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February 2014

Applying for a Korean F-5 (Permanent Resident) Visa While on an F-6 (Spouse Visa)

I had previously looked into getting an F-5 visa through the points system, but though I had enough points, I was on a student visa at the time, and there is no way to transition from that to an F-5. However, I've been on an F-6 (Spouse Visa) for a few years now and recently applied for an F-5.

I found the information available online and at Immigration to be adequate, but minimal and a little confusing. I hope my explanation of the requirements is somewhat more complete and helpful (at least for American citizens going to the F-5 from an F-6).

To be eligible for the F-5, I had to be in Korea for two years on the F-6 first (it didn't matter that I've been in and out of Korea for much longer than that before) and any time I spent out of the country (such as back in the States selling our house in 2012) did not count toward the two years.

Here's what I was responsible to have in-hand when applying at Immigration.

1. Police report from my home country (해외범죄경력 증명)

In my case, this took the form of a Criminal History Summary Check through the FBI (unfortunately the US Embassy in Korea provides no help at all in this matter). I found various information online about applying for this through a "channeler" or through a local office in my state, and even the online information about going through the FBI was confusing and made me concerned that the FBI wouldn't fulfill my request or that the document issued by them would not be usable for the visa application. But I took a gamble and went ahead and applied based on the information at the following link: 

To do so, I downloaded the standard fingerprint form (FD-258) at and took it down to my local police station. A detective on duty was happy to take my fingerprints.

I then mailed that with my application and credit card payment details (see link above for instructions) to the address shown and waited about a month to get it back.

Unfortunately, Immigration wouldn't accept this; it needed to be certified with an apostille (another service that the US Embassy doesn't provide). To get this, I had to send the certificate to the US Department of State in Washington, DC to request authentication. For details on that, I followed the instructions at this link:

The instructions include a requirement to provide a self-addressed prepaid envelope, but being in Korea, I didn't have access to US postage for the return. So, I prepared everything without the postage and sent it to my father in the US, asked him to get the postage (for both the outside envelope and return envelope) and forward on the documents to the US Department of State. Another month later, I received my authenticated criminal background check back, ready to submit.

The problem with this process is not just that there are so many points along the way where something can go wrong, but Korean Immigration will only recognize documents under three months old. That means, once you get your criminal background check in the mail, don't wait to send it in for authentication. And after getting the authentication, don't wait to take it down to Immigration and apply. I slid in just a week under the three-month deadline since I had not moved as quickly I should have to apply for the apostille.

I was told the first time I asked that I didn't need to get the criminal background check translated. However, when I showed up with the final application, a different person was at the desk. She told me it had to be translated into Korean. She also said I could do it myself and that I didn't need to hire someone else (which was nice!). She was even prepared to accept a hand-written translation, though I took it to the office and typed it up nicely there. Finally, upon submitting the translation, she gave me a certificate to sign saying that I'd translated it accurately.

2. Original AND photocopies of US passport and US driver's license

I might have only needed one of these documents, but I took both just to be safe.

3. W200,000 in revenue stamps

Apparently the cost used to be W70,000 but went up just this year. The revenue stamps (수입인지) can be purchased directly at the Immigration Office.

4. A filled out Permanent Resident Eligibility Application Review Report (영주자격신청심사보고서)

It looks like the following and can be picked up at the Immigration Office.


5. A filled out application form (통합신청서)

This is the main application filled out for all types of visa applications and is available at the Immigration Office, too.

6. One color photograph

This must have been taken within the previous three months (though who's really checking?). The instructions say it's supposed to be 반명함 (half business-card) size, but Immigration rejected the photo I took, saying it was too small. When I took it back to the photographer, he insisted he'd given me the right one the first time. I still got my photo printed again, though, this time bigger (3.5cm x 4.5cm), and it turned out that this is what Immigration wanted.

7. Official copies of whatever family documents my local government office (동사무소) could provide for my wife, my kids and me, including 주민등록표, 기본증명서, 가족관계증명서, 혼인관계증명서.

I don't think I needed all that; but why risk leaving something out?

8. Proof of assets

They wanted to see proof that my wife and I have at least W30 million in assets in Korea. For this, I went down to city hall and got registered copies of the titles to our apartment and my office (등기 부등본). I also threw in my business registration (사업자등록증) for good measure, but that got returned to me, so I guess they didn't need it.

9. Wife and her ID

They would not accept the application without my wife being there too and presenting her ID.


Having submitted all of this at one time, I was issued a document evidencing that my application had been received (체류허가 신청확인서) and the officer told me that they'd contact me within ten months. She said that I would not be contacted before then, so I guess I just wait, though she did say it might be a little less than ten months. When I was in the office asking about things a month ago, the officer at the desk at that time told me it was an eight-month wait, so there's apparently some flexibility on this.

I can't say that the above documents and processes will be the same everywhere (things vary mysteriously) or that the requirements won't change between now and tomorrow. Also, the process for getting the criminal background check will be different for each country, and I got the impression there was a way I could have also gotten an acceptable document through the state rather than the FBI.  But at least, the above describes how I did it and it worked, so hopefully this explanation will be helpful to others facing the same challenge.


UPDATE: January 26, 2015

Immigration contacted me early last month to have me bring in current versions of documents proving that my wife and I are still married and that we still own our apartment. About a month after doing that, I got a call on January 6th, telling me I could pick up my new alien registration card on the 20th, which I did. It looks like this:


This means that after about three months of getting my documents in order and submitting them, it then took almost another year to be issued the F-5 visa.

Even Google Can't Keep the Korean Version of the Chrome Browser Free of Mistranslations

If you use the Google Chrome browser, you're sure to have come across this message at the top of the browser window:


Here's what Korean users have been seeing here:


The indicated Korean says, "Not Completed".... Hmm... So Google asks if you want your password saved and Korean users can choose from "Not Completed" and "Yes"? There's a Korean saying for situations where the answer doesn't match the question: 동문서답, "East question; West answer".

How did "Never" get translated to "Not Completed"? It's probable that the word "Never" appeared in a long list of words and phrases from the Google Chrome interface which was then provided to the translation team for localization to Korean. I bet the translators were not even told that "Never" was one of the possible answers to the above question.

Without context, the translators just guessed at how "Never" would be used. It's hard to think of any situation in which "Never" could be translated as "Not Completed" (and the translators were probably not selected or compensated in a way that would have resulted in more than a split-second of thought about this). Perhaps they supposed this to be the answer to a question about whether someone had completed a particular study course or something...

