Paratexts and K-lit translation

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Korean literature has been gaining terrain in the Spanish market, both the interest in Hallyu and the Korean language have helped to its expansion, hence, making necessary to search for methods and styles in translation that can attract more readers. The text proposes paratexts as methods that can unite international readers, Hallyu fans and language students with Korean literature.

Keywords: Korean literature, paratexts, literary translation, Hallyu, culture.

“I find it encouraging that a lot of teenage visitors are interested in Korean culture, thanks to K-pop or K-dramas. I can feel that the Hallyu is becoming more inclusive of Korean literature”
Kwak -Hyo-hwan, president of LTI Korea.

1. Conception of K-Lit

In the panorama of cultural contents of Korea, it is possible to find K-Pop, K-Dramas, K-Films and products like K-Beauty. Korean literature has also become an attractive asset for people involved and not involved with the entertainment industry of South Korea. Thus, to make it even more charming, the concept of “K-Lit” is used nowadays, to reflect literature as an inviting product that can be enjoyed for anyone.

One of the fears about the Korean wave or Hallyu is that it becomes a passing fad and any of its contents can be sustainable. However, according to Chun (2020, p. 12) “elaborated archives of various fields related to Korea should be premised in order to continuously spread the Korean Wave” and the expansion of the Korean literature can help to stablish the sustainability of Korean contents in the global market.

At this point, translation plays a main role “as an initial channel and link for foreigners who do not know the Korean language to access information related to Korea and Korean Studies” (Chun, 2020, p. 12). Therefore, the translation of Korean works to other languages that are broadly spoken can help to create the next interaction:

Haneul Research blog korean literature


2. The challenges of translation

When did the Korean literature started to be translated? According to Torres-Simón (2015, p. 225) it “developed with the emergence of the Republic of Korea, first as an independent nation and then as a world power”. When Korea started to show up as a leading country, people from different backgrounds started to gain attention in the stories created inside this country, and like that, the readers audience for K-Lit started to expand.

However, translating is not an easy task considering the particularities of every language. “If you’re translating a great work of Korean literature, then your translation has to be a great work of English literature” (Montgomery, 2014). The demand of Korean literature around the world sets a challenge for K-Lit translators, which is to convey not only the text itself, but the culturality behind it and the intention of the author.

The challenge is to “export Korean literature as a desirable product rich in cultural capital” (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 25), hence the use of translation styles and techniques that can connect the readers, the culture and the intention of the text of the author is the purpose of the translators.

3. What can be used?

On that account, the paratexts emerge as methods in translation that can complement the original text and make it more attractive. The term paratext refers to “what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers” (Genette, 1997, p. 1) also conceived as “a consciously crafted threshold for a text which has the potential to influence the ways in which the text is received” (Batchelor, 2018, p. 142).

Portraits, explanatory notes, layouts, illustrations, and parallel texts are al considered paratexts, and they can help to stablish a stronger connection between readers and stories that come from abroad. Examples of application of these paratexts are as follows:

Korean literature and haneul research blog

A broader use of these paratexts can help, in my consideration, to expand K-Lit in the Spanish speaker market.

4. Why translate K-Lit?

One of the most engaging points about Korean literature is that it “provides a point from which to critique the standardizing” (Medina, 2018, p. 408), the most recognizable pieces of literature that have won recognition at an international level are often critiques to the society standards.

However, those standards are not only present in the Korean society, but broadly existent in every culture, making Korean stories relatable to other societies. Spanish speaking countries are not the exception, the translation into Spanish of works like The Vegetarian, The Good Son, and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly -among others- has revealed that the culturality behind K-Lit is understandable from our perspective as well.

“Translation has played a major role in overcoming the marginalization of Asian literary voices (among many others), and the seminal role of the translator as negotiator of cultural differences” (Venuti, 2000, p. 468). Nonetheless, translation needs to go beyond conveying the original words in another language. Since the attraction to K-Lit is often accompanied by a love for Hallyu or the Korean language, it is necessary to accompany the translated texts with paratexts that can help to stablish a deeper connection between the international readers and the Koreanness behind K-Lit.  


Batchelor, K. (2018). Translation and paratexts. Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge University Press.

Chun, H. (2020). A Study on the Establishment of Korean Studies Archives: Focusing on the Korean Government-oriented Translation Projects. Modern Oriental Studies, 2(1), 10–17.

Genette, G. (1997). Paratexts: Thresholds of interpretation. Cambridge University Press.

Medina, J. W. (2018). At the Gates of Babel: the GLobalization of Korean Literature as World Literature. Acta Koreana, 21(2), 395–422.

Montgomery, C. (2014, June 15). Allie Park interviews translator Deborah Smith (The Vegetarian) |.

Torres-Simón, E. (2015). An Evolution of Korean Literaty Translation through its Paratexts (1951-2000). Asia Pacific Translation and Intercultural Studies, 2(3), 224–234.

Venuti, L. (2000). Translation, Community, Utopia. In The Translation Studies Reader (pp. 468–488). Routledge.

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Written by: Angie Marcela Páez Monroy.

Words from the author: I am a lawyer and educator, along with other latinamerican friends we created this project to bring along people interested in Korea and Korean culture contents, and we are working to bring everytime new spaces were people can find and express their ideas.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the WTO or its members. Las opiniones expresadas en esta publicación son de los autores, no necesariamente reflejan el pensamiento de Haneul Ssem.

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