Author: Archana

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”

Interview with Jung Il Woo (Marie Claire)

Since I’m kind of obsessed with 49 Days‘ sassy Scheduler, I wanted to try my hand at translating an article about Jung Il Woo that I found in the April 2011 issue of Marie Claire Korea.  Well, clearly I bit off more than I could chew.  This was my first time attempting to read (and translate) a rather lengthy magazine article and I think I got the gist of it but there were A LOT of words I did not know.  I would say I had to look up about 10-15% of the words (around 170 words out of a total of 1200).  I would say I’m about 65-70% percent confident in my translation.  There were many things I was unsure of and probably could have phrased better… but this is only for my own personal practice.

Again, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this translation.

Continue reading “Interview with Jung Il Woo (Marie Claire)”

Graduate school

This is an off-topic post but it’s such a big part of my life that I have to blog about it at least once.  (If you follow me elsewhere on the web, you may already know about this, so apologies for repeating myself!)

Starting this fall, I will be attending Stanford University (School of Medicine) to pursue a PhD degree in Immunology!!

Graduate school application is a long and tedious process here in the States.  Let me briefly summarize the events that lead to this.  (I was, of course, very bad at planning and procrastinated a lot so the entire process was stressful.)

  1. September 2010 – Took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) which is an annoying standardized test that everyone has to take to get into an American graduate school.
  2. October 2010 – Wrote my personal statement, which was basically an essay about my current research and how that ties into why I want to pursue Immunology in graduate school.  (Immunology = study of the immune system).  As a microbiologist, I’ve always been interested in host response to bacteria so I thought this would be a great field to pursue.
  3. November 2010 – Asked 3 professors to write my letters of recommendation.  Started the online application.
  4. Early December 2010 – Finished my applications for 6 universities (Duke, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Brown)
  5. Mid-December 2010 – Received interview invitations from ALL the universities I applied too!  Duke and Harvard were my first interview invites (within 10 days of submitting my application) and Stanford my last.
  6. End-of-January to Early March 2011 – INTERVIEWS & ACCEPTANCES!  My first interview was at Harvard at the end of January and my last interview was the first week of March at Stanford.  Interview weekends were so much fun!  They lasted 3 to 5 days total.  Usually we had faculty interviews for 1-2 days with different professors.  I interviewed with just 3 professors at Harvard (fewest) but with 8 professors at  Duke (most).  The rest of the time was spent exploring the city we were in, going out for dinner with faculty members, going on housing tours, and going to bars with the current students!  It was so much fun and I made some great friends along the way.  I was accepted at 4 schools and waitlisted at 2!  (I was very grateful and lucky to not be rejected anywhere).
  7. March 2011-April 15, 2011 – After hearing back from all of the schools, it was time to decide.  April 15 is pretty much the standard deadline to inform most U.S. graduate schools about whether you’re attending or not.  Basically, you have to decide among your acceptances where you want to attend.
  8. April 15, 2011 – I decided to attend Stanford!  I can’t wait to move to beautiful California.
And now, some pictures of my future home.  (None of these pictures are mine.)
The Main Quad
Li Ka Shing Center
James H. Clark Center

One of my professors swore that it was the most beautiful campus in the U.S.  I think I’ll have to agree.


Yesterday, I finished watching Devil Beside You – which, quite possibly, might be the last Taiwanese drama I’ll ever watch.  For reasons I won’t go into here.  Heh.

Anyway, I watched DBY with little to no knowledge of Chinese, other than basic “A is B”-type sentences so I was intrigued by the way the characters addressed each other.  Why did everyone call Jiang Meng “Ahmeng”?  Why was Yuan Yi so offended when Ahmeng called him “Ahyi”?  Why did Qi Yue’s friends alternatively call her Qi Yue and Xiao Yue?  Why was Yuan Yi the only one who called Qing Zi “Xiao Zi”?  You see what I’m getting at.

Well, I kind of figured out through context that ah (阿) and xiao (小) were diminutives, basically forms of words (usually names though they can be other nouns) that are used to signify either smallness or endearment/intimacy.  In fact, in Chinese xiao (小) actually means “small.”  What is interesting is that some languages, like English, do not have a strict way of forming diminutives while other languages, like Chinese, Korean, and Japanese do.

A lot of diminutives for proper names English (i.e. nicknames) end with an “-ie” sound.  Examples:  Christine = Christie; Samantha = Sammy.  Some other nouns follow this pattern as well, like cat = kitty.  But English doesn’t really have set rules for forming diminutives of proper nouns (nicknames just are what they are, I suppose).

