As always, I’ve been trying to find more outlets to use Korean and Japanese and recently I started using Lang-8 for that very purpose.  Lang-8 is a social networking site for language learners where you can basically maintain a blog in the language you are attempting to learn.  Native speakers can then correct your entries and leave comments and you can do the same for others.  You can also have “friends” who you can message privately and whose entries show up on your homepage to be corrected.  Video introduction below:

So far, I’ve written two entries in Japanese and one entry in Korean and all of them were corrected by native speakers within minutes.  Corrections can be made by bolding and crossing out words or by add text in two different colors; there’s really no protocol on how to use these correction tools, although one Korean speaker who corrected my entry came up with this logical method:  Crossing out and red for incorrect words, blue for more natural sounding words/phrases.  I’ve also tried to help out a few of my friends with their English in a similar manner.  Another great feature is access to a dictionary and Google translate (which I avoid like the plague) right below the space for inputting your entry.

Honestly, I think Lang-8 is a great concept.  Whether or not it’s executed as well as it could be is another question.  The website was launched four years ago and, in that period, I feel like a lot of improvements could have been made.  It’s kind of unattractive, little unwieldy to navigate.  But then again I’m not a web-designer so it’s really not my place to say this.

Lang-8 has really made think about English from a foreigner’s perspective.  I’m extra careful when I correct people’s grammar or spelling and I never try to complicate matters more than I have to.  Sometimes  I find myself in a tricky situation.  For example, I came across a post that was basically a recipe for kimchi fried rice.  In the directions, this person had written stuff like and “heat water” and “put vegetables in pan.”  That actually sounds pretty natural.  Recipes and protocols tend to be written without articles BUT does the writer actually know that?  It’s difficult to tell.

And now I have a bone to pick with native English speakers.  I find that all of the people who have corrected me on my Japanese and Korean are encouraging, gracious, and, most importantly, reasonable with their corrections.   That’s not always the case with English speakers.  Even when it’s obvious the person is only a beginner in English, I still see tons of English speakers who leave long, detailed explanations (in English) after completely rewriting that person’s sentences using advanced grammar and vocabulary.  I even saw one person literally say, “I can’t even understand what you’re trying to say.”  That’s completely rude and unacceptable.

Although I haven’t corrected many entries yet, these are the rules I plan to follow:

  1. Gauge a person’s level in English. – Obviously, the more the advanced the level, the more nitpicky you can get.  You have to gear your corrections and explanations so that the person can understand and learn from them.
  2. Correct as little as possible. – It’s really discouraging for a person (especially a beginner) to see their entry marked over completely in red.  If it is grammatical and it makes sense DON’T CHANGE IT.
  3. Avoid “stylistic” changes. – As in, don’t change something that’s in passive voice to active voice or vice versa.  Most of the time, that’s a stylistic preference and the meaning of the sentence is unchanged.  It really frustrates me to see corrections like this.
  4. Do not change vocabulary. – Unless it is really incorrect or unnatural (in that case, I usually make sure to indicate that “so-and-so” is more natural.)  But changing out one word for a synonymous one is unnecessary and might confuse the learner.
  5. Avoid using slang. – Or at least make it known that it’s slang if you absolutely must use it.
  6. Make sure your OWN English grammar and spelling is correct. – How many times have I cringed when a person has misspelled something or misused a word in their own correction?
  7. Be encouraging. – Goes without saying.  Be nice about how you make your corrections and then leave a positive comment after you’re done.  Personally, I always feel good when someone says 잘 하시네요 to me, even if I’ve made tons of mistakes and they’re just being polite.
If you use Lang-8, feel free to add me!  (Link on the right.)

Tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail… what better weather to listen to 2NE1’s “Lonely” and B2ST’s “비가 오는 날엔 (On Rainy Days)”?  (At least that’s what the weather is like in my part of the world.)

I’ll also be relaxing with a nice Korean drama this evening.  Check out my CURRENTLY WATCHING list over there on the right.  Insane, huh?  I’ve never watched so many dramas at the same time in my life.

Translation Challenges

While tumblr is having another meltdown, I thought I should write another semi-intelligent post over here on wordpress, instead of spazzing about CNBLUE, BIGBANG, and SHINee.

I’m not an expert on translation nor am I really at the level where I can translate something with confidence.  But I do think it’s a good way to expose yourself to the language you’re learning, at least at the level of vocabulary and grammar.  In that aspect, I feel as if I have progressed somewhat in Korean, though not as fast as I would have liked.  It’s been about 1.5 years since I started teaching myself Korean and now I can usually understand about 85% of almost any Korean pop song on the first listen, 95% if I look at the lyrics.  (Falsettos and hardcore raps still trip me up though).

