Reflecting on a year of translation

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안녕하세요!

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 or 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 from me 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 am truly desperate, I often get help from my Korean boyfriend on truly 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 할머니s and 할아버지s. 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, but it 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 certainly a big part of it all.

Language skills are all about constant maintenance and striving to learn new things. 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:

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Story time: Gangnam Style Clubbing

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안녕하세요!

It’s time for round two of story-telling. Let’s get this throwback Thursday rolling. For this story, I want to take it back to fall 2014, when I went clubbing for the first and last time. It started with a persuasive conversation with people who loved clubbing and knew me too well at the time.

“We’re going clubbing – you have to come.”

“No thanks.”

“Look, Taeyang is going to perform there tonight – you know Taeyang, right? Isn’t he in that boy band you listen to?”  Continue reading

Translating for Humans of Seoul

안녕하세요!

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 modeled off of 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

See you soon, Seoul

안녕하세요!

Believe it or not, but I’m headed back to Seoul this summer – back to Yonsei University, in fact. I seem to be blessed with endless doors opening for me over the past two years and so I’m planning on charging full speed ahead (hoping that I won’t charge headfirst into a closed door anytime soon).

Yonsei University runs a summer program called YISS, or Yonsei International Summer School. It’s a relatively short program of about a month and a half that is geared towards international exchange students who come and take a Korean language course alongside one or two regular academic courses.

But beyond the classroom! Wherein lie the true lessons of life! And Korean. Because studying at KLI/YISS is all very well and good but speaking Korean with the convenience store clerk, or navigating the subways and bus routes, or asking for directions to a performing arts center to attend a musical – this is the stuff that truly challenges. That proves whether the classroom has provided the foundation and whether I trust myself to stand on that base of knowledge – and most importantly, whether I can lead myself and others through moments of challenge both great and small.

That’s my dramatic spiel for the day.

Continue reading

불닭볶음면 도전: The Korean Fire Noodle Challenge

안녕하세요 여러분!

My friend is a YouTuber (FOLLOW HER *wink wink no shame*) who has also self-studied Korean for a few years. We became friends through our Korean class at the University of Michigan last year, and recently she invited me and several of our friends to do the fire noodle challenge together.

What is the fire noodle challenge, you ask?

1. Take this:

2. Make it:

3. Eat the entire thing without drinking milk/eating anything else:

4. Question your life choices:

5. Done? Drink as much milk as possible ASAP:

What’s the catch, you ask?

Well, it’s supposed to be deadly spicy – and you aren’t allowed to eat or drink anything else until you’ve eaten the entire thing. There is a plethora of videos of people losing their minds on camera from how hot it is, and then squirting milk from their noses as they desperately try to quell the fire after they finish eating it.

Check out my friend’s video to see how we fared with the challenge, and what we thought about the spiciness 😉

P.S. Excuse the awkward. But I ask no pardon for my puns. Korean/English wordplay is my love.

읽어 주셔서 고마워요~!^^

 

지금 재생 중: 빅뱅의 LOSER

Speaking in Subtitles

오랜만이다! 잘 지냈어요?

I haven’t written a new post in quite a long time – and it was a long time before that post that I’d last written a post. I really need to get my act together and start actively blogging again. I thought that if I ‘took a break,’ I’d be blogging again in no time – once I had more time.

Image not mine.

And yes, college has been busy, life has been crazy, endless midterms and papers are all very awful, but it’s no excuse to ignore what I really love: writing, reading (in English) and studying Korean. And I’ve been ignoring them all far too much.

Something that has come to my attention over the past several months is what my best friend and I like to call ‘speaking in subtitles.’  Continue reading