Excellent Korean to English translation promotes Korean literature and cuisine. Consider Korean novels and restaurants as spaces to encounter the Korean language and culture. For both novels and menus, a high quality translation represents the Korean language well. In contrast, a poor translation amuses at best and embarrasses at worst. The best Korean translators are humans, not translation websites, who clearly convey the meaning with accuracy, precision, and nuance.
Firstly, consider the translation of Korean literature. Unfortunately, Americans rarely read Korean novels because so few are translated from Korean to English and published in the US. South Korean author Han Kang and her British translator Deborah Smith won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction for the dark novel The Vegetarian. Smith started teaching herself Korean in 2010 when she realized the demand for Korean to English translation. As reporter Porochista Khakpour reviews the novel for The New York Times, she credits the enthusiasm of the Korean translator for bringing the novel to Britain and the US. Khakpour writes, “the translator’s hand never overwhelms or underperforms. Both lithe and sharp, syntax and diction never become mechanical and obtuse the way bad translations often render something “foreign.”” The novel, Han Kang’s first to be translated from Korean to English, is about the social consequences for a woman who decides to stop eating meat. Her family and friends regard her with disdain. Soon she deals with weight loss, insomnia, and isolation.
Secondly, consider Korean menus. They open windows to Korean cuisine and give reading material for anyone going out to eat at a Korean restaurant in Washington, DC, or Seoul, South Korea. Of course, many Korean, Chinese, and Japanese menus have inaccurate translations. A study of Korean menus in South Korea shows that many Korean menus have inaccurate, even comical, translations of the food names. Also, the restaurants often translate the menus into English, Chinese, and Japanese for international visitors. These translation errors happen through the use of Google Translate for translating Korean to English, Korean to Chinese, and Korean to Japanese. The translation mistakes for each of these languages results in amusement, confusion, embarrassment, and controversy.
Trying to avoid public controversy, South Korean officials now standardize the translation of Korean restaurant dishes. Reporter Ko Dong-hwan writes the article Authorities try hard to fix Korean menus lost in translation in The Korea Times. The South Korea Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs formed a task force with the National Institute of Korean Language, the Korean Food Foundation to standardize the Korean translation of menus into other languages. English, Chinese, and Japanese translators assist the Korean food experts with the translation.
The Korea Tourism Organization keeps a database of the English translation of Korean food names on the Visit Korea site. Then, restaurants in Seoul can use these standardized translation for the menus from Korean to English, Chinese, and Japanese. Standardizing the translation of the food names proudly represents Korean cuisine. The site lists bap (steamed rice), juk (porridge), guksu (noodles), mandu (dumpling soup), and tteokguk (sliced rice cake pasta soup) as the main dishes. The desserts are tteok (rice cake), hangwa (Korean cookies), and eumcheong (non-alcoholic beverages). It also gives in-depth information on bibimbap (rice bowl), kimchi (fermented vegetables), and popular snacks. Bibimbap, a bowl of rice with meat and vegetables, is one of the favorite meals of the Korean people, regardless of age or generation. Baechu kimchi, or cabbage fermented with hot pepper powder, garlic, fish sauce, and other spices, is the most popular kimchi.
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