Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Culture shock - what's rude in Korea 2

There are many delicate social norms that might be completely foreign to those come from the West. The way a simple 'hello' is exchanged is different when you do it to friends and to parents. It might be shocking to find how an 'age factor' is so predominant in Korean culture. True, I'm particularly more prone to pay extra attention to culture and language in general, because I do translation from English to Korean, or from Korean to English.

If you're talking to someone who was born even a year earlier than you were, it changes the language structure you are allowed to deliver, let alone your attitude. (This gets less strict for older generation, but it is almost an unchallenged rule to younger generation.)

Culture shock - what's rude in Korea 1

I'm native Korean and have lived in the U.S. and Canada for fourteen years. I now work as a Korean English translator.

There have been a few serious incidents where I was offended and maybe a few more where I offended others. In hindsight, I don't think most of them were intentionally meant to be offensive. We simply didn't understand well enough about each other. On the next few posts, I'd like to list a few things that can be considered rude in Korea while they are assumed harmless or even friendly in North America. Thinking a bit more about this issue than my fellow Koreans did some positive impact on me as a Korean translator.

Korea is, by North American standard, one of the most conservative countries you can find in terms of social values. She has a history of five thousand years, and along the way we learned and developed our own unique way to interact with people.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Koguma - Korean Yam 5

They were bits and pieces kept inside me for years that suddenly flew me back to those days when I was once a kid. What could that be?

It could be the bitter cold weather which was in stark contrast with achingly hot kogumas. Or it could be those guys usually old enough to be my dad armoured with jacket, muffler, gloves, took, and you name it. Or it could be the cracking fire inside the cooker (drum) I couldn’t take my eyes off for some reason. Or maybe it was the atmosphere of the people in a cozy warm house whom I got to share kogumas with: they were usually family members or someone I was very close to. Or it is, very likely, all of the above combined. (I'll tell you shortly why I mention these things in this blog. After all, I translate English to Korean professionally. Bear with me, I'll talk about this in upcoming posts.)

I don’t really know, but it is surely not something negative. It does feel good, and I appreciate this unexpected outcome.

I offer help for English to Korean translation.

Koguma - Korean Yam 4

As you can tell from the pictures, baked kogumas on the street are only found during the winter. As I said in the previous posts, the scene has been a part of our culture for the last few decades. I left Korea ten years ago, but as I was writing these posts and looking at the pictures, I was certainly reminded of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was not as intense as the time I found a stack of old journals that I kept twenty plus years ago. I just found a new place to move and was in the middle of packing up my stuff, but I had to stop. I sat down on the spot, and lost track of time.

Yeah, it wasn’t like that kind of magnitude, but there was surely something that was stirred in me when I got to reminisce about koguma.

Wonder why I talk about these things, in a translation blog? They are all related to translation in some respect. I'm a Korean translator and translation Korean to English is what I do.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Koguma - Korean Yam 3

Oh, hey. I was able to track down a picture that tells what was actually burning inside! So it was simply pieces of woods, huh? Now, that kind of makes sense because what else would they use while on the street like that? Coal, no. Gas, of course not. For this kind of setting with that kind of equipment, wood must have been thought out to begin with. It’s cheap, easy to get, easy to carry, and easy to burn.

I noticed something, though. When I look at this picture now, it strikes me how dangerous it is to have the whole thing exposed out in the open. I said in the previous post that he wouldn’t let anyone come near but, well, that’s not enough, isn’t it? While a mom is paying for a bag of koguma, a 4-year old son full of curious and adventurous mind would reach out to the magic box that spits out a fab delicacy with the merchant completely preoccupied. Well, of course mom would be extra cautious in such situation, but, you know.

