Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Korean Translation and Webtoons

In spite of being a Korean-English translator myself, this blog has focused more on Korean etymology rather than discussing some of my experiences being a translator in a relatively unexplored field. By including some of my experiences and advice (if I may be so bold as to give some) for aspiring Korean translators, I hope that I may be of some help to people wanting to get into the field or those who are already working in translation and would like to share ideas among fellow translators.

While there are a few outstanding websites for Korean/English translation (Steven Bammel's page immediately comes to mind), there seems to be a general lack of advice for aspiring Korean translators. Unlike translation in other, more popular languages, the relative shortage of skilled Korean/English translators and the resultant demand for native speakers with advanced competency in Korean and good writing skills means that many (or most) people entering this field will very likely be confronted with a dizzying range of texts to translate in all kinds of fields and may have a hard time finding an area in which they may specialize. 

Steven Bammel has already covered Korean business translation to a remarkably thorough degree, so I would suggest consulting his website for lots of detailed information if this interests you: 


I currently work as a freelancer for two (occasionally three) translation companies, doing mostly Korean-English translation with some English-French thrown in once in a while (and sometimes even Korean-French). One of these companies handles what you might call "general translation," where there may be a legal contract to translate one day, followed by a tractor instruction manual, a medical document, a short story, a newsletter, and almost anything else imaginable. 

For the other company, I have been privileged to translate over 30 Webtoon (web cartoon) series to date for LINE Webtoon (subsidiary of Naver), which has certainly been a different experience from the "usual" translation projects that most of us handle on a daily basis. What I would like to do in upcoming posts is focus on two aspects of Webtoons that have made them especially beneficial and educational to work on: the challenges posed by translating works which would probably fall under the general category of "literature" (requiring more creativity and freedom in translation than usual), and the tremendous potential for using Webtoons as learning resources for Korean learners of almost any level, from beginner to advanced. 

One of the series among many which I would especially like to discuss is the wacky comedy "The Sound of Your Heart": http://www.webtoons.com/en/comedy/the-sound-of-your-heart/list?title_no=269

The wordplay, cultural references and occasionally borderline "untranslatable" jokes have made this series a unique challenge to translate. Some of my most challenging and rewarding experiences as a translator have been figuring out how to navigate my way around some of the major difficulties in translating comedy, and reading the delighted reactions of readers in the comment section never fails to put a smile on my face. 

In future posts, I will be posting some specific examples of particularly challenging parts to translate (and hopefully initiating some interesting discussions about some alternate ways to translate them), as well as showing learners how they can get the most out of using Webtoons to learn Korean and what some good Webtoons would be depending on their level. 

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