Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: Interpreter Translators in Their Own Words

Title: Interpreter Translators in Their Own Words (full pdf available)
Author: Jon H. Bahk-Halberg
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: KCSI (July 2008)
ISBN-13: 9788953497207

The author's doctoral dissertation turned into a book is about as dry as dissertations go; seemingly no change was made to make it more of an entertaining read. The dissertation as a whole is a valuable contribution to his field but it is a very repetitive and, frankly, boring read. This collection of previous research summations and original interviews with translators and interpreters allows the reader to gain insight on the life of a Korean-English translators-in-training at Hanguk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. Boasting the most prestigious interpreter/translator department in the country, HUFS cranks out the best and the brightest in English-Korean professional translators. The author's background in journalism and teaching at HUFS allowed him to get to know the life of translators in Korea a little bit better. Although what new knowledge can be gained for the field is indeed measurable but the average reader will find himself falling asleep when faced with the realization that after a hundred pages, the book still hasn't started. It's still being introduced.

The biggest fault lies with the lack of substance. The entire book is just one repetition after another. The information for the average reader could have easily been summarized into a text half its size. Important aspects of the book include a mention that most effective translators and interpretators have lived overseas at some point in the life. Also, there exists a division between 국내파 (kungnaepa) and 해외파 (haewaepa) translators (the ones who learned English in Korea and those who learned it overseas, respectively).

A fascinating point discovered here is that most interpreters consider Korean language skills to be more important than proficiency in English. Last and most intriguing is that on the whole, Korean men are, by and large, not attracted to the translation job field because simultaneous interpretation is seen as a service and is not held to the same level of respect that interpreters have in the West. The author explores the reasons why these students are choosing to go into interpretation and what kind of education background could provide such a possible qualified candidate. Despite the mention that translation has typically been a second-choice profession, some indeed primarily choose to go into translation because of the allure of money and the freelance lifestyle it can provide.

All in all, I learned something from the book but a few paragraphs would have sufficed it for me. For a dissertation about translators telling their story, this one is a disappointing void of their real voice. After a brief glance into a thought or two, the author breaks the flow and expounds. I can't blame someone for publishing a dissertation but despite my interest in this particular field, I was bored to tears.

I picked up this book because I wanted to know more about the life of a Korean-English translator. I now know more but I regret the amount of time I spent on it. Indeed the stories the translators had to tell were interesting but sadly their words were few and far between in this heavily padded skipping record of a book. Skip it and move on.

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I feel like I'm ripping this professor's work apart but looking at it as it is, a book, it isn't much to write home about. I feel guilty almost, too, because I wanted to enjoy it. I almost didn't want to publish this review for fear of personally meeting him one day. He certainly has accomplished much more in his field than I in mine, so respect is given where it's due, but there's no excuse for dry writing.

Also, anyone else having trouble finding a print copy of this book? I can't seem to even find it on Amazon or LibraryThing.


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