Koguma - Korean Yam 2

So what does the cooker look like? You can have a general idea from the picture. The main body is basically a big steel drum. The body usually lies on a cart that makes it easy to carry. On one of the flat sides of the body are a few holes, and each holds a single koguma. It’s like a drawer with handles that you can pull in and out. Everything is made out of steel for maximum heat conduction and not to mention extremely hot. He would not let you get any nearer, but you wouldn’t even think of it anyway. I never cared to ask or observe what kind of material was burned inside the body. I imagine the whole thing is simply a hollow drum and except for the drawers the empty space must have been filled with whatever the material was to burn.
I’m a Korean……….

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Koguma - Korean Yam

Or I should call it sweet potato. It’s certainly different from yam. It’s one of the most popular vegetables in Korea. When I was young, about twenty years ago, I would often run into people in the street selling sweet potato freshly baked out of the cooker they stand next to. The cooker made of a steel drum is about the size of a small refrigerator. It’s hooked on to a cart for mobility, and looked quite primitive in today’s standard, but it served its purpose. Now, sweet potato sold in this way is literally ‘baked.’ I don’t know what they used to bake with whether wood or coal, but I know koguma out of that cooker was burning hot. Of course, it should be obvious now that baked koguma in the street is only found during the winter. It’s very cheap as often is the case for street vendors, but it was very popular, so much so that it has been a part of our culture.

I sometimes translate Korean to English. Or click if you need professional help on Korean translation.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Improving as a writer 5

If you’re a veteran translator, I doubt you would find anything useful in my blog. Oh, no. I doubt that you would even bother to read anything here to start with. Haha.  But if you’re a novice in translation, then mark my word: read before attempt writing. Read and read. Read to learn the flow of writing. What makes your writing smooth can mostly learned from reading others’ writings, and especially good ones. So try to locate writings of your interest written by authors who are experienced in story-telling. Novels are good ones. Published articles from credible magazines are another. Well, there’s such an ample store of resources you can go for in this internet age. The point of it all is, again and again, to familiarize yourself with basics, which is to make your writing sound natural. Now, what is my obsession with this ‘sounding natural?’ How silly it is to keep on mentioning such a thing, right? Who would attempt to get on the translation business if he can't write properly?
Well, some would.

For here's more about Korean English translation.
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Thursday, 8 September 2011

Improving as a writer 4

How can we achieve, then, to write natural? I certainly do not have a model answer but I sure can offer my piece of understanding. You should read a lot, and write a lot. Like everything else, millennium old principle applies here with no exception: practice makes perfect. You should get yourself familiar with what you want to master. I’m sorry to end the whole thing with such a boring conclusion, but I can’t come up with a better one. See as many different sentence structures as you could and teach yourself with variety. Write down the ones that impress you most and consume them. Do your best to keep them in store so that when you need them, they will be at your disposal. Pile up your vocabulary, but never without context. Blind memorization of list of words is just silly. You should know when and how to use them, so when you run into a new word, you should pay an equal amount of focus to the sentence the word is coming from and not just the meaning of the word.

I work on business card English Korean translation, too.
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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Improving as a writer 3

In conclusion, it is fundamental to make your writing sound natural. Yes, it all boils down to that simple rule. I certainly agree that there are more to writing than that, but at least for translation it is crucial. You cannot afford to write awkward. You should not let readers be able to tell ‘ah, this is translated and not original.’ Simply put, translation is at its highest level to make yourself invisible. That is really what every translator must strive for. The less readers are concerned about the translator or translation, the better. In other words, when your work goes unnoticed, you can be assured that you did a fab job. Ironic, but true. This, however, is not easy. It’s very difficult and that’s why not many can get there so easily. And not to mention, when you’re doing translation, your expertise must be translating TO your first language and not FROM your first language.

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Monday, 29 August 2011

Improving as a writer 2

By the way, I’m no way close to the calibre of Philip Yancey. Not even remotely. In fact, I’m already embarrassed to even mention his name in this regard. I ask for your mercy. :) I’m trying to say a few things I learned important from not-long career as a translator. It has been and still is a constant battle of improving myself as a writer. What is then the most basic requirement for a writer? Just a simple common sense is enough to begin with: to make your writing sound natural. There must be higher and many more stages for becoming a good writer but I believe getting this simple thing right is foundation of all. I can say this up front when it comes to Korean translations because there are still many translated works not done according to this fundamental rule. When you read them you can instantly tell it is translated: it means it is NOT natural. Sentence structure, word choice, or something else tells you aloud that it is awkward.

