Lost in Translation

   Since I ordered myself some break, I will now, good readers, mention a bit what I’m doing every day. No, not shufflin’. Tranlatin’. It’s not as visually catchy (although not new, MJ had this 20 years ago, but some Divas are ‘too funky to be old’), yet it displays a full range of emotions. You don’t believe? 
This is some kind of story and ramblings. I like to tell the stories, and I like to mock. Those who don’t get my sense of humor may pss this.
My adventure called by evil brotherhood “translating” and by ‘funky’ crowd: “meh-any-cow-can-do-it” started probably during my… let’s say first studies, let my past be mysterious, OK? I studied French, actually no, I fought to survive through this French. It was hell, decapitations, French Revolution even. But I can read now almost every article, although with dictionary help, and subjonctif-plus-que-parfait has no secrets from me.

   Fascinated from my junior days by Rimbaud I wanted to translate his full Saison en Enfer (Season in Hell). And I did few sketches. It took me few months. God damn it, his delirious writing was indeed like season in hell for me. But that was my first try, in European language. During my last years at Oriental Department I had lot of experience with translating from Japanese. I mostly translate from this (Korean I do for fun right now). We had separated classes on translating practice, plus I had my one-time only translating job (over 20 pages about ancient calendars and stuff) that took me another month. Right now, I translate or read in Japanese a lot, and I don’t mean for this article to sound like I’m some superior being just because I have the freaking diploma. No. Its purpose is to show some people out there that translating it’s not any ‘wif-google-I-can-do-it!” matter, but really hard work. I’m not talkig about perusing some documents/articles that we don’t need actually, so we can copy-paste it in google/babylon translator and guess what this is about. 
My main weapon is 5-year hard brain-washing during studies. Philology makes a different people out of those who start to study it, really. Philology is focused on language so you are forced to, like it or not, cram until you bleed and pass (out). I remember my group (the only one, to be honest) after Kanji exam – we all HATED kanji so damn much, we had nightmares, and we talked during sleep: “Kun-yomi – tada-chini, naosu, naoru, naoki, sugu, On-yomi: choku, jiki, jika“, we woke up wet with cold sweat because we couldn’t remember the damned radical for other kanji. 
But it was fun though.
   So now, when I read sunshine-bright and bird-brained enthousiasts out there that they “picked up some grammar from websites and few words from songs and now they are ready to translate full songs!“, I have such a great laugh! Actually no, I have such a great sneer! Oh, it’s because I’m a bad person too.
Even though songs are not, let’s be frank, the poetry of high literature, they are associative, and that means – short. They base on everyday language and everyday language – what a surprise! – uses some grammar.
But.. but I watched over 30 dramas and I understand what they are saying!“. Oh really? People are unaware that language as a whole is much more complicated structure than they think. The fact they understand 20% of what is said depends on the amount of very basic (foundation) vocabulary like: pronouns, family names, numbers, etc. That doesn’t mean you know the language. 
I have never said and I will never say “I Know Japanese”. It’s because the language is evolving every day. I may not be familiar with something (on vocabulary level tough, grammar is stubborn to change), and frankly my dear, I don’t give a kanji.
There is also one more interesting fact that happy airheads out there forgot in a beaming happiness of learning “papa-mama” – that is idioms. Oh, and Japanese/Korean too have something that we, evil people, call tetrads (or quadruplets), that is – 4 kanji/hanja making one word (some random kanji/hanja sometimes, to be honest). Good luck on those. My favorite? 美人薄命: beautiful woman weak life. Oh yes, yes… Some websites that people like to refer to translate this as: “beautiful women are frail”. And in fact this idiom is used when talking about: “quem di diligunt, adolescens moritur”.
   So when I hear someone who is basing his/her knowledge of Japanese/Korean on dramas and songs that says “I know Japanese/Korean”, I just can’t stop mocking. Yes, perhaps the demon of jealousy is visible through this, because stupid me needed 5 years and someone needed 6 months. I bet in this person’s mind we are on the same level. Oh no, pumpkin-pie, we are not. I beg of your wisdom to be bestowed upon me!
Those who are serious about the language have few options – go to the country of interest (expensive and results are not guaranteed), enroll to some classes, go to University, or buy some damned book (or download and print it). If you hate books – have someone to explain you the grammar. Without it, you will be like a child lost in the mist. Because no, you absolutely won’t be able to learn the whole language through dramas. Not a tiny chance. Dramas/songs are good in terms of accent, vocabulary, language patterns. Did I mention grammar? No I didn’t for the obvious reason.
   Some may say: “why do I need to remember how to make passive voice?” No you don’t have to, wingless butterfly, just don’t use it ever. Because passive voice is so passe. Probably you will never say “this house was built…” anyway. You may figure the meaning out from the drama/song but without proper explanation about the mechanisms of making it – you can just go and make yourself another flute. You will not be able to make the sentence yourself.
Plus, both Korean and Japanese have that devilish device called “particles” that cause hell of headaches sometimes. In passive, they are changed, in causative, they are changed, and in passive-causative they are changed yet again. Why? Because the particles of the “agent” and “subject” in affirmative mode are switched AND changed in passive. Oh wow, dramas don’t tell you that, right? Not to mention the hell of Korean passive and causative, brr… Japanese is easier.
   I believe, that to start any adventure on translating, one needs to finish at least, at least, basic course, doesn’t matter if by oneself or through some course. If you don’t, some really, really bad things may happen to you.
There was a question on D-A about “mamorinuku” verb, and the user asked if the “ku” is the same as “will” in English. See, the user was even unfamiliar with plain/dictionary form of verbs, that is basis of basic even, and wanted to start on translating! This is what I’m talking about. Especially in Japanese/Korean where small letter, small hiragana decides on whether it’s new word or another gramatical form of the same word.
I know the feeling of elation when we can understand some word or sentence. But truthfully, learning the language so that you will be able to communicate your FEELINGS and THOUGHTS freely is a hard work. I like to learn vocabulary, I have pretty much obsession with it, I make lists and I tick every werd I knou^^
But, while learning grammtical construction, I write 10 freaking sentences to each, and after finishing the lesson I write short essay. And I torture my brilliant students with the same. Why? Because only when you are able to write (create) sentences on your own – that means you can use the language. And this is all about that. If anyone wants to continue with the language, one must invest into dictionary and gramar book. That’s all, sorry for shattering yer dreams to pieces, unicorns!
   I was talking about emotions? Oh well, sometimes I giggle when sentence in the article is written in pure childish style, but most often the emotions are “on the dark side”. Like reading the sentence that has 12 lines and 6 subjects without any apparent topic, few verbs and lot of useless expressions – I just start to cry. There are moments I have absolutely no idea what the author wanted to say, because he wanted to use 7th synonym to the word “cradle” and some bungo-based grammar construction (damn him to hell!). But the most frustrating moments are those: “Fine, so I understand ALL words, there is basically no grammar. So why the fuck on this damned planet I can’t make any sense out of it??!”
I could ask for help from those enlightened souls that watched 50 dramas, yes I know.
And to make you laugh – since May, I have copied and sticked to my awesome board over my desk one sentence. One *&^%%$#@&! sentence I have no idea how to translate. The presence of the verb that has 2 completely different meanings in it doesn’t help either.
Frustration vented. Going back. Ahoy!