Even in English, "Never" is a bit of a strange response to this yes/no question. Just translating it as 아니오 ("No") would not have been bad, but to catch the emphasis of "Never", I'd recommend this be changed to 절대 아니오 ("Absolutely not"). Unfortunately, to cover in Korean the full implied English meaning of "No, and don't ever save it... and don't ask me about it again either, dammit" would take more space than is available for the button.

Interestingly, the Korean translation of the question is phrased badly, too. It's not completely wrong, but the grammatical tags in the text personalize the Chrome Browser in a bit of a quaint way and the text asks if the user wants to save the password "in" the website. That's not right... (Just in case Google's listening...), here's a better translation: "Chrome에서 이 사이트에 해당하는 비밀번호를 저장하도록 하시겠습니까?". 

Korean Translation Tip - In a recent article, I identified five common failure points in localization projects. The above mistakes were caused by not following my advice for the following three.

  • Failure Point #2 - Attempting to translate long lists of words and phrases without adequate context
  • Failure Point #4 - Focusing on budget and turnaround without considering the ROI
  • Failure Point #5 - Wasting resources on inefficient review steps and ignoring vital Q/A tasks and processes

* For the full article, see Rethinking Korean Translation and Localization: Process Failure Points.

* For lots more translation errors: A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

With all the hullaballoo about Google's technical prowess, including online/statistical translation that supposedly leverages crowd-sourcing (they even provide their own free online translation platform in order to mine the work of a gazillion professional translators for insights!), how is it that years after the Google Chrome browser was introduced, this very common user message is still in such bad shape? It reminds me of the Windows 7 error that I found about three years after Windows 7 had been released...

Many mistakes, once made, never get fixed... Considering this, you'd think more effort would go into getting things right the first time.

Applying Best Practices to the Translation of Korean Survey Responses to English

How do you create a good translation of responses to surveys and questionnaires? With smooth target-language sentences and phrases that convey the rough meanings of the source? Or with translations that accurately and consistently represent the way the original writers expressed themselves, including as many nuances as possible between terms and writing styles, and even mistakes and truncated phrasings?

I know these are leading questions, but I find it necessary to explain. If a customer is unable to read the Korean source, they may not realize that an excellent English translation will likely include funny punctuation, broken sentences, awkward phrasings and other apparent blemishes in order to communicate the source meanings more accurately. In fact, these unexpected variations in the translation can actually make it appear that the translator was careless.

Many decisions in translating this type of content require that the translator strike a balance between accuracy and readability. I usually put more emphasis on readability for survey responses than, say, for legal text. But I still make an effort to stay as close to the source as possible.


I recently translated several hundred responses from consumers to a survey question about why they chose one of two specific technologies. There were a lot of similarities between responses and, in particular, three particular words were used to describe the advantages of the technology that each respondent chose. 

  • 간편하다 - simple, convenient, easy
  • 편하다 - comfortable, relaxed, easy
  • 편리하다 - convenient, handy, easy
  • There were actually two more which came up one time each (편의하다 - also "convenience"; 편안하다 - more like "peace of mind") but I won't include these below in the discussion.

As you can see, there is considerable overlap in the meanings of the words; they are almost interchangeable. However, while it would have been easy just to translate them all the same way (such as "easy" or "convenient") or to not bother to use the same word each time, I decided to assign each a specific English translation and use that consistently throughout the project as follows.

  • 간편하다 - simple to use
  • 편하다 - comfortable to use
  • 편리하다 - convenient

Strictly speaking, the Korean didn't generally include the word "use" in the source, but because "simple" and "comfortable" can have other meanings when written on their own, I added "to use" to maintain fidelity of meaning. 

Sometimes "comfortable to use" seemed a bit awkward in context, but in keeping with my desire to give the client as nuanced (but consistent) a delivery as possible, I stuck with my phrasing. However, in one case, I translated 간편하다 to "tidy" rather than "simple" because it was clearly the more proper translation.

Verb and Sentence Forms

Another issue that comes up in Korean survey responses is related to inconsistency of grammar used. Respondents generally write in as quick and easy a manner as possible and often don't use complete sentences or check their writing, and each person has their own style and terminology. So, as just one example, when responding to the question of why they chose a particular technology, there were various ways that respondents expressed "convenient".

  1. 편리 - This is the shortest way to say it and so my translation here was just "convenient".
  2. 편리성 - The last character converts the adjective to a noun, so "convenience" is the closer translation.
  3. 편리하다 - This is the root form of the word but can also be used as a complete standalone sentence in the short form. Although the Korean doesn't include the words "It is", in English we would say "It's convenient", and so this is how I translated it.
  4. 편리합니다 - This is the formal form of #3. In these cases, I made sure to write "It is" rather than just the contraction "It's", which would be about as close as we can get in English to representing the difference between these two versions.
  5. 편리함 - The last character converts the adjective to a noun, but the nuance is a bit different than #2 above. It's basically an abbreviated form of #3 (편리하다) and so I translated this in an abbreviated way too, by not adding "It is" or "I" as a subject and just using "Convenient" (same as #1).
  6. 편리해서 - This one and the next four all include implied causation: "Why did you choose it? Because it is convenient." But "because" is a long word; in this case, the form of "because" in the Korean is short (just one character) and the shortest way to express the same in English would be "as it is convenient".
  7. 편리하니까 or 편리하니 - I chose "since it is convenient", not because ~니까 or ~니 specifically mean "since", but in order to distinguish it from the others.
  8. 편리함으로 and 편리하기에 - I couldn't think of another way to express either of these without getting really long (e.g. "due to the fact that it is convenient" or "due to it being convenient"), and since these only appeared once each, I broke my rule of insisting on a unique translation for each version and went with "as it is convenient" (same as #6).
  9. 편리하기 때문에 - The ~기 때문에 is nice and long, so "because it is convenient" was the suitable variant since it uses "because", a long word.

This is a cultural matter, but Koreans often avoid giving responses that would seem too direct. Rather than write "It is convenient", they might say something closer to "It would probably be convenient". At the risk of the translation sounding a little different than what American survey respondents would have written, I attempted to reproduce this nuance also. As there was more than one version of it, I came up with set-piece wordings that I used throughout, even though the meanings are basically the same.