I do Korean translation from English.

Improving as a writer

It is overwhelming to realize how much more to learn to be a better translator. I myself translate English to Korean as a professional.

I already emphasized quite a few times how important it is to be an expert in your first language. When I say ‘expert,’ I mean expert in ‘writing.’ Yes, I’m saying this again which I already said many times: translators are writers. Now, to say this is simple, but to achieve it? Oh, how daunting it is to become a good writer! I remember a renowned, widely respected writer Philip Yancey once describing pangs of writing. He was first trying to explain how hard mountain climbing was, and it did sound quite dreadful to me (yes, I don’t quite fancy climbing mountains to start with). But then he soon came to realize it was still incomparable to the pain of writing.

I do certified Korean translation.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Korean is different from English 2

Being able to speak or understand a language is, therefore, not enough to get yourself qualified as a translator. I have seen a number of wonderful works by foreign writers translated from English to Korean. Some of them were simply just so painful to read through. I can’t blame those who took up the task of translation. When translation is not taken seriously, or better said, not understood properly, chances are you end up with a book that is not as widely appraised as it was with the audience of its original language. If you want to be an English to Korean translator because you can speak a good deal of English or got a high score in TOEFL, you have to pause for a moment and think through what it takes to translate one language to another.

Korean is different from English

Korean and English have very different grammers. Their sentence structures, too, are remotely similar. No wonder Korean translation to English and English to Korean translation are difficult. For a translator like myself who has just a few years of experience in this industry, sometimes it takes more than half an hour just to come up with the right word. Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter whether you are a 30-year veteran translator or just a beginner in translation. As I said a few times before, translators are writers, and they are in the business where creativity is of paramount importance. Many times it was misunderstood that if you speak another language, then you are capable of translating, which is now getting clearer that isn’t true. Just think about people that speak your own language. There are those who are talented in speech, whereas there are those who are not as eloquent.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Basic Korean Sentences 4

More Koreans!

1. I’ll see you later.

다음에 뵙겠습니다 – da um ae beb ge ssum ni da

Or an easier version would be

또 뵙겠습니다 – ddo beb ge ssum ni da

2. Tomorrow

내일 – nae ill

Now you should be able to say “I’ll see you tomorrow,” right? It goes like this:

내일 뵙겠습니다 – nae il beb ge ssum ni da

3. Yesterday

어저께 – eo jeo ke

4. Today

오늘 – o nul

5. Last week

저번 주 – jeo beon ju

6. This week

이번 주 – ee beon ju

7. Next week

다음 주 – da um ju

8. I’m busy.

바쁩니다 – ba pum ni da

Let’s combine a few words from above. Can you try “I’m busy next week?” It will be:

다음 주는 바쁩니다 – da um ju nun ba pum ni da

There’s another way of saying that you’re busy:

시간이 없습니다 – shi gan ee eop sum ni da

This literally means “I don’t have time.” It is more commonly used to say that you’re busy. To say “I’m busy next week” using this sentence instead is:

다음주는 시간이 없습니다 - da um ju nun shi gan ee eop sum ni da

I’m a professional Korean translator. For more help on translation, please visit

Basic Korean Sentences 3

Another set of sentences that are commonly used in Korea.

1. I'm cold.

춥습니다 – choop sum ni da

2. I’m tired.

피곤합니다 – pi gon ham ni da

Example> After you work hours straight on a school project and finally make the deadline, then someone next to you comes over and poke your arm asking you out for a pint. You just wave your hand and say “피곤합니다.”

