[Letters] All you needs is a few native English speakers

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[Letters] All you needs is a few native English speakers

A department store in Korea sent a fax to a popular jean manufacturer in the United States asking about its products, including the price. The reply said the price would be $20 for a pair of jeans.

A worker at the department store then translated the reply into Korean as “two panties will be $20” and reported it to the president.

The state-run National Institute of Korean History published “The History of Korea” in English for overseas promotion. “Soon after approving the impeachment motion agsint the ruling party, Open Uri Party, gained a majority in the general election of April 15,” said the book on page 310.

The correct sentence should be that the Uri Party had won the majority in the April 15 general election after the Grand National Party approved the impeachment motion against then President Roh Moo-hyun. But the book stated the opposite due to translation errors.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is facing a crisis for having made errors in the Korean-language translation from the English version of the Korea-EU free trade agreement. Public servants of the ministry should be fluent in English and I was not able to understand the simple mistakes made during the translation. But it was revealed that the ministry had ordered unpaid interns to translate it in order to save costs.

It is a dereliction of duty for the ministry to order the important document to be translated by interns and skip the proofreading process.

I, however, was not actually shocked to see the reports because I am very well aware that the Korean government has no true interest in the matter of using English along with Korean.

Visit Korea campaign is taking place for three years until 2012, but major tourism brochures were written in incomprehensible English. The campaign runs for three years, so the slogan on many signs should read “VISIT KOREA YEARS” but the authorities only wrote “VISIT KOREA YEAR.” The culture minister and first lady declare the starting of the campaign in front of the wrong slogan. On the planes of Korean Air and Asiana, “YEARS” are still written as “YEAR.”

The government must form a special team on English proofreading by learning a lesson from the Korea-EU FTA translation crisis and prevent the country’s dignity from being damaged any further. It does not require a large budget. All it needs is a few native English speakers and computers.

All official English documents - whether diplomatic records, tour brochures, PR booklets or user’s manuals for export goods - must go through this team and the country will be saved from shameful translation errors.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.


Joh Wha-you, writer and author of self-study books to learn English.

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