Monthly Archive: September 2013

I’m Pretty Sure This Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface Came from Google

I few weeks ago, I came across a Korean translation error on my new Google Android smartphone. At first, I thought it was a mistake in the Android interface itself, but in the end, I decided it probably came from the Chinese camera supplier and just got plugged in to the phone UI without being properly checked.

However, this one in the basic settings section (reached by simply sliding one's finger down from the top of the screen) looks to be part of the main Android interface itself.


The marked text could be translated as "settings entry". According to Naver, the second Korean word (진입) here means "entry, penetration, enter, penetrate". (The first word 설정 correctly means "settings".) Perhaps this is the tab for getting into the settings menu, or something? Well, not exactly…

First, even if it means "entry", the word 진입 is extremely awkward. It doesn't belong in this context at all. But beyond this, it's just a mistranslation, which we can know by comparing with the same screen in English:


Ah, so the Korean here should have the meaning of shortcut links to key phone settings… Apparently the translator misunderstood "shortcut" as meaning "a shortcut to enter" the settings menu. But there's a suitable Korean term for computer shortcut and a correct translation here would be "설정 단축 키", which means roughly "shortcut keys for settings".

Korean Translation Tip – It's unreasonable to just send Excel files with hundreds or thousands of phrases and words to a translator and expect him/her to translate it all correctly without context. Not just that, translations of disjointed words and phrases (even when context is provided) take much longer to translate than normal text and so the budget should be adjusted accordingly. It goes without saying that competent translators must be hired, but even they will not necessarily get everything right the first time, and so a final review within the UI should be performed and to do it right, this process will take time and at least require screenshots and explanations. There are no two ways about it; it's a tedious process.

* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

Seeking Korean Partner/Consultant to Promote ESL Website, Part I (How To Market Online to Korean Consumers)

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"

The Internet has opened up possibilities for new business models, and many new online businesses are sprouting up in the field of teaching English as a second language. It's not hard to understand why. Rather than fly native English speakers around the world to live in unfamiliar surroundings to teach English to locals, instructors can now connect to students over Skype and educate without travelling. It's a great way to reduce costs and avoid other cultural and logistical difficulties while delivering value to language learners the world over.

With falling barriers to entry, the field has gotten crowded though, with thousands of websites cropping up to offer these virtual/remote English lessons. Over the years, my team and I have had the privilege of translating a few of these sites to Korean so that our clients can connect to the market in Korea for ESL instruction. Unfortunately, a nice website that communicates well is only the first step, as the following message from a previous client makes clear. 

Hi Steven, My name is ________. Last year I had you do the translation for my ESL website. I was impressed with your service, and knowledge of Korea, so I wanted to reach out to you on something. So far, I've had a real tough time attracting business in Korea. Early on I had foolishly spent money on Google Adwords, and Twitter advertising, which didn't generate results. Not to mention large amounts of time with social networks, and the like. When I found out about the popularity of Naver & Daum, I hired a professional SEO service to optimize my site, along with "guest blog posts". After that, I saw a small uptick in traffic, but still not converting into new clients. It's been frustrating, and depressing at times. I'm willing to the spend the time and money, but I feel like not knowing the Korean language and culture is putting me at a disadvantage….

 I answered my client as follows.

It's nice to hear from you. I remember working on the Korean localization of your website and I'm glad to hear that our service met your expectations. I recall that your attitude to the localization process put quality above cost and I believe you when you say you're willing to spend the time and money to make the endeavor work. In fact, as someone who has spent a ridiculous amount of money and effort on online marketing efforts of various kinds, I have a great deal of sympathy for your situation.

You asked near the beginning of our business relationship about the value of having Korean text alongside English YouTube videos and about whether it would be effective in attracting Korean students. I just dug back into my archives and found my following reply: 

"It's a tough call, especially as you're jumping into a very competitive market. If you've got the marketing strategy in place to support the YouTube funnel, then of course, the Korean text can be an asset. If you're not sure what kind of traffic you can pull to these videos, you might put that cost off until later. I've seen more than one businessperson (myself included!) spend a lot of money to get all set up only to find that the marketing is lacking." 

In advising you, I'd like to first discuss some insights about online marketing in Korea. At this point, I should point out that I don't think this will ultimately be cost-effective for you in your business, but the following does describe a starting point for understanding how a successful campaign might be put together.