3. It’s easy.

쉽습니다 – sheep sum ni da

4. It’s difficult.

어렵습니다 – eo ryup sum ni da
Example> Although you were a straight-A student during high school, it’s been a while since you graduated. An 11th grader comes up to you and asks a question about statistics from math course. You say, “어렵습니다.”

There’s another way of saying ‘it’s difficult’ in different circumstances.
Example> You live on the 15th floor and just found the elevator is out of order. On your way to your floor with your friend, you’re so exhausted and stop for a while to take a breath. You say the following:

힘듭니다 – him dum ni da

It means ‘it’s hard/difficult’ and further indicates the task you are involved in is tiring.

I’m a professional Korean translator. For more help on translation, please visit

Monday, 8 August 2011

Basic Korean Sentences 2

More sentences that are commonly used in Korea. I’m a professional Korean translator and these sentences are translated into Korean with reliable accuracy.

1. I’m hungry.

배고픕니다 – bae go pum ni da

2. Very

아주 – ah ju

This is a simple adverb which can be placed in front of any verb or adjective. For example, if you leave this word in front of the sentence above ‘I’m hungry,’ it will look:

아주 배고픕니다

And it will simply mean ‘I’m very hungry.’

3. Too

너무 – nuh mu

If you’d like to go a little more intense than a simple ‘very,’ use this word. For example, if you replace ‘아주 (very)’ with ‘너무 (too)’ in the above sentence, it will look:

너무 배고픕니다

And it means ‘I’m starving.’

4. I’m full (of stomach)

배부릅니다 – bae bu rum ni da

If you noticed there is a word repeated in both sentences of ‘I’m hungry’ and ‘I’m full,’ which is ‘배.’ It means stomach. Both sentences can be literally translated ‘My stomach is empty’ and ‘My stomach is full.’ Pretty self explanatory, isn’t it?

5. It’s hot. (weather)

덥습니다 – dhup sum ni da

Yes, I’m talking about the weather being hot and not girls. Korean summer is quite humid and temperature alone will not tell you how hot it is. If the temperature says it’s 30°C (86°F), you can expect it to feel like at least 5°C extra, which will make it to 35°C (95°F).

Christian Translation

I was born and raised Christian all my life. Obviously, I have read quite a few books and listened to a number of sermons both in English and Korean over the years. My involvement in Christian translation was, however, very recent. I started interpreting sermons by Korean pastors to English two years ago. Of course, I was a little nervous at first but gradually got the hang of it, and now I’m actually looking forward to it. Like everything else, practice makes perfect. More experience amount to better and relaxed interpretation. Simple.

Last December, I had a brand new opportunity. I was asked to do a movie translation. It was a Christian movie called Furious Love. It was actually more than a translation. Not only did I have to translate every dialogue, I had to put the subtitles on myself, which I’ve never done before. The movie had been already released as DVD, but it was so well received the company decided to get on another project and make an international version of the film. Eleven different subtitles were to be added and I was asked to do Korean subtitles, or Korean localization as we translators call it. It took many hours to get it done as I had to learn everything from scratch, but it surely was a lot fun.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Basic Korean Sentences

I’d like to list a few sentences that are most basic when travelling in Korea.

1. Thank you
감사합니다 – kam sa ham ni da

2. I’m sorry. (as an apology)
죄송합니다 – chae song ham ni da

This is used when you apologize, and not when you feel sorrowful such as at a funeral. Here’s another version:

미안합니다 – mi ahn ham ni da

3. Excuse me.
실례합니다 – shil lae ham ni da

4. It’s/you’re beautiful.
아름답습니다 – ah reum dab seum ni da

Yes, you can say it to ladies, and they will be extremely flattered. It is the highest form of complementing an aesthetic appearance. Don’t say it to men. If you want to make her less nervous, you can tone it down a bit and use the following:

It’s/you’re pretty.
이쁩니다 – yi peum ni da

5. No, thank you.
괜찮습니다 – ghen chan seum ni da
Its literal meaning is ‘I’m ok/fine.’ It is to use when you’re offered something, and you want to refuse it. In Korea, a blunt ‘no’ is often considered rude, and we have a roundabout way of saying as above.

