Thanks to my YouTube addiction, I have wasted countless hours of my life watching beauty guru reviews, tutorials, and vlogs.
It is always hilarious to see Western beauty gurus trying Korean cosmetics. The reason comes down to translation; either a lack of quality or a complete absence of it. It is actually one of my dreams to work for a Korean cosmetics company translating their labels and promotional materials.
Here I am to save the day! Introducing my Translating K-Beauty series, a pet project of mine to address the greatest annoyance in the marking of (otherwise reliably great) Korean cosmetics.
The first product I will review for this series is the Hair Sheep Steam Pack created by Mediheal.
*번역문의 무단 이용은 법적 처벌을 받으실 수 있습니다. 이 블로그에서 나오는 번역문을 이용에 관련 사항은 “Contact”라는 페이지에 이동하여 문의하시길 바랍니다. *Translations may not be reproduced without permission from the translator. Please use the contact page to discuss use of any original translations that appear on this site.
The first thing I will investigate is the quality of the translations that are provided. What is translated and what is its level of readability and accuracy.
While some other sections appear in English, they are not translations.
What has been translated? Ingredients list
Readability: As readable as an ingredients list can get
Accuracy: Very high
Deep Thoughts: Why is the ingredients list so important? Since this product is sold on Amazon, it’s safe to assume that the ingredients list is translated in order to comply with standards and regulations for export to various foreign countries.
What is most interesting to me about these products is looking more closely at what did not get translated. What was left out of the translation is just as important as what was translated.
This goes to say – what did the company not think was important enough to translate? This product is being sold internationally, so why not have the entire product description translated? Beyond this, the physical shop I went to in Myeongdong was staffed with English, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese speakers. (I did not test their skills though. If you have, leave your impressions in the comments.) Why make them site translate entire descriptions? That seems like a lot of stress for a store employee.
From a marketing perspective, I doubt it is a good idea to let customers “figure it out” on their own. This product includes pictures (cue Ikea product assembly nightmare flashbacks) that are useful in and of themselves. This could be the company’s strategy for saving money on translation costs. The problem with this is that it assumes someone will want to buy a product based only on the package design. That’s a lot to assume. Just looking at this package, the customer will have no idea why they should buy this product in the first place. Korean cosmetic products are amazing, yes, but the majority of the planet cannot read Korean. In my personal opinion, the more English on the packaging the better.
Let’s look at some sections that I feel should be translated. Then, I will offer my own translation for my readers. For the sake of brevity, I will refrain from translating the entire package.
We know the title, “Hair Sheep Steam Pack”, but what does that even mean? Of course, Korean brands love to throw a bunch of random words together when creating product names, as do their global counterparts. It’s meaningless to basically everyone until you read the product’s functions. It also seems that the marketing team is slightly lacking in the differences between goats and sheep. This stems from the word for mountain goat (it is actually a goral over here in East Asia). The Korean word for a mountain goat is simply a 산 mountain – 양 sheep. This causes a huge issue for the translator, since the entire concept of this product is basically a cute sheep narrative, when the main ingredients are derived from mountain goat milk. Keeping that in mind, some of my translations have strayed a bit far from the text in order to address some of this dissonance. I believe this is appropriate in marketing situations, since the goal of packaging translations is twofold: to convey basic product information and to get readers interested in purchasing the product. As a translator, I will locate parts of the packaging text that was clearly just written to maintain the general theme of the product marketing campaign as opposed to sections that are meant to convey specific product information. I will go more into this later.
“스팀케어 / 단백질 케어 / 원스텝 케어”
Here is where the argument begins! We have some options:
Option 1 [Konglish As-Is]: Steam Care / Protein Care / One-Step
Option 2[Translate the Konglish]: Steam Treatment / Protein Conditioning / One-Step Process
This company might be pretending that their use of Konglish would make it easier to sell to a global audience. For obvious reasons, they are wrong. Option 1 is word soup that means nothing; “care” is a strange word to most speakers of English in this context. This is why creative, professional translators should be translating marketing materials, and companies should not trust themselves with such a complex task. Let me stress that I have met plenty of people who are bilingual who are terrible translators – they simply do not possess the skills or passion to get the job done correctly.