You mention that Google Adwords was a waste of money. It all depends on what niche you're in, but for ESL, I'm sure the bid prices on keywords are through the roof and too many non-converting visitors will drain your bank account quickly. The only way to make it work is to have a deep sales pipeline with an integrated range of goods and services that you're marketing effectively to those who click on your Adwords ads. Top advertisers on major keywords are prepared to lose money on the initial leads in order to harvest value over a longer period of time.

I'd be interested to know how you operated and targeted your Google advertising. Did you do it yourself? Regardless of what Google says, Adwords is not for the faint of heart, and not just because the tools are complicated (and getting more so everyday) and the underlying algorithms secret. I would even say that Google's representations of their system to novice advertisers are even misleading and incomplete. But as you may have found out, working with a competent (or even incompetent!) SEM professional is expensive, and even if your consultant does know what he/she is doing, you often won't get the level of focused and sustained attention you need to make it work. 

In fact, in your market, there are bound to be a lot of competitors, some with deep pockets (thanks to cash flow from offline, successful English institutes in Korea but without a sustainable strategy), just throwing money into the marketing effort. This makes Google rich, but leaves everyone else paying more than they should.

Furthermore, running a Google Adwords campaign in English isn't going to get you very close to your market since your potential students probably aren't doing most of their searching in English. That means your ads need to be localized, too. But since Google Adwords isn't a set-it-and-forget-it approach, you can't just get your ads translated once somewhere and then throw them up online. The ads must be constantly monitored and optimized, not just from a standard marketing perspective but also in terms of language and culture, which makes it a high-touch/high-specialization/high-cost adventure. (BTW, I've written about a surprising aspect of character limitations that applies to Korean ads on Google Adwords.)

Besides, even if you do get your online marketing program going effectively on Google in Korean for Korean consumers located in Korea, you'll then be reaching… just 10-15% of the search market. As you noted already, the movers and shakers in the Korean market are still Naver (with about 60-70% of the market) and Daum (with around 20-30%).

You said that you tried SEO for the Korean search engines, but these native Korean portals also run their own proprietary advertiser tools modeled on Google Adwords. The interfaces are in Korean and the complicated Korean government-mandated requirements make it next-to-impossible to register to advertise as a non-Korean. I tried it about a year ago on Naver just to see if I could, and I barely managed to sign up, but I still had to register as an overseas marketer since my websites are owned by my US corporation, which meant that the process had to be jury-rigged to get me through the ad approvals every time. I ultimately never did anything with it; just too much trouble. This means you would ultimately have to work with a Korean agency to get directly to Daum and Naver, and to do that, you're looking at talent of dubious competence and high cost and you won't be able to transparently monitor the process.

At any rate, if you do choose to move forward with online marketing to Korean search engine users, I would recommend the following approach which, done right, would minimize your costs and maximize your effectiveness.

Stage 1 - The online advertising interfaces of the Korean portals are primitive compared to the Google system and I don't recommend you start with them. Instead, work with an SEM provider who is qualified to advertise on Google in English and supplement this with a Korean language consultant who can localize and adjust ads as instructed by the SEM professional. Keep this up until you've got a strong campaign going that generates profitable leads and until you've exhausted the potential that Google is giving you in its 20% of the Korean search market. Be sure you have Google Analytics installed on your site and know how to use it; you'll need that both to optimize for Google, as well as for Stage 2 below.

Stage 2 – Once you've wrung out all the value from Stage 1, you're ready to attack the Korean portals. Do this by working through an SEM professional in Korea. You won't need the best expert here (good thing, because they're hard to find!); just someone who knows the nuts and bolts and has an account that is authorized to to resell advertising for foreign advertisers on the Korean portals. Make it clear that you'll be providing the optimized ads and keywords from your Google campaign and so only minor optimization within the Naver and Daum ecosystems will be required. Then feed the ads, keywords and other demographic information directly or through your Korean language consultant to the Naver/Daum seller and tell them to set it up.

Normally, advertising on the Korean portals would be a black box, since you won't have easy access to what's going on there. But because you'll have the results of your Google campaigns to benchmark against, you can simply watch carefully through Google Analytics to make sure your Korean campaigns are generating results on par with Google. As you continue to optimize your Google campaigns, you can have your Naver and Daum campaigns updated as well.

