Bridging cultural gaps: The art of localizing Korean content for international audiences with Jonghyun Oh

In our interview with Jonghyun Oh, Managing Director of ZOO Digital in Korea, we explore the rapid rise of the Korean content market and how the localization industry can enhance its global success.

Jonghyun provides insights into the role of cultural authenticity in localization and how to ensure an accurate portrayal of Korean culturewhile meeting quality standards and tight deadlines. Looking to the future, Jonghyun discusses upcoming trends in Korean media localization and impacts on the wider entertainment industry.

Dive into the dynamic world of Korean media localization with Jonghyun Oh and gain valuable insights into the industry’s rapid growth, authentic representation, quality assurance, and trends for the future.

Can you provide an overview of the Korean content market and its rapid rise to worldwide success in recent years?

The acclaimed movie Parasite underscored the global success of Korean content. However, K-dramas have long dominated the Asian market. With the phenomenal success of series such as Squid Game, The Glory, and Crash Landing on You, Netflix has recently committed to investing $2.5 billion into Korean content over the next four years. Similarly, with the K-pop industry rapidly expanding, Disney is creating a wealth of K-pop-related content, including a series featuring boy band BTS and drama productions like Big Bet.

This surge in interest and investment in Korean content extends beyond just streaming platforms. Major production studios and networks are recognizing the immense appeal and market potential of Korean entertainment. For instance, renowned director Bong Joon-ho, the mastermind behind Parasite, has paved the way for more collaborations and cross-cultural projects. This has led to exciting partnerships between Korean filmmakers and Hollywood studios, resulting in the creation of captivating films that blend the best of both worlds.

Additionally, the influence of K-dramas and K-pop has transcended borders, inspiring international adaptations, and collaborations with artists from different backgrounds. The global success and recognition of Korean content have sparked a creative renaissance, with industry players eagerly exploring the vast storytelling possibilities and cultural richness that Korean entertainment brings to the table. As a result, we can anticipate a continued surge in innovative and diverse Korean content that will captivate audiences worldwide.

How do you assess the role of cultural authenticity in the localization of Korean media? What are some key considerations when localizing Korean content for international audiences?

In Korea, unlike most of the world, we present our names with the family name preceding the given name. This perhaps reflects our culture, where family and the collective are prioritized over the individual. At work, we traditionally address colleagues by their last name and title, such as “Manager Oh”, rather than a casual first-name basis like “Hey, Jonghyun”. Previously, we would have translated these names in a Western format, such as “Jonghyun Oh”, but now we maintain the Korean format – “Oh Jonghyun” – to authentically portray our culture. This trend extends to other aspects of our culture, like food. Instead of referring to our dishes with English equivalents, like ‘Kimchi spicy soup’, we now use the traditional name, ‘Kimchi jjigae’.

Cultural authenticity plays a crucial role in the localization of Korean media as it helps maintain the integrity and unique identity of the content.

These are just two examples, but this cultural authenticity plays a crucial role in the localization of Korean media as it helps maintain the integrity and unique identity of the content. Korean language structure and expressions have distinct characteristics that contribute to the cultural nuances of the content. Translators must accurately capture the tone, idioms, and cultural references embedded in the original Korean dialogue, striving for an equivalent impact in the target language.

Understanding social and hierarchical dynamics is also essential. Korean society places importance on respect, age, and seniority. Translators should consider maintaining appropriate levels of formality and addressing individuals by their proper titles or honorifics, reflecting the hierarchical relationships depicted in the content.

Thirdly, when considering multilingual audio description, visual elements play a significant role. Traditional Korean aesthetics, symbolism, and art forms can carry cultural significance. Paying attention to details such as costumes, set designs, and props can contribute to an authentic portrayal of Korean culture, enhancing the audience’s immersion and understanding.

Lastly, cultural references and context should be carefully adapted. Korean history, traditions, festivals, and local customs may need contextual explanation or adaptation to ensure international viewers can fully grasp the intended meaning and appreciate the cultural nuances being portrayed.

By understanding and incorporating these key considerations, the localization of Korean content can effectively convey the nuances, values, and cultural richness that make Korean culture unique, fostering a deeper appreciation and connection with international audiences.

What are some common misconceptions or stereotypes that you encounter when localizing Korean media? How do you address these issues and ensure an accurate portrayal of Korean culture?

There can be misinterpretations or misunderstandings of Korean traditional customs, etiquette, and beliefs. For instance, the importance of age hierarchy in our social interactions may not be easily grasped or could be misconstrued. That’s why we rely on seasoned translators who are not only bilingual but also have an intimate understanding of the cultural nuances of both societies. Localization is more than mere translation; it’s about adapting the content to make it culturally appropriate and meaningful to the target audience.

By addressing common misconceptions, conducting thorough research, collaborating with cultural experts, and maintaining cultural sensitivity, localization professionals can ensure an accurate portrayal of Korean culture, fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation among international audiences.

