S. Korean group aims to clarify wording on public signs
May 21, 2003
Ever been behind the wheel in South Korea and passed a road sign with faulty English that was confusing or just plain wrong?
Or opened a restaurant menu whose English-language descriptions of a certain dish left you unsure of what you’d be ordering?
Plenty of U.S. servicemembers and foreign tourists have hit such problems not only on roads and in restaurants, but also in subways and bus stations, in shopping catalogs and elsewhere.
Enter the Korea National Tourism Organization, a government agency that wants to curb the problem.
The agency has set up the new Center for Improving Tourist Signs. Its mission over the next three to five years: Work out a uniform standard for wording of public signs. Center staff also will canvas South Korea to find what signs are faulty, then make them right.
“There are a lot of errors on English signs in Korea and we’d like to correct and improve them,” said the KNTO’s Kim Tae-shik.
For example, Kim said, in the Seoul area, the English portion of some signs indicating the Han River say “Han River” while others use a Romanized Korean word for river: “Han Gang.” Similarly, some signs indicate “Halla Mountain” while others Romanize the word for mountain and read “Halla-San.”
“While working to attract more and more foreign tourists coming to Korea, we found that incorrect English signs have been the biggest trouble for foreigners,” Kim said.
In a 2002 KNTO survey, 26.3 percent of those not from South Korea cited errors on public signs as one of their three biggest hassles in the country, Kim said, along with heavy traffic and the language barrier itself.
The KNTO is so eager to accomplish its mission, Kim said, that it plans to offer gift certificates, watches and other items to reward reports of significant errors.
Errors can be reported by calling (02) 729-9541 (or -9542/-9543); by fax to (02) 777-0102; or by e-mail at: email@example.com.
“I’m really looking forward to getting many reports from foreigners living here,” Kim said, “and tour guides dealing with foreigners every day.”
Choe Song-won contributed to this report.