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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The end is where we start from

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The end is where we start from.

끝부터 시작한다.

– T.S. Eliot

Another quote that comes to mind goes something like, “When you come to the end, keep going.” So. It may be Monday, the semester may be ending, beginnings and endings may be everywhere we look, but just remember: the end is where we start from.

Translation and all mistakes are mine. 

Your future is created by what you do today

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Your future is created by what you do today.

미래는 오늘 당신이 하는 걸로 만들어진다.

– Robert Kiyosaki

Mondays are rough. But you make tomorrow through what you do today. Want to improve your language skills? Putting off that quick vocab review until tomorrow isn’t going to make fluency and confidence come any quicker. Language learning and upkeep takes dedication – even a little bit, every day, has an effect that goes a long, long way into your future. 오늘도 화이팅하세요!

Translation by yours truly. All mistakes mine. 

PSA: avoid plateaus at all costs

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There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.

다 끝났다고 생각할 때가 올건데 그때는 시작이다.

– Louis L’Amour | 루이스 라모르

One of the hardest parts of language learning is getting started. The next hardest challenge is when you learn enough to get along. And that’s where it becomes easy to plateau. Easy to subsist on what you know. Easy to not study more vocabulary, not learn the harder and less common grammar points. But that is precisely where you must keep on keeping on. Don’t plateau! Keep moving on and up with your studies! 화이팅!

Translation by yours truly. All mistakes mine. 

Fly birdy fly

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The shell must break before the bird can fly.

껍질이 깨져야 새가 날아갈 수 있다.

– Tennyson | 테니슨

And you have to overcome your fear of speaking a foreign language in front of others so that you can improve. Yeah, that eggshell needs to shatter, and that can be a little traumatic (trust me: I’ve been there/sometimes regress to there). But just remember that you have everything to gain and only a few shards of pride to lose…

Translation by yours truly. All mistakes are mine. 

시간을 만들어서 해라

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시간이 있어서 하나요? 시간을 만들어서 하는거죠.

Do you do things because you have time? You make time to do things.

– Humans of Seoul

I tend to complain about being to busy to do things. Am I really busy? Yes, yes I am. But there are some things that are important enough that I just have to make the time for them, one way or another. Examples, you ask? Relationships. Language learning. Relationships with foreign languages. Foreign languages in relationships. Ha! See what I did there…

Quote and original translation can be found here, at Humans of Seoul. While I translate for HoS, I did not have the honor of personally translating the original post. I took the liberty of altering the translation for the sake of clarity here, since I removed the rest of the interview and context. 

너도 상상했던 너가 될거야

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너도 상상했던 너가 될거야.

You’ll become the you that you dreamed of, too.

– lyrics from Loco’s song, You Too | 로꼬의 노래 ‘너도’ 가사

Sometimes we all just need a bit of encouragement from those who have ‘made it’ – those who have achieved their dreams already.

 

Translation credit to ilyricsbuzz

Now or Never

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It’s now or never.

지금이 아니면 안된다.

– saying | 속담

Whatever that thing is that you keep waiting to do because you’re not sure you’ll succeed, or you’re afraid of what will happen if you fail – just do it. Apply for that study abroad. Start a new book in a foreign language even if you can barely read it. You want to get better at Korean? Nothing will change if you don’t take the first step. Do it! You got this!

Translation by yours truly. All mistakes are mine. 

 

Two Languages, Two Selves

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”

“다른 언어도 할 줄 알면 두번째 영혼을 가진다.”

– Charlemagne 샤를마뉴

Just be careful you don’t turn into Voldemort by splitting your soul into seven pieces….oh, was that too dark? Sorry, that was probably too dark. Happy language learning!

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And channel your inner prideful Harry when it comes to developing that second-soul language of yours.

Translation by yours truly. All mistakes are mine.

한국으로 돌아간다

“사람이 왜 떠나다? 돌아올 수 있기 위해. 온 곳을 다시 볼 수 있기 위해. 거기에 있는 사람들도 당신을 다시 보죠. 시작한 곳으로 돌아오는 것이 한번만이라도 안 떠나는 것과 다르다.”

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry PratchettA Hat Full of Sky

곧 한국으로 돌아가기로 해서 좋은 글귀를 찾아서 번역해보았다. 틀린 것이 있으면 죄송합니다.

다음 주부터 한국에서 글을 쓰고 올릴게요! 여러분 한국어 공부를 재미있게 하세요!

지금 재생 중:

역시 마마무다!