The popularity of Korean dramas, music, and entertainment has led to a surge in demand for localization services. How do you handle the high volume of content while maintaining quality and meeting tight deadlines?

Securing a competent team of linguists is our initial step in handling the high volume of content while maintaining quality and meeting tight deadlines. However, it’s not just about assembling a team; maintaining consistency in quality, terminology, and formality across multiple episodes is crucial. To achieve this, we implement a systematic approach that encompasses both human expertise and technological tools.

One of the key strategies we employ is selecting a proficient and experienced Quality Controller (QCer) to lead the project. The QCer plays a pivotal role in ensuring consistency throughout the entire series. They meticulously review and compare translations, cross-referencing terminology and style guidelines to maintain a cohesive voice and accurate portrayal of the content. Their expertise helps address any discrepancies or inconsistencies, ensuring a high level of quality across all episodes.

In addition to the human element, we leverage technology to enhance our efficiency and maintain consistency.

In addition to the human element, we leverage technology to enhance our efficiency and maintain consistency. Our ZOOsubs system integrates a glossary feature that serves as a centralized repository of approved terms and phrases. This glossary not only helps linguists access and adhere to consistent terminology but also speeds up the translation process by providing ready-made translations for frequently used terms. By combining human expertise with technology, we streamline the localization workflow, reduce errors, and maintain a high level of quality within tight deadlines.

Moreover, we understand the importance of effective communication and collaboration throughout the localization process. Clear and concise communication with the client, project managers, linguists, and QCers is crucial for maintaining project timelines and ensuring everyone is aligned with the quality standards and expectations. Regular meetings, feedback loops, and proactive problem-solving approaches enable us to address any challenges promptly and efficiently, keeping the project on track and meeting the demanding deadlines.

By combining a competent team, experienced QCers, technological tools, effective communication, and streamlined processes, we can handle the high volume of content while upholding quality standards and meeting tight deadlines. Our commitment to excellence in localization allows us to deliver culturally authentic and high-quality Korean entertainment experiences to a global audience, satisfying the surge in demand for localization services in this rapidly growing industry.

How do you measure the success of a localization project? What metrics or indicators do you use to evaluate the effectiveness of our localization services?

In addition to adhering to industry-standard metrics, we strive to go beyond expectations in terms of quality and timely delivery. Our commitment to excellence is reflected in our remarkably low redelivery rates, which serve as a testament to the meticulous attention to detail and rigorous quality control processes we employ throughout the localization workflow. By maintaining stringent quality standards, we ensure that the localized content meets the highest levels of accuracy, linguistic proficiency, and cultural authenticity.

On-time delivery is another crucial aspect of our service. We understand the importance of meeting tight deadlines and the impact any delays can have on the overall distribution and release plans of our clients. Our dedicated project management team diligently oversees every stage of the localization process, implementing efficient workflows, coordinating resources, and closely monitoring project timelines. Through effective communication and proactive planning, we consistently achieve on-time delivery, providing our clients with peace of mind and ensuring the seamless integration of their localized Korean media into their distribution platforms.

We ensure that the localized content meets the highest levels of accuracy, linguistic proficiency, and cultural authenticity.

By excelling in these industry-standard metrics, we demonstrate our unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional quality and service. Our consistent track record of meeting and surpassing these benchmarks showcases our dedication to client satisfaction and solidifies our position as a trusted partner in the localization of Korean media.

For the end-users, the hallmark of excellent translation is when the audience doesn’t even realize they’re reading subtitles or hearing a dubbed version. The localization should seamlessly blend into the content, delivering the narrative in the most natural way possible. When we receive no feedback from the audience, we see that as a sign of successful localization.

As the Korean content market continues to expand globally, what future trends do you anticipate in the field of Korean media localization? How do you think these trends will impact the industry as a whole?

As Korean content gains popularity worldwide, the future of Korean media localization is poised for remarkable growth. The increasing global fanbase for Korean dramas, music, and entertainment will drive a surge in demand for localization services. This trend will require localization providers to expand their resources and capabilities to meet the growing needs of international audiences. In addition, collaborations and partnerships between Korean content creators and global streaming platforms will likely intensify, leading to more extensive distribution of Korean content on a global scale.

The future of Korean media localization is poised for remarkable growth.

The impact of this growth in Korean content popularity on the localization industry will be significant. Localization companies will need to enhance their cultural expertise to accurately convey the nuances and cultural references present in Korean content. Moreover, there will be a need for efficient and streamlined localization processes to handle the high volume of content while ensuring quality and meeting tight deadlines. Technology will continue to play a crucial role, with advancements in subtitling and dubbing technologies facilitating faster and more accurate localization.

Overall, the increasing popularity of Korean content will drive the expansion and evolution of the Korean media localization industry, opening up new opportunities and challenges for localization providers as they strive to deliver authentic and engaging localized experiences to global audiences.

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