I’ve been translating from English to Spanish and vice versa forever. Professionally, I’ve done it for about 15 years. It’s become second nature to me, so it was quite frustrating when I was faced with translating from Korean to English. One of the most challenging aspects of self-study is relying on tools like Google translate. They can be very helpful or a big pain in the ass.
Throughout the time I’ve been studying Korean, I’ve established a strategy to get the most out of Google translate. For the most part, I’m happy with the results. What’s lacking is my own personal knowledge of vocabulary and grammatical patterns. But, that’s my fault, not Google’s.
These suggestions will probably be more beneficial to advanced beginners than to beginners. But, I hope that any beginner who reads this will be able to incorporate them in the near future.
1. If you ever enter a Korean sentence into Google translate and the result is a perfect English sentence, it’s wrong.
Okay, maybe not ALWAYS. But, most of the time it will be inaccurate. Remember that English is an SVO language and Korean is a SOV language. Google is just a program, and it will tend to translate word for word and put the words in the order it thinks is the best. Always try to avoid translating word for word.
2. Do a once over
By this I mean, hover over each English word to make sure that every Korean word has been translated. If it hasn’t been, don’t worry about it just yet. Wait until step 4.
Let’s look at this sample sentence in Google:
칠레도 새해에 해돋이 보면서 소원을 빌어요?
3. Break the sentence into pieces.
How do you do this? Easy. Identify the grammar/sentence patterns and press enter after them.
This is especially important in longer, more complex sentences. Korean has a wonderful array of sentence and grammar patterns. Google will not necessarily identify these patterns. For example, if 것 appears in a sentence, Google might translate it as “that” or “one”. Okay, fine. But what if 것 is part of a pattern like -(으)ㄴ 것? Well, you’re screwed. Google isn’t going to care.
By separating the sentence into pieces, you will get a more accurate translation (of that piece) from Google. You might even get a translation for the words that were left out in Step 2. As an added bonus you will get to practice Korean sentence construction which will help you get accustomed to the language’s rhythm and pace.
Tip: It’s pretty safe to separate the sentence after the endings like -만, -도, -서, -고, 는데, 는/은 & 를/을 . Just make sure that you know their usage and meaning in the sentence. Also, enter after or erase adverbs that appear at the beginning of the sentence (anyways, although, however, etc.). They will only mess you up if you leave them in because Google will place them wherever it wants to.
Why does breaking a sentence apart this way work? I’m going to let you in on the biggest secret in translating. Translation is about translating ideas not words. These ideas take the form of words groups like “look out!” or “in the tree”. Each of those words has a separate meaning, but when you put them together, you get a complete idea.
4. Get a second opinion
Whenever I’m translating, I always have Google and Naver open. If something sounds weird or has been left out, I double check with Naver. The thing about Naver is that you will get the definition, but you will also get idioms and sentences. ALWAYS browse those sentences and idioms to find the one that fits the best in your context. Believe me, sometimes one word can have wildly different usages. You can also check with TTMIK to see if they have a lesson on a specific sentence pattern.
Now, let’s get back to our broken down sentence.
5. Once you have the sentence in pieces, put it back together
This is going to require some creative thinking on your part. Remember, we’re translating ideas not words. You will have to pick and choose what you think sounds best in English. But, you must also make sure that it makes sense in the context of the original paragraph or conversation.
6. Find the strategy that works best for you
This is just a basic list of steps. Don’t even get me started on numbers. They can really mess up your translation. But, if this list helps you get started, that’s great! Unfortunately, I haven’t tried it backwards, i.e. from English to Korean. So, if anyone tries, let me know how it works out.
Good luck! ^.^