work. This is, of course, partly due to the quantity of work that I received in that area, but the higher rate was also an important factor.
As you can see, it’d be a good long-term strategy to direct your career course towards Korean to English translation, which has fewer jobs but also less competition. Of course, to do so, your language skills would need to be virtually on par with a native speaker’s.