Regarding marketing on SNS, don't bother unless you're prepared to engage in time-consuming conversation with your market. On the other hand, there are umpteen online "cafes" which you could join on Daum or Naver. These are online meeting places that bring together groups of people interested in the same topic. Some would be focused on learning English and if you were to make your presence known in these spots, such as by sharing value in the discussions, you might be able to get closer to your market. However, I haven't tried it and I don't know how practical it is because of the Korean-language interfaces. Done strategically, it could at least would get you into an under-served area away from the crowds at Facebook and Twitter. Even so, these are still vibrant online discussion forums in Korea today.

As for general search engine optimization, well, there's so much content out there now in the ESL field that I don't know how you'd ever get heard amidst everything else. Ultimately, I think you'll need to reach out to your market; not hope they find you through organic SEO. 

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"

Korean Translation Tip: Koreans Smile Differently When Writing

I’ve discussed punctuation a few times before in these tips (including about colons, and periods). I guess you could say I’m finding this area to be fertile ground for writing ideas.

The smiley is another interesting little difference between Korean and English.

In English, we have a variety of smileys, including: :-), ;-(, :-D, :/, etc.

But Koreans don’t like to turn their heads sideways, I guess, and so they take a different approach. These are what you’ll find in a Korean text:  

^-^, ^o^, T-T, O_O, -_-, ^_~, etc.

Hint: ^ is supposed to represent a raised eyebrow

Some Korean smileys even incorporate Korean characters:

ㅠㅠ (crying), ㅋㅋㅋ (LOL), ㅎㅎㅎ (ha, ha), etc.

Occasionally I’ll be asked to translate a Korean email into English and if it has emoticons, I generally localize to the way we'd do it in English.

Korean Translation Tip – Koreans no better understand 🙂 than English-speakers understand ^-^, so when translating, it would be a good idea to even match smileys to the reading audience.

Instagram Is Not Immune from Korean Translation Errors Either

It can be exciting to have one's writing translated. I'm sure the folks over at Instagram are pretty happy to know that their mobile interface is localized into umpteen languages… Who knows? They might have even gotten it crowdsource-translated for free… Only problem is that… well, there's a mistranslation.

No, I'm sorry… There isn't "a" mistranslation…

There are multiple mistranslations… on one simple screen!

Let's start with the English:

9-6-2013 3-11-14 AM

Notice how each of the four phrases ("Share", "Delete", "Add People" and "Copy Share URL") is in the imperative form, starting with a verb. It's written consistently and correctly.

Here's the Korean:

9-6-2013 3-01-07 AM

There are two main problems with the Korean translation.

The first is that the translation of "Copy Share URL" is just wrong. In Korean, the verb goes at the end; but in this case, they just put the noun for "copy" in front of "share URL", as if Korean would have the same sentence structure as the English. To be meaningful, it should be re-written as "공유 URL 복사".

The second issue is consistency. The translation of "share" is written in a way that makes it clear that "share" is to be understood as a verb by adding "하기" to the end. However, if we assume the correction of the fourth line as explained in the paragraph above, then lines 2, 3 and 4 all simply end in nouns but do not use "하기" to clarify the usage. It's a bit hard to explain, but they are understandable to a Korean user and for brevity, perhaps even preferrable to the approach taken in the first line. But the grammar is not consistent and so one of the two following styles should be chosen and used throughout:

Option #1



사람 추가하기

공유 URL 복사하기

Option #2



사람 추가

공유 URL 복사


Korean Translation Tip #1 – To avoid the first error discussed above, make sure to give your translator enough context to know how the translation will be used. Screenshots of the interface and explanations of what's supposed to happen in each situation are helpful.

Korean Translation Tip #2 – To avoid the inconsistencies issue, make sure to provide your translator with existing translations for reference so that he/she can match the style on additional work. Better yet, have a style guide made up in advance for all translations. Also, use the same translators throughout the same project, if possible, and be ready to pay extra for your translator to take the time to properly review the previous translations and style guide.


* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.

Considerations of Current Location When Applying for a Job in Korea

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "Is is possible to apply for a job when a person is out of Korea? Or I should just go to Korea and start applying for jobs while I am there?"