  • 편리할 것 같다 - It would probably be convenient
  • 편리할 듯하다 - It seems it would be convenient

Other Issues

As far as punctuation goes, in cases (such as full stops) where Korean uses the same punctuation as English, I included it if it was in the source and left it off if not. For punctuation expressed differently between English and Korean, I tried to translate in a way that gave the English the same "flavor" as the Korean. (e.g. Korean's like to put a tilde (~) after sentences and phrases to give an informal feeling; ellipsis marks (...) might be a good way to communicate the same thing in English.)

In nearly every Korean response that would have been translated as a full sentence, the subject was left out. That's normal for Korean, especially in this situation where the subject is particularly clear from the context and/or not particularly relevant. As shown above, sometimes I just used "It" as the subject to represent accurately the meaning in English. In other cases, the subject "I" is implied, and so I added this, even though it was not in the source. A few times I guessed.

There are plenty of other small ways to maintain precision and consistency in a task like this. For example, some responses use the word 차량 and others 자동차 or 차. While the words may be very similar, "vehicle" is clearly the right translation for 차량, "car" for 차 and "automobile" for 자동차. Picking a term and sticking with it throughout may not normally be a big deal but it is still a best practice.

How about misspellings in the Korean source? If they didn't impact the translation and the meaning was clear, I just translated those into correctly spelled English as it's not possible to recreate the same mistake with English letters and explaining these individually to the client would not have been worth anybody's time.

Ever so occasionally, the Korean used a term that implies a somewhat longer meaning in English but didn't come out and say it explicitly. For example, in this job there was a phrase about not using data, but what it really meant was not using up the monthly allocation of data under one's phone rate plan. I translated this as "without using [one's] data [quota]" to show what was in the original and what was implied.

Alas, these rules aren't always hard and fast because of the language differences. I've been known to compromise consistency in order to increase readability if it doesn't detract from correctness. In this job, the adverb 별도의 seemed to be better translated as "separately" sometimes, but "additionally" in other cases, and so I tried to match this translation to the situation.

Translating survey responses may often look easy since the responses can be so similar to each other. However, making the extra effort to translate in the way I've described above helps to give the client a better final product, even though it requires more effort by the translator.

Rethinking Korean-Language Translation and Localization: Process Failure Points Demonstrated with Examples of Korean Mistranslations from Microsoft, Google and Instagram

I'm seeing a steady increase in the number of software and online translation projects we handle for the English to Korean language pair.

At the same time, I've noticed that client and translator expectations about budgets, processes and client-vendor involvement are not always in sync with the difficulties these projects present. In addition to lack of context, programming codes embedded in text and other technical challenges of the translation process, differences between languages in terms of structure and cultural and grammatical interpretations of the written word can easily confuse matters and introduce serious errors that impact the final product. Since the differences between English and Korean (both linguistically and culturally) are much greater than those between Western languages, the translation and localization of English to Korean is particularly challenging. 

Typical inquiries for software localization work often sound like the following: “Translations must be completed in our online interface within six hours. There’s no guarantee of volume or minimum fees. The material would be tech in nature (software).” or "We've got an Excel spreadsheet of phrases here for translation by tomorrow morning and our budget is $XX. Be careful not to mess up the coding in the text. And make sure you check your work."

Amazingly, the first project request mentioned above came in for work that was to be provided to a large software company. And is a final exhortation to "check your work" a way for the client to try to get something for nothing? Does that mean we don't check our work otherwise?

When translation is regarded as an afterthought to be taken care of as fast and cheaply as possible by whoever happens to be available at the time -- and sometimes in as few steps as possible -- is it any wonder that I keep finding errors in the Korean versions of leading software and online interfaces from tech names like Microsoft, Google and Instagram?

The standard localization process involves three basic steps. The source text is first translated into the target language by a single translator. Then, a second linguist proofreads the translator's work. Finally, the proofread translation is placed into the software or online interface (or if printed materials, then a design program, such as Illustrator or InDesign) and reviewed in-context by a linguist (possibly the original translator or proofreader) to catch final errors.

There can be slight variations in this workflow, such as the inclusion of reference files and special localization-related instructions at the beginning, translator questions along the way, sending back of the proofreader's changes to the translator for re-verification and/or a second post-layout proof. But these three steps remain as the underlying workflow in most translation processes we work on.

I've identified a number of key failure points in this workflow though, and I believe the explanations and examples presented below demonstrate that the standard process is not up to the task of producing the highest quality work on a consistent basis for English to Korean localization work.

Some of my recommendations demand higher budgets, but new approaches with the latest software can also achieve enhanced efficiency through proper up-front preparation, more (and more effective!) ongoing communication between the client and translation team to work out issues, redesigned workflows with a new linguist role (that of the Korean-speaking tech-savvy English native-speaker who functions as the central point around which the process runs) and a longer schedule for all the back-and-forth.

Failure Point #1 - Ignoring the impact of inter-language sentence structure differences on translation

Software often includes text with embedded variables for which values are to be inserted dynamically to create complete sentences that are then shown to users during use. Here's an example of what we might be asked to translate:

Segment 1: <b>In any given single month over the coming one year, how likely are you to buy at least ^f('X5').

Segment 2: toNumeral()==23?"Y300":"$10"^ from an online store, such as ^pineOrp()^?</b>.

* Text altered to protect client confidentiality.

When translating from English to Korean, more often than not, the sequence of variables may have to be moved around (assuming the translators even know what the variables mean). Also, when sentences are broken into segments like this, it's seldom possible to translate the parts individually; they have to be translated as a whole and then resegmented.

In some cases, the spellings of words can impact other text in a sentence, too. For example, in English, inserting a person's name can affect the gender of pronouns elsewhere in the sentence. And a variable for a noun may require either an "a" or "an" before it, depending on whether the first letter is a vowel or a consonent. These issues have to be taken into account when writing the English sentences but this effort does not necessarily transfer in translation as there are completely different complications that might crop up in Korean, such as the impact of spellings on surrounding grammatical tags. (See Here's Why You Can't Blindly Search-and-Replace in a Korean Text.) Even just asking for someone's first name and last name on a Korean form will get everything backward from the English!

Here is a sentence from my Korean Translation Buyer's Guide to illustrate just how different the sentence structures are between English and Korean:


What all this means is that the effort to get things right when variables are embedded in the text can be significant. It requires adequate budget for the time taken, as well as responsiveness from the client, and a translation team that is attentive and patient enough to identify and point these issues out and consider solutions, even at the cost of interrupting the workflow.

