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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

What Does it Say?

What does it say about a business in Korea that advertises in English?  That they are bi-lingual? They’re smart and sophisticated? They can attract and do business with both locals and foreigners? All of those things, and quite possibly more. There’s plenty of English advertising here in Korea that is perfectly fine and appropriate. It’s come a long way from when I first arrived and not even all the road signs had English.

But what does it say when a business advertises or markets products with poor English?  Surely, the opposite things might be true: they don’t know English, or at least not well; they’re neither smart nor sophisticated. But whether poor English marketing and advertising means you can attract and do business with both local and foreign customers remains to be seen.

Take this Dental clinic, for example.

Dental or Dentla? Your choice

The main sign board spells it Dentla while the window sticker has the correct spelling.  So which came first, the sign board or window sticker?  Did the owner have the sign board done first, realize the mistake too late to get his money back or have corrections made and then paid for window decals that would spell it correctly? Or did the window decal come first and his sign board contractor have not even a ghost of a clue on how to copy text?  Whatever the case, someone realized the mistake and corrected one version of the spelling. But why leave the incorrect? Is it a case of “my customers don’t know English anyway, so it doesn’t matter. They’ll think I’m smart and sophisticated with either spelling”. Here’s the part where I wonder how much business they might attract and retain. Certainly no English speaking foreigner I know would see this sign and think that it’s a fine place to get some teeth work done.  As for the Koreans, do they notice the difference and think less of the owner for not correcting the mistake? Or do they think the owner has the brashness that his potential customers are too ignorant to notice?  Just seeing the sign I would have little faith in either the dentist or the sign manufacturer.  And what’s with the capitalization? Neither “dental” or “dentla” is capitalized, while “Clinic”, for some reason is.   So many questions, so few answers.

How about this one.

Happy Virus

I’m curious what marketing genius decided “virus” conveyed anything positive in the English language.  Certainly there’s nothing happy about a virus, whether it’s health related and causes sickness or technology related and causes computer problems.  Would making the event virus-related bring in English speaking patrons? And if not, why not just put it in Korean?  I’m utterly stumped on this one.

So then there’s this gem:

so close, and yet so very far away

This wall sign, what Koreans call a “plan card-uh” is clearly an advertisement for a music hagwon. And clearly their target audience is the parents of Korean children who want their child to become musically adept. Whether those parents care about English is in question, as the hagwon owner doesn’t know English and doesn’t care if his customers know. The one English sentence he’s chosen to include on the sign he screwed up, but he wanted his potential customers to understand. So, he put the phonetic spelling of “Let’s Drum” in Korean below. And I say “he” because he used “Mr” and assume he has the basic understanding that a woman might be Mrs or Ms or even Miss. Although the name adjacent to Mr really means he might accompany the student in playing, and is not likely a name the way English speaking people would assume Mr followed by a word would signify a name.  Hopefully Mr 반주가능 has a far better grasp of music than he does of English, as he’s mistaken an apostrophe for a comma, capitalized a noun that doesn’t require it and ignored the fact that musical instruments are played, as in “Let’s play the drum” rather than, say, “Let,s Piano.”

This one is fun.

Spell much?

This company spent lots of money to produce this mouse pad. They probably made hundreds, perhaps even thousands of them.  You think they might have a spent a little money on a dictionary.  I don’t think they can acoomplish much. But here’s what I think the reasoning is for junk like this:  It’s got English – it must be smart and sophisticated and so Korean parents will buy it for their children. It’s as if English strewn across products might help them learn the language even better, perhaps by osmosis. Never mind that the English utilized might confuse the poor kids with bad spelling and grammar.  I’ve railed on poor English on classroom products before, so read here if you want see more of this variety.

Here’s another specimen

 Go to a 1000won store, you’ll find the same thing among the housewares – towels, cups, pictures frames – the product lists are endless. The above was a towel I found in a discount shop. It’s rare to find products manufactured in Korea in which someone hasn’t butchered the English marketing,  making me cringe, laugh or feel bad for the Koreans who have no idea they might be learning from poor examples.

And this product:

( * sigh *)

This product has so much wrong in so little space that it’s well, just wrong. Sentence structure, plurals, definitions…..  First, it might be free-form, but it’s not free – the store wanted 5,000won for this fine scheduler monthly, which English speaking people would reorder to be a “monthly scheduler”.  Maybe they’re trying label their products like military issue equipment (e.g. “Meals, Ready to Eat”,  “Truck, Utility”), and now, “Scheduler, Monthly”, though even to do that you need a comma to differentiate product from category.  And exactly how many schedules does one have to record? I have only one schedule and I have “a” time period that includes 12 months, the ever-missing “a” from so many sentences I’ve corrected over the years. I usually correct plurals where the “s” is Missing in Action (MIA – here we go back to the military jargon), but here it’s not correct to have one on schedules. This manufacturer is happy to repeat these common mistakes.  It’s no surprise if others read it and think it correct.

So, whether it’s a sign or a product, what’s the purpose, Korea? Why put things in English if you’re not going to do it correctly?  Who do you intend to read it?  Foreigners who speak English merely snicker at your foolish attempts. If you intend for Koreans to read it you’re not being helpful. In fact, just the opposite. Koreans may not know that you do them a great disservice by perpetuating poor spelling, grammar and punctuation.

While I applaud effort that has good intentions, English designed for public consumption should be impeccable. With so many English speaking people in this land, one would think you could get someone to proof read what you produce so that you don’t look foolish and, more importantly, you don’t confuse those trying to better themselves.  Come on, Korea. Stop worrying about what someone will think of you if you have ask for help. Worry instead about doing it right so that you, your company, and the Koreans who read your advertising and products won’t look foolish or speak foolishly.