Many factors are involved in the process of applying for a new job, and one that comes into play for those trying to get a job in Korea is whether it's possible to apply from outside Korea, or whether one needs to be physically present in Korea in order to be competitive for a new position with a Korean company. Along these lines, I received the following inquiry from someone in my network a few days ago.


Dear Steven, I am writing this email to seek some advice from you. I have been applying to Korean companies lately…. I have a good career track and I speak Korean fluently. However, whenever recruiters learn that I am currently out of Korea, all of a sudden I get rejected. Now, I am not sure whether it is because they don't trust me or they are afraid to hire a person who has been with a Korean company for such a long time. At first they all praise my educational background and language capabilities, but they seem to have difficulties trusting someone they have not met personally. Based on your opinion, do you think it is possible to apply for a job when a person is out of Korea? Or I should just go to Korea and start applying for jobs while I am there? Thanks.


The answer to this question depends on the jobs you're applying for and the qualifications you bring to the position. If the companies you are applying for are able to easily fill their positions with equally qualified applicants in Korea who they can meet in person, then why would they commit themselves to a contract with you that has to be faxed back and forth to get signed?

I know you're not looking for an ESL job, but if you were, it would not be necessary to apply from Korea since the demand for English teachers is steady and surpasses the number of foreigners in Korea available to fill them all. 

But moving one step up, there are umpteen English teachers in Korea who would like to move into a Korean corporate position of one type or another. These positions generally involve performing a language-related function in the company. Because there are more applicants than positions, someone trying to get one of these jobs from overseas does not stand a chance against those who have their feet on the ground and a network through which to hear about openings. These jobs often get filled long before they ever reach a public jobs board.

As you don't mention that you are applying through an executive recruiting firm, I assume that you're not looking for a top management or highly specialized/high-paid position. This would indicate to me you're still early in your career. I realize that you aren't applying for an English-focused position either, but you may want to ask yourself if the positions you're trying to get can be filled easily by someone already in Korea working in an ESL or other similar posiition.

It may be that you just haven't been a perfect fit for any of the positions you've applied for and the rejections have nothing to do with your current location. Perhaps it'll just take some persistence. If your qualifications are strong and match the market in Korea, then you might just have to keep trying. Have you gone back to any of the recruiters you applied to before to get their feedback on why you weren't hired? You might not get straight answers when the rejection is still fresh, but if you were to contact them them 2-3 months later once they can't misunderstand your question as an attempt to keep trying for the job, they might give you some honest and helpful insights.

A trip to Korea to look for a job isn't necessarily a bad idea, especially if you'd like to visit anyway. But if you've currently got a job back home, you'll only have a week or two of vacation time and that's probably not enough to do more than have a few initial meetings. You'll also only be able to avail yourself of opportunities available during the window of time you're in Korea and there won't be time to build and work a personal network on the ground. But if you just come to Korea to "hang out" until something happens, potential employers will not be impressed if your period of being unemployed becomes extended. And working as an English teacher to pay the bills in the meantime is not a great resume filler either.

So, what can you do to be in Korea long enough for good to things happen but without wasting time? Taking an intensive Korean language course for a semester or two is a great way to do this. You can apply for jobs in-country, improve your skills and build your network without having a hole in your resume. I know you said you're already fluent in Korean, but does that mean there aren't any Korean-language courses you could take at your level? Fine, suppose there aren't… Then why don't you enroll in the masters program at a Korean university? I'm partial to Hanyang University, since that's where I earned my masters degree, but there are plenty of other good places too. And here's the best part… Tuition in the regular grad schools of Korean universities is much cheaper than for international MBAs. Furthermore, the graduate school classes at some schools (such as Hanyang) are in Korean, rather than English, so you'll get to put your advanced Korean skills to use and improve on them.

Finally, you mentioned that you are working for a Korean company now. Is there no way to get transferred to Korea for a short- or long-term assignment? Perhaps you could get transferred to Korea into a position that may not be exactly what you're looking for. Then, once you're in Korea, you could keep applying for positions you really want elsewhere. If you succeed, the Korean company will think twice before letting another employee at an overseas office do the same thing again, but at least you'll be moving forward in your career by that time.