The translation of texts that consist of fragments of English sentences to be translated individually should be avoided at all cost. Without proper advance planning and ongoing effort, these texts usually result in nonsensical translations since it's not always possible to identify word-for-word correspondence from language to language. Here's an extreme example (with the text altered to protect client confidentiality) we were asked to translate recently. 


Example Error from Google

Recently I discovered an error on the Google Android phone which illustrates this very problem. When uploading photos from the phone, I got the message (in Korean), "uploading 344 of a total of 200 [photos]” when it should have said something like “Uploading photo 200 of a total of 344 photos.” In other words, the numbers were switched.

The mistake would have occurred when the English source provided to the translation team consisted of the GUI text with coded variables embedded for the numbers. The translator should have switched the variable sequence to match the Korean sentence structure, but for one reason or another (possibly because of software limitations), the English order was maintained in error. Even when sequencing can be maintained, it frequently results in awkward wordings or confusion for the end user.

Rethinking the Process

Every sentence which contains variables needs to be reviewed to check for issues. If the meaning is unclear or if there are word order or other considerations, such as potential changes to the surrounding text caused by certain potential variable values, the translation team should discuss with the client about the impact this has on the translation.

In my experience, these issues are not always obvious before starting the job; it is only after much work has been done that awkward translations become evident. Therefore, while an initial review of the document should take place to be sure the issues won't be excessive, the really careful check can be part of a later review by a native speaker in the source language who also knows the target language.

Some jobs just aren't doable. The London fog example above was part of a huge project to localize an ESL program to Korean. There were so many issues with the job (even beyond the example provided) that I had to refuse the work as, to do it right, would have required a translation team to be embedded in the client's office for weeks to work painstakingly through the text. Some projects just aren't conducive to an outsourced approach, even though an in-house approach is unworkable or cost prohibitive.

Failure Point #2 - Attempting to translate long lists of words and phrases without adequate context

Translators need to work from context and it is not realistic to expect a perfect translation of just an Excel spreadsheet or Word document with nothing more than long lists of words and phrases to be translated. Without context, even the best translator will not always be able to figure out how a word or phrase is to be used.

Just telling a translator to send back a list of questions for clarification may also not be enough because there's no guarantee that a translator will know that he or she has misunderstood something. And (to be really frank here), translators hate to interrupt their workflow with this stuff, and so the temptation to just translate and move on can be compelling.

In fact, even though translations into Korean should be done by native Korean speakers, I've found that as a native English speaker, I'm often in a better position than my Korean team to grasp the nuances of the English source text and detect mistranslations or identify questions to ask the client. I also find that these issues jump out at me more vividly after I've received the translation from my team, not before the work starts, since I can see how the text was understood (or misunderstood) by my team and make a comparison.

And finally, I am often dismayed to see that clients do not recognize the challenges non-native English-speaker translators face and are not interested in getting involved. For example (to take an actual issue we encountered not long ago), it takes a pretty nuanced understanding of English to know that "property" can refer to real estate or the sum of one's assets; but "properties" is only real estate. Fortunately, by adding my additional role to the process, I can take care of many issues myself without going to the client for clarification, helping to reduce the burden on both the translators and the client.

Example Error from Microsoft

Here’s another example of what can happen without context. The following phrase in the Korean version of Windows 8 appeared when trying to use the camera app while a camera was not connected to the computer:

“카메라를 연결합니다”

When I first saw this message, I thought the computer was telling me to wait while it connected to a webcam (although the Korean text used here isn't exactly right for that situation either). However, based on the context (which is made doubly clear because the options on the screen are grayed out pending a camera connection), the Korean text should be a command telling the user to connect a camera in order to use the application. 

In this case, the Korean text has a meaning more along the lines of a declarative sentence describing the action of connecting a camera because the translator understood "connect a camera" as an infinitive phrase (e.g. the phrase "to connect a camera" in English) rather than a command.

Rethinking the Process

Translating word and phrase lists properly takes considerably longer than working in normal prose. That's because word and phrase lists don't serve as their own context like ordinary text does, and so a careful translator referencing client explanations, screenshots and other materials will spend longer than normal on the work. Sure, a translator can rush through, but without having and using additional reference information, there are likely to be some mistakes, possibly many.

In my experience, issues with a lack of reference material can be greatly alleviated through a careful review by a native English-speaker Korean translator (i.e. someone like me) after the translation has been completed by the Koreans. This is an important value-add for identifying problems and potential issues to be discussed with the translation team and/or the client; or even for solving problems without bothering the client. However, while this additional review step can reduce the requirements on the client to provide context and respond to questions, it takes a lot of time to manage the communications with the client and translators. 

Failure Point #3 - Focusing on budget and turnaround without considering the ROI

In addition to support from the client and effectiveness of the workflow, the quality of a translation project rests also on the basic translation skills of the linguists, their fluency with the subject matter, their ability to work in the tools and their effort and aptitude to do a good job. When you consider that even a premium translation effort represents only a fraction of the total cost that an end client puts into developing their materials and the fact that the accuracy of a translation can ultimately make or break the ROI of a localization project, it would seem that cost should only be one factor in the decisions about resources and workflow.

Unfortunately, I get, on a daily basis, BCC emails sent out by agencies to umpteen translators at a time offering texts to be translated or proofread on a rush basis and at rates that don't attract my attention. Furthermore, the fragmented way these jobs are sent out means there's little to no continuity between tasks and this compromises the final output in various ways, particularly in terms of consistency.

I will also use this as an opportunity to point out that hourly rates for editing and proofreading fall below what skilled Korean>English translators can earn on per-word translation work. This means that review work is often handled by lesser or beginner resources and avoided by veterans. I haven't figured out the entire dynamic here, but there seems to be a lot more client tolerance for proper rates at the early stages of the process than the end, especially when the rates can be expressed in units of word output rather than units of time input. (For a bit more of my soapbox here, see Ten Reasons to Avoid Proofreading, Editing and QA Tasks on Korean Translation Projects.)

Example Error from Google

Consider the following awkward Korean phrase I discovered on the camera help screen of my Android phone and what it would convey if written in English:

“인물 단체는 베스트페이스 모드를 이용합니다.”

“Use Best Face mode for [taking photos of] groups of humans.”

