Study: Emotions Get Lost in Translation

A study was recently published finding that emotions can get lost in translation.  What the researchers found was that different cultures prescribe different words to various emotions, and words to express a particular emotion may not be found in a certain language or may have a slightly different understanding.

This has impacts in many daily settings, including the workplace.

After reading about the study, we polled some of CETRA’s multilingual staff for their own examples that might support the published research.

Our team in CETRA’s APAC office and other Korean-speaking project managers in the US answered the call, and provided the following examples of emotions that typically get lost in translation.

정 (Jeong)

A word that can be translated in many different ways with no perfect equivalent in English. It often refers to love, affection, attachment, sympathy, emotional bond, goodwill, etc. In fact, Jeong can’t simply be reduced to one word and there isn’t an English equivalent. You can feel this feeling toward a person, a place or even an object and it typically develops over time. It is difficult to define even in Korean. Jeong is something that has to be learned through experience and it also relates to Korean culture and traits of Korean people. It has such a broad and unique concept that it often loses its intended meaning when it is translated. – Mijo Kim, Operations Manager, APAC

서럽다 (Seo-rub-da)

This word stands for a kind of complex feeling of sad, depressed, distressed and frustrated because a person has suffered damage although s/he did not do anything wrong. –Sally Yoon, Project Manager, APAC

답답하다 (Dab-dab-hada)

The closest word in English would probably be “frustrated,” but it also means feeling annoyed, less confident, and suffocated that one doesn’t know how to act for the situation to be resolved. –Robin Smith, Manager, Interpretation Services


A feeling of agony and suffering that has been accumulated for many years. It can refer to a personal agony that existed and continued throughout one’s life or it can refer to the entire Korean ethnicity that suffered for centuries of hardship and sorrow due to external factors. However, this word does not specifically pinpoint to a specific instance or cause. It is more of an accumulation of sorrow that is embedded in our gene. – Hyunjoo Park, Account Manager, US

We welcome other submissions of emotions that can’t be translated to