Recognizing Some Challenges in Korean-English Translation

In many translation cases, differences in linguistic features and culture have been unsolved clearly even there are several suggestions that can be used as an approach to minimize mistranslation mistakes. Some major languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean are very challenging for English translators due to different cultures, syntactic and also alphabet writing systems.

Translation demand for Korean language pairs is increasing its volume due to Korean industry booms, especially in entertainment and technology, which are trying to break out from their country following Japan and China’s success for global economic domination. The ambition for generating world-scale domination has created huge translation jobs involving this language.

Korean Translation Challenges

However, Korean gives a great challenge in translation form or to English because of several factors including linguistic issues. The different alphabet character also provides an extra mile for translators but still, its complexity is considered lower compared to the Japanese Kanji writing system.

The Korean Hangul system is a simplified form of traditional Chinese writing which was only used by the higher social status citizens. The generosity of their king during the 15th century had created a simpler and more understandable writing system for all classes of society in Korea at that time. The compactness of Korean may bring easiness to the translators but it sometimes makes the process harder as translation heavily depends on a specific context.

Due to its origin, many Korean words are loan words from Chinese which makes Korean rich in homonym words. Nowadays, Korean also use loan words from other languages, including English words, considering their spontaneity and character which is more open to outside world influences. The homonyms in Korean also create some confusion in deciding words’ true meaning.  

The next challenge is regarding the politeness used in Korean addressing and speech. There are a number of speech levels that affect the type of verbs. Each level also decides the degree of formality in which the context is used considering the audience or addressee. This case is not common in English, thus translation in or to Korean can be really complex.

To some degree, Korean shares some similarities with Japanese sentence structures. Although the writing system of the Korean alphabet is not as complex as the Japanese, Korean sentence structure often excludes the subject and puts the verb at the end of the sentence just like the Japanese structure.

The cultural and linguistic differences really create some obstacles in Korean translation. Nevertheless, considering an extra effort for research might be helpful for any new translators who are dealing with a difficult language like Korean. This will help the translator with a better understanding and avoid the unintended mistakes in translation.

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