Indian languages (e.g. Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, etc.)
Of course, I can’t forget to address my own native language…  Most Indian names have diminutives ending in a u (or sometimes ee or ya) sound, unless they are very short.  Since Indian names are usually quite long, the nickname is most commonly the first syllable + u.  Examples:  Ramachandran = Ramu; Ashwini = Ashu; Namrata = Namu.  BUT names like Satya, Puja, Meera, don’t usually change.

I have to say, however, unlike English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, Indian diminutives are almost always reserved for very close family members and sometimes very very close family friends.  Of course, a degree of familiarity is a prerequisite for nickname use in all cultures… but I just feel that most Indian people would not have even their closest friends call them using their diminutive nickname.  It’s almost always reserved for parents and grandparents; and once you get older, people tend to leave it off anyway.  (As an example, my mom and dad call me by my childhood nickname but my aunts and uncles do not.  Incidentally, you might be able to guess what that nickname is from what I’ve said here!)

Suffixes like kun (くん) and chan (ちゃん) are usually added to male and female names respectively to make them diminutive.  Sometimes ちゃん can be added to other nouns to make them sound “cute” (e.g. 猫ちゃん = kitty)

Like Chinese and Japanese, Korean has a pretty standard way of forming proper name diminutives – add 아 (ah) at the end of names ending in a consonant and 야 (yah) at the end of a name ending in a vowel.  In the case of Korean (though not in the other languages I’ve mentioned), this diminutive is also the vocative case – this is basically the form of the proper noun that you use to call a person.  In most languages, the diminutive and can be used either as the vocative case or not but in Korean, the 아/야 diminutive MUST also be the vocative case.  Korean also has a diminutive that is not vocative –  for names ending in consonants, you can add 이 (i).  This is how I understand it:

  1. 혜원가 김밥을 먹는다. (O)
    [Adding 이 to 혜원 makes it diminutive but it’s still nominative – meaning, it’s the subject of the sentence and therefore marked by the subject marking particle]
  2. 혜원,  김밥을 먹어라. (O)
    [Adding  아 to 혜원 makes the diminutive now vocative – meaning you are calling Hyewon to come eat kimbap.]
  3. 혜원, 김밥을 먹어라. (X…?)
    [Now that I think about it, I wonder if this is really wrong?  It sounds odd to me and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say something like this.  Hm.]
  4. 혜원 김밥을 먹는다. (X)
    [This is definitely wrong because you only use 아 when you’re calling someone, not when that person is the subject of a sentence]

Whoops, sorry for the grammar overload.  I just find stuff like this interesting.  One of my favorite things to watch in Korean dramas is when 2 characters go from addressing someone as “so-and-so 씨” or by the full name  to the diminutive.  I remember feeling all giddy at the end of Full House when 영재 addresses 지은 as “한지은.. 지은아…”

Just another thing I enjoy about the Korean language, I guess.


My penpal Dina assured me that if I learned Korean, Japanese would be easy.  LIES!  Strangely enough, I know a lot of Korean learners who struggle with Japanese and vice versa.  I can’t pinpoint what my problem is with Japanese but I know that it started before I started learning Korean.

I tried to teach myself Japanese in high school but only got as far as learning hiragana and the basic “AはBです” type sentences before I got sidetracked with Kanji.  Kanji was a whole other beast… I got so into trying to learn Kanji that I forgot that I actually had to understand some Japanese grammar before I could use it.  Then, I stumbled into Korean (with no intention of learning it!) and it came so naturally to me that I abandoned Japanese until last year.

I thought maybe formal instruction would help me with Japanese but it doesn’t.  It’s not that my grades are bad; I just feel sluggish.  It takes me a long time to memorize things and I forget sentence patterns easily – stuff I’ve never had a problem with in Korean.  Why can’t I seem to find my momentum with Japanese?  These might be some of the reasons:

  1. The regularity of Japanese frightens me. (Only 2 irregular verbs?!)  This is probably a positive thing for most people but… I don’t know, it just seems unnatural to me.  It’s easier for me to deal with irregularities in Korean because I liken them to English.
  2. It’s hard to look up Kanji. I don’t know how to look up Kanji using radicals (is that how you do it?) so when I encounter Kanji that I can’t read, I’m stuck.  Even simple sentences like 今晩は時間がありません becomes hard when you don’t know what all that Kanji is!  (Incidentally, yes, I do know those particular ones.)  In Korean, I learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary just by reading stuff that’s beyond my level.  But Kanji prevents me from taking this approach in Japanese.
  3. I have a weird inability to recall and write Kanji. I can recognize Kanji with no difficulty.  Give me Kanji that look similar – like 読 and 話 I have no difficulty distinguishing them in meaning.  But then ask me to write sentences using that Kanji and… I can’t remember how they look exactly.  Like yesterday, I forgot how to write 金 as in 金曜日!!  I mean, I learned days of the week years ago and I have no problem recognizing that 金曜日 = きんようび  but I couldn’t remember the strokes for 金 and 曜!  So frustrating!
  4. There are 3 types of verbs and 2 types of adjectives.  Korean has really spoiled me.  I REALLY love the fact that adjectives are pretty much verbs in Korean.  I hate how much Japanese grammar patterns change based on the type of verb and type of adjective you want to use.  It’s really hard to memorize.
  5. I can never remember て-form.  Guess more practice is the solution for this but, seriously, we learned this last semester and I STILL have to keep looking up how to make the て-form of  う-verbs.  If you can’t master て-form and plain form, you’re pretty much screwed for more advanced grammar.
  6. Plain form is more complicated than polite form.  And I need to master plain form if I want to understand anime, dammit!  No, but seriously.  I always have to pause and think when I want to use plain form. It’s embarrassing.
  7. Japanese seems more rigid.  This is just based on the two semesters of beginning Japanese that I’ve taken, but I guess with regularity comes rigidity.  With Korean, I love the fact that you can move around different words in a sentence and choose to omit certain particles without greatly affecting the meaning of the sentence (obviously this doesn’t work in all cases).  But with Japanese, the sentence patterns seem fixed and you will be struck down if you leave off a particle!  (Or at least that’s how my textbook makes it out to be.)
  8. My mouth feels funny when I speak Japanese.  Is it the consonants that are tripping me up?  I don’t know.  A lot of people find Korean, which is a relatively vowel-heavy language (all those i, eu, eo, yeo, yo, yu, u, o sounds), more difficult.  To my untrained ear, Korean has a more gliding, guttural sound than Japanese which sounds very crisp and staccato.  But for some reason, the consonants make it harder for me to speak fast in Japanese.  It’s like the words just get stuck in my mouth.
  9. I just wanna study what I wanna study.  This is more my gripe with formal instruction.  Every chapter in our textbook (and most language texts out there) is “themed” so we learn a lot of related vocabulary at the same time.  Next chapter, for example, we’ll be learning about seasons and weather.  My immediate thought was, I’m not going to be a meteorologist in Japanese, why do I need to learn this?  (Rain, snow, etc. is fine but why do we have to learn stuff like “the air pressure is rising”??)  My brain shuts off when I see vocabulary that I’m not interested in.

Calling all Japanese learners out there!  Did you have similar issues when you were starting out with Japanese?  How did you overcome them and hit your stride?  Do leave me a comment and let me know.

로서 vs 로써

I was reading 세상에 너를 소리쳐 a few days ago and came across a particle I wasn’t familiar with: 로서.  Obviously 로 is used in a variety of situations, but what I wasn’t sure if 로서 was used in a similar way or if it was completely unrelated to 로.  So I did a bit of research and came across an English blog post that did quite a poor job of explaining how to use 로서, 로써, 로인하여 and then went on to conclude that 로서, 로써, 로인하여, as well as 므로 could just be replaced by 로 colloquially.  Well, that sounded a bit suspicious so I brought up the question with CoreanBigSis on Twitter and, sure enough, that was incorrect.  As 언니 explained to me, there are SOME situations where 로 can colloquially replace the other particles and some situations where it simply cannot.  So, I googled something in Korean about those particles and came up with a really excellent explanation on when to use 로서 vs 로써 (which, I assume, are mixed up quite often by native speakers.  Like when English speakers mix up “your” and “you’re”).

Continue reading “로서 vs 로써”

Korean grammar terms

When I just can’t find good explanations of more advanced (?) Korean grammar points in English, I resort to searching for explanations in Korean.  I’ve also started to use the 국어 사전 more these days to look up words I don’t know (and to learn new words while I’m at it!)  Anyway, I’ve begun compiling a list of Korean grammatical terms that’ll hopefully make it easier to understand dictionary entries and grammar explanations in Korean.  I’ll probably add more to this list in the future but here’s what I have so far.