6. Yes.
예 – ye
Although it sounds almost identical as the same word for English, the tone is quite opposite. It’s monotone and polite.

7. No.
아니오 – No
This is a flat decline. As I said above, a right-off-the-bat ‘no’ a needs careful consideration in Korea. Be gentle when you use it.

I work as a professional Korean translator. You can trust me on these.

Culture Affected by Military

Korean men are required to serve in military when reached to a certain age. Unless bearing a significant issue with your physical condition, it is his duty. When this was set up mandatory a few decades back, it was a more than a three-full-year service. That’s more than 36 months. It has reduced over the years, and now is less than 20 months. (I got in in 1998 and served for 26 months) Because a vast majority of Korean men goes through this experience, it is fair to say that we have a culture that has been inevitably and strongly affected by it. For example, if you are from North America, you will find Koreans have an extremely strict measure on the interaction between an older and a younger person. Some might think it is generally true in most Asian countries such as Japan and China. I lived in Japan for four years and I’ve been in close contact with many Chinese while living in Canada for the past ten years. They don’t come close in terms of strictness in this ‘age factor.’ It is natural to find an 8-the grader bowing from his waist up to a 9-th grader. If a year difference could make such a scene, it becomes a bit more complicated with a wider difference. This phenomena is definitely getting weaker as North American culture gets into every corner of our own. However, a norm built over decades will not fade away so easily. As a professional Korean translator, I run into a text every now and then that keep me conscious about this issue.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Between ‘Our’ and ‘My’ in Korean

There are two distinctive words for ‘our’ as well as ‘my’ in Korean. They are spelled different and, therefore, sound different. However, one of them is used in a situation where it looks it should’ve been replaced by the other. I myself am Korean and I have never realized for the first thirty years of my life until I was asked recently. I was asked because I happen to be in a business where language matter is of paramount interest. (I work as a professional in a Korean translation company) In other words, most Koreans who have not been asked will never notice even though it so obvious once they are. Amazing how familiarity can blind you.

In Korean, ‘my book’ or ‘my friend’ is translated as it is. Word meant for ‘my’()  is used in this case. If you put those phrases in any machine translator, it will surely give back to you the original, ‘my book’ and ‘my friend.’

However, it’s different for ‘my country’ and ‘my father.’ Word meant for ‘our’(우리) is used. If you put those Korean phrases in a crappy machine translator, it might give you ‘our country’ or ‘our father.’ Why? I did spend some time to figure this out myself. What makes those two cases different? I know I have used them all my life and never made a mistake in using the wrong determiner for two different cases. However, I never questioned what seems now very odd. I wasn’t able to answer myself and had to look up, and aha! It made sense!


Friday, 22 July 2011

About myself-1

I am native Korean in my mid-thirties.
From a very early age of my life, I lived in three different countries: Korea, of course, the U.S. for four years, and Japan for another four. I believe it is fair to say that I speak, read and write three different languages with certain degree of fluency.
Growing up with a different background such as one mentioned above, I came to realize that I notice certain things more acutely than my peers. It started back in Korea when I was reading books not written by Korean authors. With economy in Korea booming at an unprecedented rate, which is often described as ‘miracle’, a number of industries followed the suit. Publishing was one of them. Printed and published were books after books, and still are. An alarming rate of growth in publishing industry could not possibly be met by limited supply of native Korean writers, and needed help from elsewhere: works from across the sea.  It was all ok, in my limited opinion, except for one blemish.
I cannot forget what I heard from a veteran translator: “We, translators, are writers.” How many times have I encountered a book which is so awfully translated that an unnecessary effort was needed to read through where it was merely to enjoy. I admit that I sometimes overreact and jump off the bat in this matter, but it is something that is felt by many fellow Koreans. It is no wonder I got interested in serious Korean translation myself.