Natalia Manidis

Faces of Gengo: Sam


Sam is the Richard Branson of the translation world. His ambitions and determination to succeed have seen him develop skills in five languages, live in three countries and work for some of Korea’s biggest names such as Doosan and LG, all before the age of 21. The secrets to Sam’s success? Preparedness, RescueTime and smart work.

What languages do you speak? How did you learn them?

I speak five languages: Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Tagalog and English.

I am Korean, so speaking in Korean is a given. I am fluent in English as well because I’ve been living in the Philippines, a country where English is widely used, for over 11 years now. In fact, I could say that I am more comfortable speaking in English than in Korean. Funny, isn’t it?

I learned Japanese and Chinese by leveraging my knowledge of Chinese characters—known as Hanja (한자) in Korean, Kanji (漢字) in Japanese and Hanzi (汉字) in Chinese.

The Chinese characters used in South Korean, Japanese and Chinese texts vary in terms of pronunciation, writing style and usage, among other things; however, their essence remains more or less the same.

I also watch Japanese and Chinese news, dramas and movies regularly to hone my vocabulary and to improve my comprehension. My language proficiency of Japanese and Chinese may not be perfect, but I practice everyday to get there.

My next target language is Arabic. Other than the sectarian and political violence wreaking havoc in the region, the Middle East is a wonderful place to live and work in, and I hope that I’ll be a fluent writer and speaker of Arabic in the future.

Do you have any interesting anecdotes from where work has taken you?

Qatar and the Philippines so far. Who knows where next?


How did you get into translation? Do you translate full-time?

I started my translation career to make a living. Financial circumstances had not been good for me so this was the best course of action I could take back then.

I began with translating documents from Korean to English and vice versa, which led to working as an interpreter for Korean businessmen interested in the Philippines.

At present, I’m working as a full-time independent translator in Qatar for big names in South Korea such as Doosan and LG. I’d like to go back to doing part-time work soon, however, because I need to continue my studies.

What was your most enjoyable translation experience? Your most challenging?

Translation has always been an enjoyable experience for me: you not only get access to interesting knowledge and information but also improve your language skills, which will benefit you as long as you live.

One of the most challenging translation experiences that I had was when I was asked to translate from Korean to English a nine page document in five hours. The pages were filled with jargon, and worse still, there were no spaces between words or paragraphs. Although my client told me that speed mattered most, I still had the conviction that I had to provide a high-quality translation. Long story short, I regained my sanity after five hours, and the client was satisfied.


Describe your office setup or workspace. What is the view like? What kind of scenery do you look at every day?

I am currently working in Qatar. I have a temporary workspace here, and there is nothing much to see other than a pile of papers.

The view outside my workspace is not that interesting either, so I often drive for a couple of minutes or so to get to the desert along the Sealine Beach in Qatar. The place where the desert (devoid of life) and sea (full of life) meet has a spectacular view.


Based on your specific cultural expertise, what are the best books or movies you would recommend to others?

One Korean book that left a lasting impression on me is titled The 10 Minutes Before I Sleep Determines My Tomorrow (잠들기 전 10분이 나의 내일을 결정한다) or something like that. The title is just implying that the 10 minutes you spend reading the book can help you build a better future.

In the book, there is a chapter that talks about nine small habits that lead to success in everyday life. These nine habits all point to the fact that success, whether small or large, can be achieved when one’s preparedness meets opportunity. To express this as a formula: success = preparedness + opportunity. No formula could possibly be simpler!

It’s a must-read book that I definitely recommend to people I meet.

What is your favorite “translator’s snack” for while you work?

Cashew nuts and a can of Sprite. No combination is better.

What online productivity tool saves you the most time?

Time is undoubtedly an essential element in work. Yet, it is a limited element, and this makes time management the first crucial step to improving work productivity. I use a web-based time management service called RescueTime. Basically, it tracks all activities on my computer and visualizes them on a scale that ranges from “very distracting” to “very productive.”

For instance, with RescueTime I can tell that I am spending much more time on a Google search or a PDF file than the actual translation work, possibly because the translation work is based on some specialized topic.

In other instances, honestly speaking, I find that I spend too much time scouring Facebook or replying to friends in KakaoTalk. RescueTime points out these kinds of inefficiencies, and really helps me manage my time well.

Finally, if you had to give advice to your fellow Gengo translators, what are the best ways to relax and stay sane as a translator? What is your top tip for those who are just starting out?

To fellow Gengo translators: get off from that chair, go out and take in some fresh air! Try talking to people or going to places you haven’t been to, even if it’s for a short while. Any of these activities can help you maintain your sanity.

To newbies: my tip for you guys is not only to work hard, but also to work smart. Anyone with enough motivation or willingness to work hard can work hard. But, how many among these people can really work smart, or (in other words) carry out the job in an effective and efficient manner? I’ve seen people who work hard at school, in restaurants, at offices and even at industrial worksites, but only a few of them can both work hard and work smart. Creating your own “work smart strategy” can be an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd of millions and millions of freelance translators online. 桓

Natalia Manidis
Natalia Manidis
Natalia is Gengo's Translator Community Manager. As a Japanese-speaking Australian with an international background (pinch of Greek, sprinkle of Dutch), she enjoys the opportunity Gengo offers to collaborate with people from all corners of the world. Natalia is passionate about building a vibrant learning community and discovering the best places to eat in San Francisco.
  • Teddy Nee

    Interesting story Sam. :D What advice can you give about learning Tagalog?

    • Sam Choi

      @Teddy Nee: Just two things: (1) go and live in the Philippines for some time (affordable tickets are offered by Cebu Pacific Airlines), and (2) make lots of Filipino friends!

      If you know Spanish, it might help you pick up not only the language but also the culture relatively fast (Philippines was colonized by Spain for 300+ years).

      For starters, though, it’s nice to skim through some basic learning material that you can easily find online. :)

  • Kieran

    만나서 반갑습니다!

    Loved your story, Sam. My native language is English and I learned Japanese and Chinese by living in Fukuoka and Shanghai for about a year each. I’m coming at Korean from the opposite direction and really enjoy learning it. I also spent a day in Doha last year flying between Guangzhou and New York. Thanks for sharing the tool you use and the picture of the desert.