A Sea of Green Tea: Boseong, South Korea

Green. Everywhere, green. Green baked with South Korean sunshine. The fresh, clean scent of mountains clad with green tea bushes. And heat. Oh, yes. At ten in the morning, it was brutally hot in the green tea fields, and it was only getting hotter.

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Into the 시골

Rewind about twenty hours. It was midsummer in 2015. I was on a bus leaving Seoul, heading into the countryside in search of the famous Boseong Green Tea Fields (보성녹차밭). Continue reading

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Stuck on the Plateau

Learning another language is an unavoidably humbling experience. Either you find yourself humbled by how stupid you feel but push on with the dream of some day expressing yourself to the fullest – or the feeling of stupidity crowds out everything else until you give up. Continue reading

Reflecting on a year of translation

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Incredibly enough, it has now been over a year since I joined the translation team for Humans of Seoul, a Facebook page (as well as tumblr and Instagram) that introduces the lives and thoughts of humans from Seoul in both Korean and English. Inspired by the famous Humans of New York page, our page has also built its own claim to fame in its provision of bilingual interviews and its side pages for learning Korean and English.

As these interviews are for humans, by humans, and introduce thoughts from humans, a natural amount of human error results in the process of taking an idea from the words of a person halfway around the world and then translating it in a way that an English-speaker will understand. Translation isn’t just about plugging in one word at a time and assembling an identical line of words. That’s what most automatic translators do.

After a year at this work, I’ve developed my own style for translating. First, I read through the entire interview, and pick out any words that I feel remotely uncertain about. Then, yes, I do translate these one by one, basically out of context. I jot down every possible meaning I can find for that word. Then I go back to the interview and, in a stream of consciousness-like state, write what I think the person is saying. When I hit little speed bumps (the uncertain words), I glance at the list I created. Now, with context, I know which one matters and the English version comes into existence.

Sometimes a word isn’t anywhere. Naver dictionary? Doesn’t have it. Google Translate? Doesn’t have it/is unsafe. At times like this, I’ll try random variations of spelling and even Google Image it. You’d be amazed how you can figure out a word’s meaning by staring at pictures.

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Like the time I couldn’t figure out what 지푸라기 꾸러미 was.

Of course, when I’m truly desperate, I ask for help from my Korean boyfriend on those sneaky, hidden words and twisted grammar structures.

And that’s how I translate. Then our team’s proofreader checks everything, makes lots of helpful comments to explain his edits, and sometimes we have a conversation over the different ways a word or sentence can be translated. Even a single word can make or break a translation.

When I first started translating, it was exhausting work. Exhilarating, but exhausting. I felt driven to make every single piece perfect before showing it to the proofreader, but with my limited Korean skills, I frequently found myself facing numerous corrections and edits. Quite the blow to my Korean-speaking ego!

All those kind 아줌마들 with their “한국어 너어어무 잘 하시네용!”s and the 할아버지들 at the Korean markets with their “아가씨가 한국 몇년 살아셨나?’s – all this faded away. Why was I translating when there was so much I didn’t know about the language, let alone culture, history, social cues – all the things that you must learn to truly, truly understand another language – even after several years of self-study and university?

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Preliminary translations can be very rough. Much of this was changed before it was a finished product. Yet as difficult as they can be, I just love doing the interviews for 할머니들 and 할아버지들. There’s so much history packed into their memories.

But then, at some point, the scales started to tip back. My Korean skills grew. I cannot claim this was solely due to doggedly working at translations every week; it also came largely from talking every day with my Korean language partner-turned-boyfriend, as well as returning to Korea for two months in the summer (here‘s my reflection on three different stints studying in Korea). But translating for Humans of Seoul was indubitably instrumental.

Language skills are all about lifelong learning. They require constant maintenance and exhaustive effort. Translating is one element that has helped me, ironically, become better at translating. Am I substantially better at translating in January 2017 than I was in January 2016? I don’t know; ask my proofreader. One thing is for sure, though. My increased confidence in using Korean has opened doors that a fearful me would never have been able to open.

읽어 주셔서 감사합니다. 많이들 방문해 주시기 바랍니다.

지금 재생 중

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLPgdkLMCKU

A Language Learner’s Problems (and how to solve them)

I got 99 problems and teaching myself Korean is most of them – okay, that’s not really true, and I’m not actually going to list 99 different problems. I don’t want to type that much and you don’t want to read that much – but here are some problems I’ve encountered as a self-taught language learner (as well as some tips for how to deal with these issues)!

1. I have too many different resources for language study.

How do I choose just one? My textbooks from Yonsei, Ewha, and even Klear. The endless supply of webtoons online. The part of the Naver Webtoon app where people post funny snippets from manhwa. My three books of Korean poetry, two compilations of Korean short stories, six books of manhwa. Countless purchased or downloaded TTMIK resources Continue reading

Do Anything (Sylvia Plath)

“Go out and do something. It isn’t your room that’s a prison, it’s yourself.”

“나가서 아무거나 해 봐. 네 방은 감옥이 아니야. 그게 바로 너야.”

-Sylvia Plath

아, 이 속담이 너무 너무 좋아요…Sylvia Plath ❤ Also I purposefully titled this “Do Anything” because I like the way that sounds. Start anywhere. Do anything.

*직접 번역한 속담입니다…..틀린 게 있으면 죄송합니다. I translated this quote myself, so I’m sorry for any mistakes. 

Translating for Humans of Seoul

I have exciting news – I’m now one of the translators for the phenomenal Facebook page Humans of Seoul!

I’m sure you know about Humans of New York, or HONY, as people fondly refer to it. Humans of Seoul is inspired by the original, a page filled with photographs of people frozen in thoughtful moments as they talk about their lives, their dreams, their failures. Humanity is compressed into a picture and some text on millions of people’s newsfeeds, yet it is so, so much more than that.  Continue reading