Using Google Translate the Right Way…for Korean

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?

translating_Korean-step-2

Not the greatest translation, right? And, you might think that “wishes” is the verb in the sentence. The good news is that every word is accounted for 🙂

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.

translating_Korean-step-3

Pretty good so far. I almost always enter after -도 because I know that it means “too/also”. The same goes for -서 (in this case -면서). Now, you can see that “wish” is a noun and that “make” is the actual verb of the sentence. Also, there was no need for cross referencing since the translated pieces are fairly understandable.
***Google made a mistake with the translation in this step. 새해 should be translated as “New Year’s (Day)” not “New Year’s Eve.” Sorry about not catching that before***

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.

The question mark is extremely important since the sentence does not have a question word (who, why, where, etc.). "Do" is the only logical word to use. I added an article in front of sunrise because it is a noun, and I placed "in Chile" instead of "Chile also" because it made more sense to me. But, you could translate this sentence using "also Chile/Chile also" if you like by rearranging the word order.

The question mark is extremely important since the sentence does not have a question word (who, why, where, etc.). “Do” is the only logical word to use. I added an article in front of sunrise because it is a noun, and I used “in Chile” instead of “Chile also” because it made more sense to me. But, you could translate this sentence using “also Chile/Chile also”, if you like, by rearranging the word order.
***Once again, 새해 should be New Year’s (Day)***

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! ^.^

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4 responses to “Using Google Translate the Right Way…for Korean

  1. I’m glad you wrote something about this, because I feel offended sometimes when koreans comment on Google’s translation without them not doing anything about it but just to ridicule and make it a laughing stock because it is not translating correctly. I discovered that too; knowing korean is an SOV language, I do rearrange my sentence in the korean manner then I get the closest translation somehow. Yes, it takes a lot of patience and practice. And you’re right again, doing so frequently will make master how to make the sentence construction as well.

    Why can’t they help Google instead and come up with a site that would correctly translate korean language to english and vice-versa. I’m sure that would help a lot of foreigners interested in learning the language. I got two books with me – but even these books have different translations. For easy conversations, the books from Sogang Uni is most useful; and I have one from the Korean Language Institute which is more complex and formal but good to use when it comes to reading and writing formally and properly.

    • I think that the people complaining are the ones who are looking for the “easy” way to learn a language. They don’t realize that there is no such thing as an easy way. You have to put in the time and the effort…just like we all did when we learned our mother tongue.

      I’m glad to know that other people have also come to the same conclusions I did with Korean and it’s structure. It helps me know we’re on the right path!

      Thanks for your comment Min Jee Li ^___^

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