Humans? How about "people"? In fact, the problem is even worse than this because the rest of the Korean translation is poorly written, too. The English on-screen documentation had gems like the following: “It provides best picture automatically changing scene mode in according with the environment”.

Either the Korean was poorly translated from bad English or both were translated from a third language by the camera's supplier and the translators or writers working on the project were not competent in either language.

Rethinking the Process

Putting together a good localization team means working with translators who can and will make the effort required. But it's not just about more money. Translators skilled in CAT tools (such as Trados or memoQ) and other technical skills to use the software, as well as experience in the field, are able to bring higher efficiency to the process and often deliver large jobs at lower rates than expected after considering volume and fuzzy/rep/match discounts. They also meet deadlines. This means that focusing on the base rate quoted for a job does not always take into account the real costs.

Furthermore, improved workflows can extract more value from less effort. But even the best translators may still slide into "good enough" workflows if better ideas and structures are not provided. Unfortunately, many client-imposed structures are so fragmented and cumbersome due to a lack of Korean-language skills at the project management level that efficiency, quality and consistency are all compromised. I believe that smooth end-to-end outsourced workflows from the Korean provider would add value in many ways. Those are the processes I am working to develop with my team to deliver even better quality to clients, even while cutting out the fat of inefficiency.

Failure Point #4 - Not considering the importance and difficulty of maintaining consistency

There is almost always more than one correct way to translate the same text, but if a project is handled as a sequence of independent sub-projects, if multiple translators are working simultaneously on different sections of the same job (even if accessing an online TM together), if a translation team is switched in the middle of a project -- or even if a translator working alone doesn't make the effort to use the latest tools diligently throughout a single project -- inconsistencies can creep in, both in terms of terminology and style, especially if the client isn't in a position to to demand rigorous accountability. These inconsistencies can be hard to prevent, difficult to find and nearly impossible to remove later on.

A project style guide is good, as is a glossary. Both should be prepared at the beginning of a project. And translators should always be provided with previous translations handled for the same client or project as reference. But with today's tools like Trados Studio or memoQ, there are also lots of other ways to improve consistency, such as with a proper termbase, use of the concordance function, LiveDocs (in memoQ) and the built-in Q/A checkers of the various CAT tools. (At this point, I don't know if machine translation plug-ins can make constructive contributions to the process for Korean and English.)

Unfortunately, at least with the English to Korean language pair, there are very few translators who have the software AND know-how to use it beyond the basic functions AND are all that interested in working through the complicated processes of setting up and using all those extra files and windows while translating. You can clearly see how unimportant Korean is to the CAT tool makers by counting how many of these software interfaces and help files are available in Korean: zero, as far as I know. The resistance I get from my resources when it's time to upgrade and learn new ways of working shows me that the local Korean translation market does not demand proficiency in CAT technology.

Example Error from Instagram

What happens when consistency is lost? Consider the following sequence of Korean text in the Android Instagram app: “공유하기”, “삭제”, “사람 추가” and “복사 공유 URL”

The first of the four items was translated into Korean using a style that is different from the other three. In the English interface, the four phrases appear as "Share," "Delete," "Add People" and "Copy Share URL" in the imperative form, each line starting with a verb. In other words, the grammar of the English text is written consistently and correctly while the grammar of the Korean text is not. 

Rethinking the Process

It has become clear to me that I'm not in a position to expect high levels of CAT-tool competency from the full field of English to Korean translators I work with in Korea. But limiting our work only to those who are skilled in Trados means missing out on some of the very best linguists for the technical fields we handle. 

Fortunately, I am also realizing that everybody on the team doesn't need to know how to use the advanced tools of our trade. One central player in the process who is proficient in the tools can cover for a team of competent translators who utilize just the basic CAT-tool functions (or don't even use them at all, sometimes).

This person (a native English-speaker) can start things off with a good glossary, prepare the files into packages for use by the translators using the professional version of the software so that the translation environment is set up in advance for the translators, review the translation with a native English-speaker's eyes, communicate with the client on all matters for clarification, and run the Q/A checks (including analysis and leverage of internal fuzzies), making final changes as necessary. 

This is perhaps even the most efficient way to run a process that focuses on and maintains consistency during the job since one person stays responsible for these aspects throughout. A client's project manager can conceivably do this too, but without Korean skills, that person will struggle to fill in all the cracks along the way, even if skilled in the CAT software and efficient workflows.

I also believe that style guides and glossaries should be viewed as living documents, to be finalized at the end of the project. Just because a particular term seems right when setting out doesn't mean one won't get better ideas while working on the job. Sending out lists of high-frequency translation units at the beginning of a project is a good way to support consistency in later work, but only if these can be reconsidered at the end of the project and updated as necessary. Everything can't be set in stone at the beginning; a final consistency review and update at the end will help to tie things together. This is an extra value-add, though.

Failure Point #5 - Wasting resources on inefficient review steps and ignoring vital Q/A tasks and processes

Translation errors can crop up anywhere. In fact, it often takes multiple sets of eyes and an adequate in-context review effort to spot these mistakes. However, even with competent and properly compensated resources at this stage, the process can make all the difference.

I find that some clients introduce an additional review step the sneaky way... by demanding additional work without paying for it. This is done by sending a proofread job back to the translator to be "validated", meaning that the translator checks each of the proofreader's changes and prepares a final version. I generally insist on billing for this review (See On Charging for Additional Translation Reviews.) and it loses me business sometimes. But I also don't think this is an efficient way to handle the review process anyway, especially if there are more steps to go, such as layout.

It has become clear to me that the differences between Korean and English are so great that true fluency is virtually unachievable if second-language learning begins later in life. I've also found (at least with Korean and English) that those born into a bilingual environment and who don't go through the pain of learning a new language the hard way often don't appreciate the necessity of achieving translation precision through careful text analysis. This is further exacerbated by the low opinion Koreans often have of translation as a profession (See About Koreans and Their Attitudes Toward Translators.), leading some who might thrive in this field to move on to more "respectable work".

How many times have you scrutinized the same text several times and overlooked an obvious error that someone else would notice right away? (That's sure to have happened to me several times in this article!) This is, of course, why multiple linguists are brought into a project. However, if the translator, proofreader and quality-assurance professionals are too similar in certain ways (such as by being native Korean speakers with a good, but not perfect grasp of English), they may all miss the same issues. (BTW, the same problem happens in a different way in translation/back-translation workflows.) In my various translation tips, I've pointed out repeated examples of things Korean translators tend to overlook (including punctuationacronymstildesmore acronymscapitalization). So, just throwing on more layers of review is not a sure-fire way to squeeze out the most quality if the same blind spots remain. 