BTW, your situation is a good example of how Korean language skills are not an automatic ticket to career success in Korea. I wrote an article about this recently: Reflections on the Benefits of Learning Korean to One's Career in Korea

I hope it works out for you. Let me know what happens.

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "Is is possible to apply for a job when a person is out of Korea? Or I should just go to Korea and start applying for jobs while I am there?"

It’s Time for Another Korean Translation Error in the Google Android Interface… Or Maybe It’s Not Google’s Fault

I discovered something really strange after writing the first section below, so, to keep the order of my thought process in sequence, I present this article in two parts.

Part 1

Some time ago, I was flipping through my wife's phone and came across a translation error in the Google Android interface. Recently, I got my own brand new Android phone, and, almost as if to commemorate the occasion, I quicky found another mistake! It's on the following screen that explains how to use the phone's camera.

9-6-2013 2-36-04 AM 

This is the offending phrase: "인물 단체는 베스트페이스 모드를 이용합니다."

The translator relied on a word-by-word approach to get through this sentence. In fact, the translation is so literal that it's easy to know what the original English said. The following is either exactly what the English said or a close approximation: "Use Best Face mode for [taking photos of] groups of people."

First, I'll point out that "Best Face" is translated to Korean as a transliteration of the English into Korean letters, not a translation of the meaning of "Best Face". This is not wrong and can be an acceptable approach. Here, it's a good way to handle the translation and I'm not objecting to this part.

This mistranslation is rather hard to explain in English but the problem is in the translation of the word "people". The phrase "인물 사진" refers to photos of people, literally "human photo". But that doesn't mean you can just switch out a Korean word for group (단체) for the Korean word for photo (사진) to get "인물 단체" (human group).

It doesn't work because 인물 has certain connotations that work in some situations where we'd use the word "people" or "humans" but not in others. We can actually get the idea in English by considering the phrase "Use Best Face mode for [taking photos] of groups of humans". Well, it makes sense, but it's a little awkward, isn't it?

In this case, it's best to rework the sentence in Korean. Here are a couple better alternatives: 단체 사진은  베스트페이스 모드를 사용하십시오 ("Use Best Face mode for group photos. — in this case, "group" adequately includes the meaning of groups of people without adding the word "people") or 단체 촬영 시에는 베스트페이스 모드를 사용하십시오 ("Use Best Face mode when taking photos of groups").

One more thing… Though not strictly wrong, since it is possible to use the declarative sentence form in such a case in Korean, my colleague DH Kim, who gave me feedback on this, suggests that the use of the imperative form communicates better. That's why the alternative translations in the paragraph above end in 하십시오 rather than 합니다. He also noted that the other Korean text in the photo above is not particularly well-written either. In other words, we could have done better…

Part 2

After writing the above and before publishing the post, I decided to switch the GUI language on my phone to verify what the English says on this screen. Here it is:


Check out the English… "It provides best picture automatically changing scene mode in according with the environment."?… Whoah…  This looks like pretty typical Konglish, which means it would have been written by a Korean who is a non-native English speaker. This kind of writing is a common result of Korean companies trying to save money when translating into English. But if this is the case, then it means the Korean which I objected to in Part 1 would have to be the source… That can't be because a Korean wouldn't have written the expression I pointed out.

So, I don't know exactly what's going on. But I'm guessing that this isn't the core Google Android interface text. My phone is a Vega, which was manufactured by the Korean company Pantech. Perhaps the camera component though came from somewhere else, say a supplier in Taiwan or China, and maybe the supplier provided the documentation in both English and Korean, based on a Chinese source text… And of course, the supplier produced bad translations in both languages… which were then plugged into the phone's GUI to seemlessly become a part of the Google Android interface for this phone model…

Also, it's interesting that the English in dispute in Part 1 above is actually "group portrait", not "group of people". That doesn't change the validity of my criticism of the incorrect Korean expression but the differences do seem to indicate a common source for both the Korean and English, and that the Korean wasn't translated from the English… and that both languages were translated badly.

Korean Translation Tip - To avoid translation disasters like this, work with competent translators and don't leave out the budget for proper proofreading and QA either.

* For more of these, check out A Collection of Korean Translation Errors in the User Interfaces of Leading Software.