Let’s assume a random bilingual employee had the translation task dumped on them. They did their best, but the higher-ups objected to their changes to the “Konglish” word soup. A non-professional translator like this would have no means, no confidence, and no expertise to help them defend their translation. Or let’s say a young but potentially decent translator was assigned this job by an agency that pays them pittance. (In Korea at least, a lot of the translators on the agency rolls are non-native level English writers who forgo professionalism and translate into English anyway. Nobody else would accept work for such low pay!) So the quality ends up being low (whether intentional or not), and the ability for the agency to defend, correct, or do quality assurance of their translators is weak. Thus, weird word soup all over K-beauty products being sent in PR packages to influencers, or being sold on foreign store shelves. I know that native (or native-level) speakers who are immersed in the way people in the target market understand beauty jargon are the key to selling more products abroad. The majority of Korean cosmetics companies truly drop the ball on this aspect. The end goal is to get potential customers to feel comfortable with purchasing the product. Personally, I would not want my product to require a full blog post and tutorial to decipher what it even is. It is up to companies to realize this, but it is also up to professional translators to market the value of our own skills.
Let’s move to the back side of the package. There is so much material here that I will save you readers from further rants and go straight to the translation. While I will not translate the entire thing, I suggest to any cosmetics company reps out there to consider it. It adds an extra level of trust with customers when all of the text is translated.
잦은 펌, 염색, 스트레스 등으로 인해 지치고 손상된 모발에 헤어 캡을 씌웠다 벗어주기만 하면 찰랑이고 탄력 있는 모발로 가꾸어 주는 온열 헤어 팩
우유보다 단백질이 풍부하기로 잘 알려진 산양유와 하이드롤라이즈드콜라겐이 만나 모발의 촉감을 한층 더 부드럽게 도와줍니다. 또한 은은한 발열감이 모발의 큐티클층을 열어주어 영양성분의 침투가 용이하도록 하여 손상된 모발 케어에 시너지 효과를 가져다 줍니다.
6 특징 Feature [sic] / 모발윤기 / 깜찍프린트 / 스팀 효과 / 원스텝 케어 / 영양공급 / 베이비코튼향
예부터 다양하게 사용되어 온 ‘산양유’는 단백질 및 지방 구성이 모유와 같아 자극이 적고, 비타민과 미네랄 등의 영양이 풍부하여 모발에 보습과 단력을 선시해 줍니다.
Mountain Goat Milk
Simple, at-home treatment
Rich in protein
Light baby powder scent
[*I flipped the graphic above to account for differences in word order. One thing I am interested in learning as a translator is graphic design. In such cases as these, a translator who had the skills to adjust the design to fit the translated text as well would be a great asset. ]
For hair damaged and worn out by perms, dyeing, stress, or the like, one use of this hot steam hair mask will transform your hair into strong, flowing locks.
This hair mask contains hydrolyzed collagen and mountain goat milk, renown for being more protein-rich than regular milk, which combine to make the hair more hydrated and smooth. These work in synergy with natural body heat, which helps to open the cuticle layer of the hair so the nutrients can be absorbed deep within, resulting in healthier, damage-free hair.
6-Feature System / Shiny Hair / Cute Design / Steam Treatment / One-Step Process / Nutrient Booster / Baby Powder Scent
Mountain Goat Milk
Used for ages for various purposes, goat’s milk is packed full of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals that provide strength and nutrition to the hair.
[end of translation]
The following might be one of the most important sections for a product such as a hair mask. Since there are several types of hair masks, the user needs information on how to apply it, how long to leave it in, and if it needs to be washed out afterward. I like that they took the time to make graphics, but there is a lot of information missing in the drawings.
1. 샴푸 후, 물기를 가볍게 제거하고 모발을 정수리 쪽으로 모아 올려 헤어 쉽 스팀 팩을 모발 전체에 감싸듯 착용합니다. After shampooing, towel-dry hair and gather the hair at the top of the head. Put on the mask cap, making sure all hair is covered.
2. 스티커 뒷면 종이를 제거 후, 스티커를 이용하여 머리카락이 흘러내리지 않도록 고정해 줍니다. Remove the backing from the sticker and use it to tighten the cap around the head.
3. 고농축 영양성분이 잘 흡수 되도록 가볍게 마사지 해 준 다음 10~15분 후 팩을 벗겨내 헹구어 줍니다. Lightly massage the cap to ensure the nutrients are well-distributed. Wear the cap for 10-15 minutes then remove and rinse.
4. 모발을 헹군 후 말리면 윤기 있고 부드러운 머릿결이 완성됩니다. After rinsing the hair and letting it dry, the hair will be smooth.
[end of translation]
The final section that I would have translated if I were in charge of this particular project, but restricted by corporate budgets, would be the precautions. Here there is no translation of the precautions:
“사용 전에 반드시 사용법 및 사용 시의 주의사항을 숙지하신 후 사용하십시오”
“Please read instructions for use and understand all precautions before using this product.”
-->How should one do this when no translations are provided, I wonder.