Example Error from Microsoft

Consider the following Korean translation error on the Windows 7 dialogue box that appeared when cleaning out the Recycle Bin: 


The problematic text (circled in red) says "source copy" in Korean, but this has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the text that should appear there. This is just the familiar dialogue box telling the user about how many items are being deleted from the Recycle Bin and the word "from" appears at that spot in the English version of Windows 7.

How did this unrelated text creep into the dialogue box? Perhaps Microsoft sent off for translation an Excel file consisting of thousands of context-less interface messages without screenshots or maybe the translators were in a hurry because of an early deadline (or just wanting to finish and collect payment). Or maybe the mistake slipped in later and didn’t get noticed because corners were cut in the review steps.

How persistent can these types of translation errors in software or GUIs be? I found this one after Windows 7 had been out for about three years and this isn't even an obscure window. When I posted it to my weblog, Microsoft contacted me to say they finally fixed it thanks to my article.

* For my original article about this, see There's a Translation Error in the Korean-Language Windows 7 Interface, Too!

Example Error from Google

Here is an example of the kind of mistranslation a native English-speaker review would catch easily. My Android phone has the following menu item:


The tab labelled “설정 진입” literally translates as "Settings Entry" because the first word (“설정”) means “settings” while the second word (“진입”) means "entry, penetration, enter, penetrate". But what is this "Settings Entry" tab supposed to do? The tab has a clearer meaning in the English interface as “Settings Shortcuts.” Apparently, the translator couldn’t think of the right word here. But Korean has a perfectly suitable translation for "shortcut" and this tab should be corrected to “설정 단축 키”.

A better translator might have chosen the more accurate choice of Korean words the first time. But even if not, one of the follow-up reviews should have caught it.

* For my original article about this, see I'm Pretty Sure this Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface Came from Google.

Rethinking the Process

I have been experimenting recently with adding an additional review workflow to some projects for my best clients where I myself do a word-for-word proof of the entire English to Korean translation my team sends me after they've finished their translation and proofreading. To be honest, I'm surprised how much I have improved our deliveries by making this sizable additional investment of time.

For sure, a second proofreading step can only contribute to improvements anyway. I mean, is it really fair to expect a proofreader to catch every mistranslation, improve styling, check for terminology consistency, notice each and every typo (and not create a couple more while improving styling) and, where applicable, thoroughly consider localization factors, such as cultural appropriateness, even while making sense of phrases out of context and embedded variables, and do it all in one workflow? 

But beyond all that, my English native-speaker eyes catch mistranslations that the eyes of a Korean overlook. (For examples, see English>Korean Translation Errors Discovered Through a Proofreading Step Performed by a Native English-Speaker Translator Who Usually Handles Korean>English Translation Work.) This value-add is in addition to the stylistic matters Koreans tend to let slip by. By dedicating one workflow to issues the Korean team may miss, as well as to intra-team and team-client communications, the communication phase is condensed into a single project stage and allows the Korean team to maintain extended focus during the translation and first proofreading steps.

The extra workflow also takes the burden off the Koreans to even ask those questions. Who wants to interrupt a train of thought to send off questions for later replies in the middle of working on a document? Ideally, translators will ask anyway, but in practice, I've found it rarely gets done, especially if the linguists are afraid of exposing their ignorance on something they should have known. (I can comment on this with confidence because I experience the same thought process on my own Korean>English translations jobs, too!)

This extra proofreading step is a frustratingly time-consuming task because of all the time it takes to work things out, but it can be combined with the various Q/A work in the CAT tool to also take other burdens off the translator and proofreader (such as perfect consistency) who may be subject-matter experts but not fans of the technology. 

I've alluded above to the issue of an inefficient review step demanded of translators by some clients. But rather than creating a new workflow just to check the work of a proofreader, it would be better to integrate this additional check into the final post-layout proof and other quality assurance tasks, which need to be done anyway. Every additional workflow incurs costs (Check out Getting Things Done by David Allen for an excellent book about personal efficiency and the hidden costs of individual tasks, even small ones!) and each step is an opportunity to get files confused, introduce new errors or miss deadlines. Combining work here is surely recommended, especially as the post-layout environment is different than the translation environment (it's a different screen) and so helps to bring a new perspective on the text rather than just going back to the same document with the same blind spots again. Having all this done by someone other than the translator and proofreader mixes things up yet again, to avoid these blind spots.


As shown above, even leading companies don’t always get the localization process right and I can tell you that the Korean translations of many of the mobile apps on Google Play created by smaller providers are almost incomprehensible when handled through Google Translate or some other cut-rate approach. 

There are so many subjective aspects to translation that it may not be realistic to talk about a "100% perfect" translation; what one person considers a bit stilted may be what another views as a very precise and correct rendering. And even if we can get away with using numbers, 100% on a large project may still be out of reach. But getting from 98% to 99.5% is a worthy improvement that can be achieved by thinking outside the box and applying more effective and realistic roles and workflows.

Of course, it's worth asking if a client is willing to make the investment to achieve this level of improvement, especially considering that many errors remain invisible to the end without causing any grief to anyone (case in point: that translation error I mentioned above that remained in Windows 7 for three years before anyone bothered to fix it). In fact, the current three-step workflow has worked fine for us over the years, too.

Still, I'd like to think that we can do better and my goal is to develop workflows with my team that take advantage of all the resources at our disposal to deliver even better work than ever before and to do it without putting undo strain on clients and their budgets. I hope to release new workflow designs soon.

Eight More Tips (This is Set #3!) for Helping You Handle Your Korean Translation Projects Properly

We've just reached yet another milestone!

That’s right...

I've posted three sets of Korean translation tips (eight each), and so I’d like to celebrate by summarizing the latest batch for you here:

Don’t forget that you can also review my first and second sets of eight tips, too!

English>Korean Translation Errors Discovered through a Proofreading Step Performed by a Native English-Speaker Translator Who Usually Handles Korean>English Translation Work

Translations from English to Korean must be done by a native Korean speaker. Otherwise, the Korean writing style will not sound natural. However, sometimes only a native English speaker can fully grasp the nuances of a source text or "smell out" oddities with the source that need to be fixed.

