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“Squid Game” English Subtitles Confuse Korean Netflix Viewers

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The Korean blockbuster series Squid Game’s English subtitles have been confusing, Korean viewers say. Credit: Youngkyu Park / Netflix

The Korean-language television drama Squid Game’s “botched” subtitles have changed the Netflix show’s meaning for English-speaking viewers, according to many Korean-speaking fans.

The popular Netflix sci-fi series was released worldwide last month and is on track to beat “Bridgerton” to become Netflix’s biggest original series. It is set in an alternative world where people in debt compete in deadly games.

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But fluent Korean speaker Youngmi Mayer claims the Squid Game’s closed-caption subtitles in English are “so bad” that the original meaning is often lost. Netflix hasn’t yet responded to international media requests for comment.

The series’ plot sees a group of people taking part in a survival game where they have the chance to walk away with 45.6 billion Korean won (€34 million) if they win a series of six games. If they lose, however, they die.

Squid Game’s English subs betray well-written script

“The dialogue was so well written and zero of it was preserved (in the subtitles),” Youngmi said in a Twitter post. In a TikTok video that’s had almost nine million views, Youngmi gave several examples of Squid Game’s English mistranslations.

In one scene a character tries to convince people to play the game, and the closed-caption subtitles read: “I’m not a genius, but I still got it worked out.” But what the character actually says, Youngmi explains, is: “I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study.”

That translation puts more emphasis on the wealth disparity in society. That is also a theme in the Oscar-winning 2019 Korean film “Parasite.” “Almost everything she says is being botched translation-wise,” Youngmi points out. “(It) seems so small, but it’s the entire character’s purpose of being in the Squid Game.”

Fans commenting on Youngmi’s Squid Game thread have questioned Netflix’s translation strategy. Others have pointed out that less accurate captions make it difficult for those trying to learn a new language.

Closed-caption subs worse than plain English

Youngmi’s initial comments were about the closed-caption subtitles rather than the English language subtitles. Closed captions, which are for people who are hard of hearing, include audio descriptions and sound effects, along with speech. They’re often automatically generated.

Youngmi has since clarified that the Squid Game English language subtitles are “substantially better” than the closed-caption ones. But “the misses in the metaphors – and what the writers were trying to actually say – are still pretty present,” she added.

A hyper-violent thriller, Squid Game has become a massive hit ever since it launched on Netflix; it has been heavily trending on social media in the past two weeks. While the genre of the Squid Games is hardly new, its striking visuals, relatable characters and disturbing study of human nature have spoken to audiences all around the world.

Experts also attribute the show’s success to its characters, many of whom are marginalized members of society. Although they are all linked by enormous financial burdens, they come from all walks of life.

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