I used to do a lot of K-pop “translations” (basically looking up every word/grammar pattern I didn’t know and re-writing the song in English) but now I don’t feel the need to do it as much anymore since I basically understand the song.  But also because… well, sometimes it’s just hard translating Korean to English.  Why?  There are several reasons.

  1. relative clauses:  Korean uses a LOT of relative (noun-modifying) clauses and sometimes they can get so long that it just sounds awkward in English.  For example, I think Koreans are more likely to say “I am a person who never lies” rather than “I never lie.”  The nuance is slightly different but I think English uses fewer relative clauses, especially in casual conversation.  Korean also has a tendency to modify personal pronouns (I, he, she, etc.) which English doesn’t do so much.  For example, there’s a line from 하루하루 which goes “네가 없인 단 하루도 못 살것만 같았던 나” which literally translates to “I [the one] who thought I couldn’t live even a day without you – which just sounds WEIRD.  Most translations of this song get rid of the relative clause and just say “I thought I couldn’t live even a day without you.”  Another examples is the commonly used “널 사랑하는 나”  which translates to “I [the one] who loves you” but is often also translated as “the me who loves you” which is just ACCCKKK.
  2. untranslatable words/concepts:  I’m talking about songs that use distinctly Korean words like 존댓말, 반말, and relationship words like 누나/오빠.  Wikipedia actually translated SHINee’s “누난 너무 예뻐 (Replay)” as “Older girl, you’re so pretty.”  Awful. 
  3. synonymous words/phrases:  A lot of songs tend to use different words or phrases that mean essentially the same thing but carry different nuances.  Obviously, this is not unique to Korean but that nuance is often hard to translate into English without sounding awkward.  For example, 가슴 and 마음 is often used interchangeably in Korean and both can pretty much mean “heart” in English, depending on the context.  But if one song uses 가슴 sometimes and  마음 other times, it’s heard to denote that difference in English (you can’t really use “chest/breast” for 가슴 – it sounds unromantic.  So I end up using “heart” both times.  Is this an important distinction?  Maybe, maybe not.  Depends on the song.)  Sometimes there are A LOT of synonyms for one word and it’s really hard to get the nuance correct when you’re still learning the language.  (For example, how do you distinguish when to use “shining,” “glittering,” “glowing,” and “radiant”?)  More often than not, the song ends up sounding repetitive in English because you use the same word over and over again.
  4. missing pronouns:  This is usually something you can figure out if you pay attention to particles and the context but sometimes it’s not so easy!
  5. idioms, expressions, slang:  Kind of a given.  If a string of words sound a little odd next to each other, it’s usually an expression or idiom.  I usually just type the entire thing into the Naver or Daum dictionary and try to figure out the meaning from the examples that show up.
  6. words that sound awkward in English:  There are some words that do, technically, have definitions in English but sound just plain weird when they’re translated literally.  Because English doesn’t use certain words in certain contexts “naturally.”  I cringe whenever I see words like 욕하다, 설레다, 괜하다, and 서툰.   “욕하다” especially gets on my nerves because so many netizens translate this as “to curse” which sounds odd to me.  No one really says “Don’t curse/slander/speak badly about me” in English.
  7. ideophonic words:  I LOVE THESE WORDS.  (I want to do a separate post about these words… maybe in the future.)  So these kinds of words describe or evoke a sensation.  Korean has A LOT  of ideophonic words while English doesn’t have as many (the ones that do exist aren’t really used in daily conversation) so it can make translation a little difficult.  I usually end up substituting a nonideophonic words for an ideophonic one.  Examples include:  반짝반짝 (“glittering”), 두근두근 (“heart pounding”/nervousness), 짤랑짤랑 (“jingling”), 알랑알랑 (“with flattery”), 둥글둥글 (“roundly”/harmoniously), 꿀꿀 (“bubbling, gurgling”)
What about you guys?  What are some challenges you’ve faced while translating Korean (or any other language) to English?

Book Review: KLEAR Integrated Korean

About three weeks ago, I was super excited to finally get my new Korean textbooks!  I’d heard a lot about the KLEAR Integrated Korean series from a number of Korean learners online so I was curious to give it a try.  I know a lot of people have already reviewed this book but just thought I’d throw in my two cents.  Tons of pictures ahead…

Continue reading “Book Review: KLEAR Integrated Korean”