Language is not just a collection of nouns, adjectives and verbs, but a communication tool that reflects the culture in which it was born. Naturally, translating one language to another can’t be done based on mere knowledge of the two languages. It requires the ability to transform not only their words and grammar, but also more abstract components such as their culture, history and ambience. This is why machine translation can’t be the ultimate translation tool, and it often results in poorly translated content that raises readers’ eyebrows.
The difficulties are even more prominent when it comes to translating a language like Korean, in which subtle differences in sentence structure lead to significant differences in meaning or nuance. Here, we discuss the top three pitfalls that make Korean one of the more difficult languages to translate.
1. Korean has multiple levels of formality.
Unlike English, which has no levels of formality in its pronouns, Korean has multiple levels of formality that affect not only pronouns, but also verb conjugation, and this isn’t limited to second-person pronouns as in French or Spanish.
This complexity in the level of formality makes the translation process difficult, especially when translating from English to Korean. When machine translation is used, the output often contains inconsistent or inadequate use of formality in Korean, and such translations aren’t usable in Korean settings. Therefore, a Korean translation service needs to pay special attention to formality depending on the context.
2. Korean includes many words originated from Chinese.
While it’s not necessary to be fluent in Chinese to translate Korean to other languages, words of Chinese origin are often used in Korean in specific contents, such as medical or legal documents, and a good professional Korean translation service needs to have knowledge of such words.
3. Korean verb conjugation can be circumstantial.
In many languages, verb conjugation is a part of grammar: The verbs change their form depending on the tense or subject pronouns. In Korean, verb conjugation can be circumstantial, dependent on the nuance of the content rather than on the grammatical rules alone. For example, ha-kyo-e wa-seo-yo (I come to school) and ha-kyo-e wa-seub-ni-da (I come to school) have the same meaning, but different nuances due to their different verb conjugations (wa-seo-yo vs. wa-seub-ni-da). This makes the Korean language very sensitive to proper localization, and an experienced Korean translation service will take care to localize the content with the most appropriate form of verb conjugation for a natural and flawless Korean translation.
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