Despite the strong focus on English education in South Korea, the average Korean citizen is far from fluent. Regardless, English is everywhere. It is frequently featured on signage, restaurant menus and product packaging. Often, the producers of brand names and slogans translate their ideas using Korean-English dictionaries or online translation tools. What results is Konglish, an often accidental mash-up of English and Korean. Konglish occurs in either Hangul (the Korean alphabet) or in the Roman alphabet.
I find Konglish in Hangul very useful, since my repertoire of Korean vocabulary is still quite lacking. For instance, 택시 can be sounded out as “taek-si” or “taxi”. As a brand new waygook (foreigner), Konglish has saved may Saturday night many a time!
When in the Roman alphabet, Konglish can yield obscure or hilarious results. Errors in spelling and grammar abound, often producing malapropisms and inappropriate puns. Since it’s likely to give English speakers a giggle, Konglish provides continual entertainment for viewers of sites like Konglishkillerz.com (many of which, it must be said, are highly condescending).
While much is lost in translation – I have witnessed many misnomers and the death of grammar – I’ve found that there are a instances in which Konglish is curiously poetic. As Korea Times columnist Jon Huer points out, the Korean habit of forming neologisms and Konglish slang is highly creative. Konglish often involves much more than a case of bad grammar. It’s a form of bare-boned communication that reveals many nuances of Korean culture.
On this page, I will share my findings of Konglish both beautiful and strange, witty and whimsical. To start, I’ll refer back to a post in March, where I stumbled across this photo album at a backpackers in Incheon.
While the grammar is amiss and the spelling is awful, I’m sure you’ll agree that these qualities add to the message. Life is Travel: could anyone have expressed this better?