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Globalization of Korean culture and English translation

Posted June. 21, 2019 07:28,   

Updated June. 21, 2019 07:28


It appears than Koreans do enjoy using English expressions. One can spot English words everywhere, from cafes and festival names, to the ads and signs on the streets and the chants employed by companies. Sometimes, they are hard to understand even for those who speak English as their mother tongue. The grammar or the choice of words is off, and sometimes, the words are merely phonetically transcribed version of Korean expressions. Even worse, such inappropriate, vulgar, and sometimes obscene expressions are often seen in the prints of a T-shirt worn by our children.

Recently, I came across news indicating a change in such a frustrating trend in the country. The news was about the English subtitles of Director Bong Joon-ho’s latest movie “Parasite,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. What was the differentiated factor of it among the many other subtitles of Korean movies screened overseas?

The captions of the movie “Parasite” are simply succinct, conveying the message to the point in each context. For instant, the KakaoTalk, a messenger app predominantly used by South Koreans, can be translated as “WhatsApp,” a much more familiar counterpart for Westerners. Language is instinct; a paragraph or even a sentence is enough for any native speaker to conclude if it was written by a Korean or a native English speaker. It is absolutely necessary for fictional arts such as film or writings-based media such as books to go through a good proofreading by a native speaker.

However, there are so many books or subtitles that have clearly never been proofread by native speakers. Sometimes, it looks like anything written in English goes. Even if there is a proofreader, the job is often given to someone who doesn’t understand Korean, resulting in a serious mismatch between the source and target languages.

In either language, it takes the right grammar and the right semantic approach for it to be understood. Some of the contents out there on the market may have been created with a sense of vocation to promote Korean culture, but there are so many books or subtitles that almost amount to embarrassment for Korean culture.

In Korea, there are a great number of foreigners who “chose” to live here as they love this country. They take the trouble to have their visas renewed every year to stay. They are not just a bunch of skillful chopsticks users and kimchi lovers who happen to have a profound understanding and love about Korean culture; they are potential ambassadors who could bridge this country with the rest of the world. It is time that we stopped pushing them away simply because they are foreigners; we need to help them tap into their talent and allow them to talk about Korean culture freely. Of course, an honorarium is a must whenever a proofreading job is given to them.