Here are some examples.

Excel file with a long list of phrases to be translated for the GUI of a personnel management system

1. "Change Progression Steps (Hourly Only)". To a native English speaker, it seems suspiciously like "Hourly Only" should be "Hourly Employees Only". This would not be easily clear to someone without true English fluency, especially as there was no context provided in the source.

2. "Grade" - There was enough context from nearby entries for me to realize it means "Pay Grade". But is it reasonable to expect an average English>Korean translator to know this?

3. "Induction Checklist" - My team got this one right even though there was no context. It is a checklist of all the things an employee has to be taught upon entering the company.

4. "License" - In Korean, there is one word for a license to operate machinery and another to be licensed to practice a professional specialty. Which one is it?

5. "Lists" - The Korean word for lists of people is different than for lists of things. It's important to get clarification from the client on this.

A document related to accounting and taxes

6. "Other Properties" - Since it's plural, we know it's real estate. But if it has said "Other Property", it might not have been real estate and if not, there would have been a different Korean word to describe the collection of all of one's assets.

7. "Current debt (not paid by insurance)" - Is "not paid by insurance" a phrase by itself? Or is it more like "Current debt which is not paid by insurance". It makes a difference and without a quick fluency in English to shuffle through the options, it's easy to overlook the ambiguity.

8. "Multi-family" - As a fluent English speaker, this immediately caught my attention, thinking that "multi-family home" would probably be the correct complete phrase here (which it was).

A document related to medical care

9. "Check for interactions; this can happen when you take two or more medicines that affect how the other medicine works." - What does "this" refer to? "Check"? Or "Interactions"? It matters... In fact, as "this" is singular, it grammatically should be "check", but in fact, it was "interactions", which changed the translation completely.

10. "With good planning and organization, your pharmacist can work with you to:" - So, is it the pharmacist who has good planning and organization? Or does the helping work the pharmacist does require good planning and organization?


Book Review: Dominion from Sea to Sea by Bruce Cumings

2014-02-14_23-00-48I enjoyed Dominion from Sea to Sea, though I would have liked to find more specifically Asia/Korea historical content. This is just a personal preference though and knowing US history interpreted through a Pacific lens is good.
I can't say my reading level is as advanced as Cumings' writing skills in parts. He's the master of the literature review, and my eyes glazed over in sections like the intro and appendix as he discussed Schumpeter, Marx (two thinkers I've heard of) and others (many who I haven't heard of).
My favorite parts were the sequential presentations of history, and especially when explaining about the movement of people over time. I was a bit surprised how nasty and cynical Cumings got attacking the major actors of Silicon Valley. It was fun to read though, and Seattle's now tops on my list of places I'd like to move to in the US (if I can get out of Texas; hate that place, but it's where the roots are...)
There was one thing in the book that really did stand out as a question mark. Cumings writes with such skill most of the time about complicated concepts, that I take it as policy to respect his intellect and not ask too many questions or advocate alternative opinions. (He'd be a scary person to disagree with in person!)
However, when he got to one section that I know a bit about, I rather felt he got petty. While recounting his visit to US military bases in Korea, he didn't sound any more profound than the average expat two weeks into his Korea experience. At one point, he referred to the "sad state of Korean-American relations", and I couldn't figure out where that came from, as well as "In the camp towns around American basis in Korea the atmosphere is often malevolent, with an air of resentment and cold stares". Cold stares? Well, Koreans don't generally smile at strangers anyway.... but no. And it was certainly not in context with the rest of the paragraph. So it did make me wonder if Cumings is just a bit too dramatic thoughout, even on the parts I can't speak about with confidence.
Anyway, I generally feel embarrassed about my own writing after reading Cumings. He must have a photographic memory with perfect recall; I can't imagine how he puts so much solid information into such a compact space, and then wraps in such masterfully crafted prose.
I probably won't read this one a second time but it now joins my collection on the bookshelf of valuable literature for future reference back.

More New Year's Greetings for 2013-2014

어느덧 또 한 해가 마무리되는군요! 
2013년은 제게 참 다사다난했던 한 해였습니다. 제게 많은 도움을 주신 사장님께 깊은 감사를 드립니다.
내일부터 시작되는 새해에도 사장님과 가족 모두 늘 행복하고 건강하시기를 기원합니다.
We're already finishing up another year!
2013 was a really eventful year for me. I'd like to deeply thank you (President) for all the help that you provided me.
I hope that you and your family will be healthy and happy in the new year that starts tomorrow.


변함없이 저희를 배려해주셔서 깊은 감사의 마음 전합니다.



배려해주시고, 함께 하는 좋은 시간이 더 많이 있기를 바랍니다.



건강 챙기시고

온 가족이 웃음과 기쁨이 가득한 새해를 맞이 하시기를 기원합니다.




복 많이 많이 받으세요.

I'd like to express our deep gratitude for your unchanging consideration to us this year also.
Please give us your consideration next year, too, and I hope that we can spend more good times together.
Always, take care of your health and I hope that your whole family will have a new year filled with laughter and happiness.
May the year year be full of prosperity for you. Happy New Year.


2014년 새해가 얼마 남지 않았네요. 다들 연말 잘 보내시구요. 
새해 건강하시고, 함께 하고 있는 학업에서도 좋은 결실 있기를 기원하겠습니다.
There's not much time left before 2014. May you all have a nice end of the year.
I hope that you are healthy in the new year that that we can achieve good results in our studies together.

새해가 힘차게 밝았습니다.

성원과 격려에 보답하는 길은

버티는 단계에서 벗어나

지속가능한 회사로 키우는 일이라 믿습니다.


2014년에도 변함없는 호의와 관심을 기대합니다.

소원하시는 일마다 두루 잘 이뤄지길 진심으로 기원합니다.


최후까지 감사하는 마음 잃지 않겠습니다.

The new year came brightly, full of energy.
I believe that the way to repay the support and encouragement of others is to break out of the competitive ways of doing things and to develop into a sustainable company.
I look forward to your unchanging goodwill and interest in 2014 and I sincerely hope that everything you wish for will come to pass.
Right to the very end, I will not lose my heart of gratitude.


성원과 배려에 감사 올리고, 새해에는 건강과 행운이 늘 함께하시기 기원드립니다.


I would like to express my gratitude for your support and consideration, and I hope that you will have health and good fortune throughout the new year.


