Korea Needs More Translators

From this morning’s electronic Korea Times:

Literary Professor Kim Joo-youn said Korea badly needs a growing pool of professional translators to have local literature better known worldwide.

He made the remark in a Korea Times interview Thursday after being named the director of the Korea Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) under the Ministry of Culture.

The director said his main focus will be directed toward fostering and increasing professional translators who can make Korean literature better appreciated outside Korea.

“The problem does not lie in the quality of our literary output. Rather, it is in the way our literature is translated,’’ said Kim.

“Judging from my professional experience, the value and quality of Korean literature is on par with works produced in the West. A woeful lack of adequate translation is the main reason our literature has failed to draw the attention befitting its status.’’

The poor quality of literary translations has been well documented in various news reports and surveys. According to a 2007 KLTI study of translated versions of 41 Korean novels, more than half of them revealed significant shortcomings in translating hard facts, let alone conveying the true literary essence of the work, which is why nurturing a new generation of translators with the necessary language skills and literary sensitivity will be the top priority during his three-year tenure.

“For a relatively unknown country like Korea, the government’s involvement in promoting Korean literature overseas is necessary. My long-term goal is to cultivate an environment conducive to nurturing translators of literature equipped with not only an excellent command of foreign languages but a profound knowledge of and passion for Korean literature.’’ Kim said.

Kim remembers his frustration at a conference in Berlin in the summer of 2008. “I proposed a presentation of Korean writers to a German colleague at the ‘Berlin House of Literature.’ However, they rejected my proposal, citing inadequate translation and difficulty in understanding Korean literature,’’ he said.

The KLTI was established in 1996 with the mission to support scholars, writers, and translators whose works revolves around the internationalization of Korean literature. With Kim as its new director, it is also expected to place more importance on promoting exchanges between Korean and overseas writers through residency programs and lectures.

Another key initiative on Kim’s agenda is to motivate overseas scholars to disseminate Korean culture. “The number of universities abroad with a department of Korean Studies has been consistently rising, especially in China, where about 80 universities teach Korean language and literature. We will try to encourage schools to incorporate more Korea-specific programs.’’

Kim has been a professor of German literature at Sookmyung Women’s University for nearly 30 years. His publications and critical essays have gained nationwide recognition.