And what I wrote once on D-A:
And to all wanting to learn Korean (or any other language), trust me, even after watching 200 dramas and movies and listening to music 24/7, in half a year you won’t be able to translate a magazine article. Without proper classes or studying by yourself, but studying the grammar patterns and vocabulary, there is no way on earth one can master the language.
I’m not saying this because I doubt someone. One may pick up few words or sentences from dramas/movies. These are called “language patterns”, and are easiest to learn in this way exactly. But I guarantee that no one can learn language fully only by watching TV.

Some of my students are just in the middle of basic language course – and they make a mistake some other people make – instead of mastering the basics, they want to know how to say: “In 60’s the whole world was swept by sexual revolution, putting feminist, gender and gay criticism in the spotlight”. And their full capacity is saying:”When I have the time I’d like to go where the sea is blue and you can drink Pina Colada on the beach”.
You can’t jump over some part of the language just because it’s uninteresting, boring, tedious, dull, but you have to go through it.
I could write them the sentences they want to say, but what’s the point? They will learn it by heart and then what? They won’t be able to ask about directions in some city, because they found “right”, “left”, “across” too plain and boring.
“Particles in Japanese and Korean? Nah, screw it! I won’t use them!”
Oh, really? Then you won’t understand any given article in the newspaper or on the website.

Learning a language is not only fun parts (kyaa, so now I can write “I love you” on my backpack!!”) but also the essential parts – those that will support the whole language structure. It’s like building a house – you can’t build a house without foundations, right? Even though they are not visible and cute.

Oh yes, I can be b*tchy.

About ethlenn

Just usual suspect
This entry was posted in Japanese, korean, ramblings. Bookmark the permalink.

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