Q&A About Becoming a Korean Translator

I was recently contacted by someone wanting to break into the Korean translation business. Here are the highlights of our email discussion, which include some insights about the freelance translation market at the moment and information about what to expect. (For information on the translation test: www.translate-korean.com)

Dear Steven, I'm interested in applying for a position as a Korean-English translator and have been looking over the materials on your site.  I don't know if you're hiring at the moment, but in any case, I've finished the translation test, so I'll forward that to you for you to look over.  My resume is also attached.  As you can see, I have no paid translation experience, but I've graduated Yonsei's Korean Language Institute and, between that and almost seven years of living in Korea, my Korean language skills are quite good.  I'm the author of a book on Korean grammar, sort of a reference guide for foreigners studying Korean, that will be published by Tuttle.  If indeed you are looking for translators, I hope you'll consider me; if not, I hope you'll keep me in mind for the next time you need people. Sincerely. L

L – I've inserted my comments in the attached file. Other than that first paragraph in the letter (which, incidentally, is the one that trips most people up), it's quite a good job. With a little more effort and understanding of the precision necessary for a letter like this, I bet you could have gotten that first paragraph up to standard. I added a few other nit-pick corrections, but you shouldn't take those as being too critical for a first attempt either. Anyway, business has been a bit funny lately; I can't really tell you that I'll have work available. I will keep your information on-hand and will let you know if something comes up. I hope you have a nice Christmas on Tuesday! Thanks! Steven

Thanks for taking the time to review my translation.  Yes, that first paragraph was brutal.  Is that normal for a business letter or did you choose that one specifically for its difficulty?  I'm also curious about what sort of translation work is most in demand – business letters, legal stuff, etc. While my general Korean is pretty good, I'm unfamiliar with specialized vocabulary, so I'd like to know where I could most usefully direct my studies. Thanks again for your help, please do let me know if you need me to do any work for you, and enjoy the holidays! – L

L – Thanks for the reply. I remember translating this
document about ten years ago and thinking it was a perfect document for a
translation test. It's short enough that it's not a time-waster for people
doing it, but it contains, in condensed form, a wide range of challenges you
could face in actual translation. I would not say that first paragraph was
unusually difficult; as a translator, you have to be ready for just about
anything. Even the legibility issues aren't all that unusual. In particular,
for Korean translation, we don't have a big enough market to easily specialize
in a particular narrow field, compared with French or Spanish, say, so being
able to translate a wide range of knowledge is particularly useful. That said,
I do avoid literary and other "artsy" types of translations, because
those are out of my area of expertise. However, that's not a big deal because
those aren't the markets with the $$; it's the companies with budgets for this
stuff that keep bread on the table, and they focus on areas like legal,
technical, business, etc. Improvements will come from practice and more practice.
There's definitely a long learning curve and even though I've been doing this
for almost 15 years, I can see marked improvements in my skills and speed even
in the last 4-5 years. Have a great last week of 2012; I hope 2013 is even
better for you! Steven

Good to know.  Thanks
again for your feedback, and enjoy the holidays! – L

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