Edit:  I decided to make a separate page for this topic.


Anybody else out there watching 49일?  I’m enjoying it so far.  It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s entertaining and… I don’t know if the dialogue is relatively simple or if my Korean is getting better but I’m starting to realize that I don’t need to rely on subtitles as much anymore!  But then, when I inadvertently start to glance away from the subtitles, I freak out and look down at them again (it’s like riding a bicycle – the instant you realize you’re riding without training wheels, you start wobbling again.)

So, until recently, I was really confused about the whole seal thing.  What was the seal?  (I kept imagining the old-fashioned way of sealing letters – you know, with hot wax and a signet ring).  Why was the seal important? Why did Ji Hyun mix it up with a tube of lipstick?  What does it have to do with her land?  Why are Min Ho and In Jung trying to steal it???  So I decided to do some research on the 인감도장 (“registered personal seal”) that the characters kept obsessing over and now I think I have a fair idea of why it’s so important.

I learned that the personal seal, used in Japan, Korea, and China, is equivalent to a signature on an official document.  Although, “equivalent” might not be the right word here since many documents can require both a signature AND a registered seal to be considered “valid.”  Apparently, there are different types of 도장 (personal seals) of different levels of legal importance.  The 인감도장 is officially registered and is used for more important business transactions.  So basically, in the context of 49일, Ji Hyun’s land (which was part of the business deal Min Ho was trying to close) couldn’t be sold without her seal on the documents.  And the reason Ji Hyun mixed it up with a tube of lipstick is… well, it really looks like a tube of lipstick (not a ring like I thought, haha).

Anyway, this is just something I found interesting because I’ve never heard about it before (forgive my poor Westernized education) and I don’t really know anything about it, so feel free to correct me if there are any mistakes.  And, GO WATCH 49일!




Where I live, we don’t have four seasons.

In the summer, it gets very hot and stays warm until the end of November.  Then, out of the blue, in the middle of December we get sleet and ice.  It stays cold through February and then BAM one day in the middle of March it gets up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 deg. Celsius).  Then it proceeds to get hotter and hotter through the summer.  While I was walking around in short sleeves last week, I heard (through Twitter) that it was raining and snowing in Korea. SNOW. IN MARCH.

My friend Jeannie said it was 꽃샘추위.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that was so I looked it up and found that it’s roughly translated as “spring frost.”  Well, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with that explanation so I found an article about on (the Korean) Wikipedia:

꽃샘추위는 초봄에 날씨가 풀린 뒤 다시 찾아오는 일시적인 추위를 가리키는 고유어이다. 꽃이 피는 것을 시샘하는 듯이 춥다고 해서 이 이름이 붙었다. 꽃샘추위가 오면 갑자기 쌀쌀해진 날씨에 사람들은 옷을 두껍게 입고 다닌다. 꽃샘추위는 시베리아 고기압에 의한 것이다. 즉 겨울의 한기는 시베리아에서 유입되며 겨울에 시베리아 고기압의 영향을 받는 곳(중국이나 일본)에서도 꽃샘추위 비슷한 늦한기가 있다. 일본에도 ‘하나비에(はなびえ)’라는 유사한 뜻의 단어가 있다.

꽃샘추위 (kkot saem chuwi) is a word native to Korea that refers to the brief spell of cold weather that comes around in early spring after it gets warm.  The name stuck because it was said that the cold is jealous of the flowers blooming (Translation note:   꽃 = flower; 샘 = jealousy; 추위 = cold). During 꽃샘추위, the weather gets suddenly chilly and people go out wearing bulky clothes.  꽃샘추위 is due to the high atmospheric pressure from Siberia.  That is to say, while the chill of winter comes in from Siberia, when it is winter in Siberia, the places affected by the high atmospheric pressure (China and Japan) also experience a later chill similar to 꽃샘추위.  In Japan, “hanabie” is a word of similar meaning.

Source:  Wikipedia

I am fairly certain we don’t have anything like the Korean “spring frost” over here, but this entire week is COLD. (Relatively at least). It was in the 70s and 80s last week and this week it’s 20 degrees colder, rainy, and windy. The weather has been really schizophrenic this year.

I supposed I should get used to the cold, though.  Chances are I will be in a much colder place come this fall, wherever graduate school might take me.