A Thought While Translating a Korean Basic Certificate

I understand if you haven’t heard of ‘Basic Certificate.’ I was, too, totally unaware of its existence for the first thirty plus years of my life. Only after I was assigned to translate the document did I have to look up what it was and found out. This article will give a brief explanation of the document and a small lesson I learned from translating it.

It is a legal document issued by the government of Korea since 2008. The name of the document is self-explanatory. It displays the most basic information about the applicant, and, of course, certifies that he or she is a Korean citizen. It starts with the name of the applicant followed by the date of birth, ID number to which every Korean is assigned at birth, and sex. A bit more detail is listed below, such as the place of birth (often the name of the hospital), the date of registration, the person applying for registration, and a state government who accepted the registration. Up to this point it might sound very much like a birth certificate but it isn’t. Korea has its own form for birth certificate. It is what follows after the information mentioned above that separates itself from others. Depending on the purpose of the document, it can contain extra information such as change of name, change of nationality or else. It is not a complex form and is often done in a single sheet. The document replaces and improves another form of document which has been very familiar to Koreans for decades. Legality and complexity behind the reason as to why the country had to make such a big step on getting rid of the previous form which Koreans have been too accustomed to might be beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I would like to finish by sharing what I realized while translating this document.

Being Korean myself, I was reminded while doing a research on this basic certificate that I know very little about legal system of my own country. Quite frankly, why this document had to replace the old one was beyond my ken, and it is why I could not further elaborate above. Of course, as a translator I am not obligated to know the whole story. I just have to translate the words to appropriate English ones and I’m justified. It was, however, an opportunity for me to think about something: when it comes to something legal, how much is done in my life with full trust without having a slightest clue. It is quite a flimsy life.…