Why it is difficult to translate English to Korean?

While every language has its own set of peculiarities and rules, there’s something special to be said about translating English to Korean. Apart from the fact that the languages are so vastly dissimilar in so many ways, translating a piece of content requires strength in the knowledge of both languages, having a historical context, understanding honorifics and levels of politeness, and so much. In this article, we’ll explore whether it is really that hard to translate English to Korean or translate Korean to English. Keep reading below.

Language Similarities and Differences from English to Korean

Yes, Konglish has come to the fore with the incorporation of English words into Korean as the drive to get more of the population to speak English continues across schools and universities. The plethora of English foreign teachers in Korea is a great example of this. And Konglish generally means that it could be easier for an English speaker to understand a “Koreanified” word.
But perhaps that’s where the similarities end. For instance, not only does an English speaker need to learn a brand new alphabet that contains characters instead of letters in most of the Western world, but there are also new sounds to consider, new grammatical structures with rules and regulations that are completely different than what people may be used to.

Some examples of situations where difficulties may arise due to the differences in translating from English to Korean include tenses and idioms.

When it comes to tenses, it must be remembered that English has present, past, and future tenses in addition to continuous or perfect tenses. However, this important grammatical feature is absent in Korean. In fact, the Korean language generally has about three main verbal times and in order to represent the continuous or perfect tenses, an adverb of time is simply added to the sentence. This makes it difficult because you’d need to pay careful attention to what the speaker or text is trying to communicate. The importance of context here cannot be overstated.
Idioms are another challenging aspect when it comes to translating English to Korean. Why? Because although most languages have idioms, these idioms are based on a country’s historical, social, and economic background and peculiarities leading to its development.

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They are also learned by the person by heart and their origins and meaning may not make sense if a direct translation from English to Korean is embarked upon. This is typically explained by the fact that idioms typically come in groups of words that would normally not be put together, and hence if a direct translation is attempted, the result will be nonsensical. Context once again prevails in this case.

There Is Never Too Much Context

English to KoreanAs mentioned above, the importance of context is crucial in any Korean translation. When an English to Korean translation is required, it’s also important to see what the surrounding circumstances of the language are. For example, the Korean language, while quite rich, is used more sparsely by Korean people. They use fewer words, opting for more efficiency instead.
To make matters even more complex is that some words can have more than one meaning and in order to overcome this, you’d need to have a very clear idea of the context surrounding the use of the word. A perfect example of this would be the word “nun” which can either mean “eye” or “horse”. In spoken Korean, the difference can be distinguished between differentiation in the sound and pronunciations of the word, but in its written form, context will be required. This can significantly impact an English to Korean translation.

Is Korean That Hard After All?

Despite all these challenges and linguistic differences, there is light at the end of the tunnel for those who are interested in Korean. After all, the alphabet can be learned in an hour or two and this means that your journey to starting your language experience with Korean can begin.

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Furthermore, it is argued by some that Korean grammar is quite simple and straightforward. Genders and numbering become obsolete because sentences such as “he eats”, “she eats”, or “you eat” are all conjugated in the same way. This only changes when you add a level of politeness to the sentence (for more on honorifics, see below). In addition to all this, nouns don’t change according to the case. In Korean, there are some basic suffixes (case markers) that are easy to pick up and use.

Although there are some copula verbs, there is no auxiliary verb for action or descriptive words. For example, we can have the sentence “it is a house” but “I am happy” will be simply translated to “I happy”.

Other aspects to consider when it comes to English to Korean include the fact that Korean phonetics are considered very simple for English speakers, there are no consonant clusters like in other languages, nor are there tones as with many East Asian languages.

Korean is also pronounced the same way in which it’s written (as opposed to English), although there are some cases where sounds can be omitted when combined with others. Finally, there’s the aspect of word order. Whereas English is considered a subject-verb-object language in terms of sentences, in Korean this is literally the opposite with a subject-object-verb structure.

The Difference In Korean Culture

There’s a lot to be said about honorifics in Korea and apart from the social and cultural implications of this, there are also language differences. In Korean, many sentences would end with or drop a 요 or -야 at the end of sentences to show politeness, depending on who you are speaking to, what age group they fall in, and what sort of authority and standing they have over you.

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Translating English to Korean: Concluding Thoughts

Translating English to Korean certainly has its challenges and quality and native-like translation would require the services of a professional translator who can factor in aspects such as tenses and idioms, honorifics and respectful addresses, as well as sentence structure, verbs, and more. Overall, the quality of a translation will depend on the knowledge, experience and expertise of the individual performing it and if you’re in any doubt, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.