Several of you have requested that I do a blog post on writing emails in Korean. So, naturally, I’m happy to accommodate your kind request. I write emails in Korean almost every day, and while that alone does not make me an expert, I do have a few tips and points that I find shareworthy.
It’s important to keep in mind that the style may vary depending on the topic and who you are writing to. Nonetheless, there are several style patterns that I have found to be recurring in work-related emails. I’ll share them and their literal translations with you here below and break them down for you in the same order.
ㅇㅇㅇ선생님께. 안녕하세요? / 안녕하십니까?
To teacher OOO. How do you do? (Note, that I use OOO to mean “name”)
This is a very natural way to address someone at the beginning of the email. I realize that it may sound a bit off to English speakers, so allow me to elaborate. The preposition “to” seems superfluous in English, but in Korean, it serves a purpose of conveying respect. You only write 께 (and not 에게) to people with whom you use honorifics (that is über-polite language), which is what I personally use for my teacher and my boss, (and politicians and diplomats, but I write to them much more rarely).
A slightly less formal but still polite style could be:
안녕하세요 ㅇㅇㅇ선생님. Hello teacher OOO
It’s always extremely important to use peoples’ titles such as 선생님 (teacher), 교수님 (professor), 사장님 (director) and so on. It goes without saying that you should always triple check the spelling of names as well. No need to accidentally hurt anyone’s feelings.
Next step is introducing yourself:
ㅇㅇㅇ (학생/선생/교수) 입니다. I am student/teacher/professor OOO
This is also something we normally do not do in English. If the recipient wants to know who sent the email, they usually just look at the signature, but in Korea, it’s polite to introduce yourself right at the beginning. Note, that you never use the polite suffix 님 when speaking about yourself.
Then you slowly proceed to explaining why you are writing this email.
다름이 아니라 궁금한 게 있어서 이메일로 연락드리게 되었습니다.
It’s nothing other than I have a few things I was wondering about which prompted me to contact you via email.
I’m aware that this sounds super awkward in English, but Koreans use this phrasing A LOT. Especially the highlighted parts. For Koreans, this is a polite way of partly apologizing for bothering you with their inquiry, and it’s generally considered a bit rude to go straight to the point. This is quite different from Western email culture, where people usually value keeping it short and simple out of respect for the recipient’s time.
Now that you have greeted the recipient, introduced yourself and apologized for bothering them, you may proceed to cautiously address your inquiry or request. Since this can vary a lot from one field to the next, I will not provide a complete example. Instead, let me give you some useful patterns:
… 아닐까 싶습니다 (I wonder if it isn’t…) Used when you want to sound vague when giving a reason.
…하는 데에 있어 (in connection with doing… / while doing…) Used when you want to highlight when the problem/issue/situation occurs.
Always use the -습니다 style when writing emails in Korean
When using the 아/어/여서 form, the 서 part is often omitted in formal written Korean. This is particularly the case for the subject (제목) field where you write what the email is about. Koreans usually write ㅇㅇㅇ에 관하여 / ㅇㅇㅇ에 대하여 instead of the more colloquial 관해서/대해서 styles.
It’s better to stay safe and use the polite word 여쭤보다 (inquire) instead of 물어보다 (ask) when asking questions.
Having introduced your reasons for writing your email, you now need a nice rounding off of the electronic correspondence. Koreans usually express wishes that the recipient remains in good health. Here are a few examples:
내일 미세먼지가 심하다는데 목 건강 조심하시기 바랍니다 / 조심하십시오.
The pollution is supposed to be bad tomorrow, so please take good care of your health.
요즘 날씨는 좀 변덕스러운데 감기 조심하시고 건강하세요.
The weather is very volatile, so be sure not to catch a cold.
This type of ending expresses concern for the other person, and it is generally considered rude not to include such pleasantries in formal emails. Note that the ~시기 바랍니다 pattern is commonly used when expressing wishes in formal written Korean.
Then you sign off, and there are generally two ways to do this:
ㅇㅇㅇ 드림 / ㅇㅇㅇ올림
They both mean “sent by OOO” but the latter is more humble polite and should be used whenever you address superiors.
So, you’ve sent your email. Now you just wait for the reply. If you have been asking for a favor and they accommodate said favor, there are a couple of ways to thank them in the email exchange that follows:
이렇게 신경 써 주셔서 정말 감사 드립니다.
Thank you very much for your kind consideration.
다시 한 번 감사 드리며, 앞으로도 잘 부탁 드립니다.
Thank you once again.
The latter example also included the 잘 부탁 드립니다, which really doesn’t translate to English all that well. It means something along the lines of “please take good care of me” which sounds utterly strange in English. In Korea, however, this is a very common phrase to use when you send an email, or thank someone, or even greet someone. It probably best translates into Japanese, where it’s called よろしくお願いします and used in the exact same manner.
Bonus info: if you send an attached file with your email you can let the recipient know in this way:
… 첨부했습니다 (I have attached…)
… 첨부 파일로 보내 드립니다 (I’m sending … as an attached file)
첨부파일 참조 부탁드립니다 (Please see the attached file)
The weather is a bit unstable these days, so take good care of your health, dear readers.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments!