I’ve lived in Japan for near 15 years. I’m very familiar with common issues in Japanese-to-English translation. The Korean language has many similarities with Japanese in terms of history, structure, Chinese influence, and, as I’ve discovered, weird quirks. As I’ve taken on Korean clients. I love working with them because they, like me, work all hours of the day and night. Korean-to-English translations by native Korean speakers often have very similar problems to those of Japanese who translate their own language to English.
If an editor (or someone) doesn’t catch these and fix them, they make their way to print in business reports, homepages, journal submissions, essays, and so on. Once in print, they add a distinctly foreign taste that says, “This is Japanese English” or “This is Korean English.” Not good.
Here are three of the common mistakes, with their respective and easy remedies. They may very well apply to translated English from other countries, especially China, but for now I’ll focus on where I’ve had the most exposure. I’ll introduce more in the future.
Using non-English fonts to write Roman characters (i.e., the Western alphabet)
I very commonly see English written in a font such as MS Mincho (MS明朝) or MS Gothic (MSゴシック). Koreans have a fondness for Malgun (맑은) and Batang (바탕). (By the way, Chinese seem to love SimSun). The simple explanation is that, similar to Times New Roman, Arial, and Calibri, these are the default fonts on common word processing software packages. They function well for the sharp shapes and angles of Asian typography, but for English they are blocky and artless. in Japan, it is commonplace to see tourist literature, transportation signs, even entire company websites in these fonts. It looks like this:
Online and on paper, English requires a Web-safe English font to look natural and to reassure the native English reader that they will be able to smoothly communicate with whoever wrote this stuff. The solution here is really simply: Use a native font. If you’re not a native English speaker you may shrug your shoulders and think it’s good enough. Indeed, if you’re a major language school chain, you might do the same. But basically, as a foreign company (or author), you engender trust with clear presentation that is comfortable and natural to the eye of the reader.
Expressing ranges the wrong way
This is easier and quicker than the last one. Both Japanese and English commonly use what is often called the “squiggly” (a mid-line Spanish tilde) ~ for ranges; e.g., 2~3 hours, or 18~35 years old. It’s right in Japanese and Korean. It’s wrong in English. Many proofreaders leave these as is, despite their needing correcting. A tricky part here is that many native English speakers don’t know how to use hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes. Typically, an en-dash, which is longer than a hyphen and shorter and an em-dash is used to express a range of numbers; e.g., 2–3 hours, or 18–35 years old. I’ll bet you most so-called editing or proofreading services don’t know it. I’ve read and edited thousands of academic journal submissions and it’s clear that a lot of these elite publication also don’t know about the en-dash; a few even mandate a hyphen in their submission guidelines. Indeed a hyphen is probably more common in everyday writing; at least it’s better than a squiggly. Stop the squigglies!
Denoting headings incorrectly
This is another of many punctuation differences. Japanese and Korean use a variety of methods for denoting headings and subheadings. Most common are (parentheses) and [regular brackets], and 「this kind of bracket」, though the latter is more commonly used in place of quotation marks. An editor should fix these with boldface, italics, a larger font, any number of ways depending on any style guidelines and established rules. In English, a parenthetical comment means what’s within it is supplementary information for added clarity. A sentence can function without the information in parentheses, but it doesn’t hurt to read it. Of course a heading should not be parenthetical and diminished; to the contrary, it’s really important. Here’s an example of the oddness parentheses create.
To its credit, the site uses bold for the chapter headings, and replaces squigglies not with en-dashes, but at least with hyphens. Better than nothing. More inexperienced proofreaders than not just leave in the parentheses (and the squigglies), with shrugged shoulders.
So there are just three. I deal with these all day and almost every day. They are at the basic end of the work I can do to make your site amazingly global.