지난 한해 바쁜데도 불구하고 포럼을 위해 봉사해 주어 정말 감사했어요.

새해에도 더욱 건강하여 지금 품고 있는 좋은 계획들 하나씩 멋있는 성과로 이룩하기를 기원해요.

늘 행복하고 풍요한 삶을 영위하세요.


I was really grateful that you served the Forum last year even though you were busy.

I hope that you will be even more healthy in the new year and that the good plans that you have now will come to fruition as really cool results one-by-one.

Always live a happy and abundant life.


For Lunar New Year specifically....


새로운 희망, 새로운 마음으로 새해 힘차게 출발하시길 바랍니다. 즐거운 명절되세요.


I hope you start the new year full of energy with new hope and a new mind. Have an enjoyable holiday.


설날을 맞아 가족과 편안한 시간보내시고... 가슴가득 행복하시기를 주님께 기도할게요.


Have a pleasant time with your family for the Lunar New Year. I will pray to the Lord that your heart will be full of happiness.

Ten Reasons to Avoid Proofreading, Editing and QA Tasks on Korean Translation Projects

Translation is a funny business... I've been working in this field now for about fifteen years, and I enjoy translating from Korean to English. However, I avoid, at almost all cost, proofreading, editing and performing other quality-assurance tasks of Korean to English translations done by others. (BTW, this does not apply to doing QA on the work of my teams for English to Korean translation, which I get involved in deeply.)

Reason #1 - Rates are too low.

These additional tasks are generally billed at hourly rates. But on translation, I can charge per-word rates, and I'm a fast, efficient worker. In the calculation of hourly rates, the market doesn't take this into account; clients look at the dollar value first and last, meaning that I can make nearly twice as much on translation as on other tasks. Because this hourly rate is so symbolic of one's overall value in what's, unfortunately, a semi-commoditized business, I'm forced to quote unremarkable hourly rates in order to avoid the stigma of charging above the average. 

Reason #2 - Schedules are inconvenient.

Proofreading, editing and Q/A are often regarded as afterthoughts, to be scheduled in around the really important tasks. This means that the turnarounds on these jobs are usually rushed, and if the translator gets behind schedule, it's the proofreader who has to accommodate.

Reason #3 - I'm burdened with final responsibility for the project.

Because clients have often chosen their translators based on lower rates (or just easier availability), the work I get to check is a mixed bag. This is especially true if the client was thinking they could use a cheap non-native English-speaker translator on the expectation that their proofreader would fix everything. (This happens in the Korean>English language pair a lot!) Once a project reaches me, the client wants to get back something perfect.

Reason #4 - I have to think and work outside my comfort zone.

I find that editing, proofreading and Q/A work requires more mental flexibility. On translation, I start with a clean slate and can just translate through with my own style. When working on what others have produced, it can be hard to make corrections and revisions in a consistent way, which creates a lot of thought dissonance and slows me down. Perhaps it would be different if I were given better translations to check or if I got more used to this type of work, but I find proofreading, editing and QA unpleasant compared with just doing the translation myself from the beginning.

Reason #5 - I am responsible for a budget without knowing how much effort the job will take.

It's very hard to know in advance how much time and energy investment these jobs will take, but hourly rates still come with both explicit and implicit budgets. As explained above, I end up checking work at various levels of quality. Make too many changes, and the costs go up (the client isn't happy) or make too few changes and the client wants to know why I didn't fix this or that (the client still isn't happy). If I manage to charge a per-word rate on the job, I might still get taken to the cleaners if the original translation is worse than I expected and requires a lot of extra work time that I'm not paid for. And if an hourly job takes less time than expected, then the client gets the full benefit from this and I'm left with an unpaid hole in my schedule.

Reason #6 - I have to deal with offended translators.

Clients frequently forward a proofread document back to the translator for comments, review, approval, or reflection -- or even to make the translator take notice of the errors so that he or she will do better next time. I tend to make a lot of changes since I take Reason #3 seriously, and a translator can get defensive if feeling unjustly criticized. This can lead to emotionally exhausting and time-consuming follow-up discussions that are, of course, not included in the job price.

Reason #7 - I become the go-to person for all project matters.

Perhaps it's because I'm at my computer all the time and am easy to reach, or because I can comment with more confidence about various translation issues due to my long experience, but I find that after I deliver (regardless of whether it's a translation or a proofreading/editing or Q/A), the customer makes me the main point of contact for the work through to the end. These requests are generally just assumed to be free, and if I was already underpaid for the work (Reason #1), it's hard to get excited about further distractions from other projects I am working on.

Reason #8 - The standards are higher for proofreading, editing and Q/A.

I try really hard to deliver good work, but an isolated typo, missed text or mistranslation isn't the end of the world at the translation step. However, if I, as the proofreader, miss one of these in someone else's translation, bad things happen. Unfortunately, if the proofreading or another quality assurance task involves a lot of changes, then mistakes get missed and new errors creep in and that ends up reflecting badly on me. And if there are a lot of fixes on a post-layout proof, I'll often get asked to check again (for free!) to "make sure it's good now."

Reason #9 - Many of these projects tend to be more complicated than usual and this can lead to inadvertent errors.

Many times, an old source document has been updated and so the translation based on the original also needs to be updated to match. But calculating the per-word rate for this is tough, since the changes are interspersed in the document. Therefore, hourly billing is the norm. In addition to the (unfavorable) hourly rates, updating a translation based on Tracked Changes in an old MS Word document is complicated and unpleasant. Not only that, with pressure to stay within whatever budget the client thinks the work should take, I need to move through quickly. In an already complicated updating situation, this leads to mistakes. And mistakes... lead to unhappy clients and free follow-up support.

Reason #10 - Clients rarely proofread my translation work, making translation even more attractive by comparison.

Perhaps it's because I do such a good job (^^ pat on back ^^) or maybe it's just that everyone else in our business hates proofreading, editing and Q/A work too, but for the Korean > English translations that I handle, it's rare that a client adds an editor or proofreader to the process. It can be a problem if they do, since if they send the other linguist's review of my work back and want me to go through and prepare a final version, they usually expect this to be free but I want to charge. Mercifully though, this seldom happens and so once I deliver a job that I've translated myself, I'm almost always home-free after delivery.


For all these reasons, I find it is good practice to respond to proofreading, editing and Q/A job requests with "Unfortunately, I'm very busy this week on other projects. I'm sorry for being unavailable this time."