Translating for passion, not money, helps fuel Hallyu

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Translating for passion, not money, helps fuel Hallyu

Translation is painful work, often tedious and rarely does it pay enough in money or fame. But Internet experts say that translation services have never been as important. The case is the same with Korea.

Today, people live in an age of information overload, where English is no longer the lingua franca of the Internet, Wikipedia is available in more than 200 languages and Technorati sees at least as many blog posts in Japanese as in English.

These trends are leading to what Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Global Voices and fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard, coined as the “polyglot Internet.”

In the polyglot Internet, it’s easier for Chinese or Arabic speakers to interact with one another and there’s less incentive to interact with speakers of other languages and cultures. As a result, Zuckerman and others fear the danger of linguistic isolation in today’s Internet.

Translation services are essential to answer these issues. However, professional translation is expensive; the United Nations spends over $100 million a year on translation services. And machine translation isn’t reliable with colloquial language and nuanced phrases.

One solution to these issues may be social translation, writes Zuckerman.

Social translation is also termed “collaborative translation,” “crowdsourced translation” or “peer production translation.” It’s essentially a nonprofessional, noncorporate and volunteer-oriented translation model.

There’s a growing movement to make social translations of online information around the world, motivated more by community recognition and appreciation than by money.

This movement has been led by the open source software community, an example of which is Dwayne Bailey’s, a project that makes key software available in South Africa’s 11 official languages.

Last year, there was some remarkable “crowdsourced translation” projects centered around disaster relief in Haiti. Volunteers around the world entered English translations of Creole and French emergency messages and distributed them to NGOs working on the ground.

Yeeyan is the largest Open Translation community and a very popular UGC (User Generated Content) site in China. With the mission “Discover, Translate and Read the Internet Beyond Your Language,” Yeeyan has more than 90,000 registered users and 5,000 translators.

Korea also has an active social translation culture. Any enthusiast of “Mideu” (American TV) can watch Korean subtitled U.S. shows within a couple of hours of their broadcast in the States. With quiet acquiescence from Hollywood and U.S. broadcasters, these translators work in teams, often in a race with other teams, to deliver Korean subtitled programs.

“These translators don’t do it for the money,” said Paul Matthews, actor and translator for the Mokwha Repertory Company, a Korean theater company. Matthews said subtitling programs is often unwieldy and it takes great passion on the part of translators to create nuanced translations that speak to audiences around the world.

Neither is Matthews motivated by money; “I’ve seen many bad translations of Korean plays, books and films, and I want to be better than them.”

Social translation is also at the heart of TED Open Translation Project, which brings TEDTalks beyond the English-speaking world by offering subtitles and the ability for any talk to be translated by volunteers worldwide.

The system was launched in May 2009 with 200 volunteer translators and 375 translations, representing 42 languages. Some extremely popular talks, like Al Gore’s talk on climate change, are available in over 35 languages.

TED fever has caught on in Korea. Jeong Dae-won, TEDxSeoul organizer, began his work with TEDxSeoul through his translation work for the TED Open Translation Project.

“We all want to inspire others, but that’s difficult to do. Through TED we can do it, albeit indirectly,” Jeong said. “It’s very competitive to translate famous TED speakers. There’s a waiting list for translation talks, and I check it all the time to see whether I get the ones I applied for.”

Jeong also believes that Korean TED translators and TEDx activists are more enthusiastic than other TEDx communities. “TEDx community has really blossomed here because Koreans act quickly with passion and want to inspire that kind of passion in others,” he said.

The social translation fever has also caught fans of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. Like Mideu translators, Hallyu translators passionately translate and subtitle their favorite Hallyu videos onto YouTube. In fact, YouTube is often cited as the main reason for Hallyu’s rise.

Korean entrepreneurs have seen commercial value in such Hallyu communities and this past year Enswers, a Korean video search company, acquired, a Hallyu fan community based in San Francisco. It was founded in 1998 by Susan Kang and now it has 1.2 million unique visits per month.

According to a press release, Enswers will use its search technology to leverage Soompi’s largely international community, and bring more Hallyu content to English-language audiences.

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