Professional Korean Translators and a Nation’s Love of the Written Word

Chasing After the Nobel Prize in Literature

Professional Korean translators inspiration

South Korea is a nation with long and rich cultural traditions, and a land full of highly educated, competitive people. Is it any wonder Korea wants to show off its cultural and literary prowess to the rest of the planet? There’s a lot more to the peninsula besides kimchi, K-Pop (케이팝) and the decades-long friction with North Korea. Many South Koreans want the world to know about their history, their language and their literature. A good way of bringing this about would be winning a Noble Prize in Literature, but for that to happen, writers and government officials believe Korean books need better, and more sustained professional Korean translators’ efforts.

For Korea to have chance at the big prize, voting members of the Noble Committee have to be able to read Korean literary works, of course. Korean probably isn’t among one of the top languages members can boast fluency in. This is why publishers should commission professional translators to translate most prominent Korean books into other languages. Then they should put these books out into the world for people (not just Koreans) to enjoy. Koreans are very proud of their language, and the Hangul opens in a new window (한글) script that the enlightened King Sejon invented in the 15th century. But Korean writers just aren’t all that well known outside of the country.

Great Korean Literature

There is an in-depth article on the subject in The New Yorker opens in a new window. It states that South Korea has a few drivers that foster really great literature, with something important to say and produced locally. But there are also a few obstacles that keep people from actually reading these evocative and fascinating stories. A good example is the wonderful works published by writer and poet Ko Un opens in a new window. A smart application and use of translation services just might help bridge this gap. It can bolster the governmental push (like the Chinese did some years back) toward grabbing a Noble Prize in Literature for Korea.

On the positive side of things, Korea has an extremely well educated population. Literacy rates are around 98%. This should bode well for fiction writers. But factor in how highly competitive the Korean society is (work, education, getting into the right schools). Add to that the fact that many consider sitting down with good fiction is a waste of valuable studying time. It starts to make sense why the government has to push for publishing more Korean literature internationally. The Korean government can get people interested in Korean works. To do so, it should facilitate access to professional Korean translators, foreign book markets and foreign literary scenes.

The Literary Translation Institute of Korea (LTI)

Enter the Literary Translation Institute of Korea (LTI). This governmentally funded institute has been given the charter to promote Korean literature and culture worldwide, through cultural translation. To that end, LTI advocates for more translations of Korean literature into foreign languages. The institute also seeks to promote the best translations possible. This is in order to capture the artistic essence of the works undergoing translation. LTI offers grants to publishers and translators, fellowships to academics interested in Korean literature, as well as training programs for professional Korean translators specializing in Korean literature.

Professional Korean Translators to the Rescue

There is so much raw writing talent in Korea. This relatively new push for literary Korean translations, in conjunction with outreach programs by LTI that are working with international literary agents and agencies, perhaps the world will get to learn more about Korea (once known as “The Hermit Kingdom”) through its literature. And through professional Korean translation services, and great writing, Korea just might nab itself a Nobel Prize in Literature in the not too distant future.


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