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SYFY WIRE Squid Game

Do Squid Game's English closed caption subtitles get lost in translation?

By Vanessa Armstrong

Netflix’s Squid Game, the Korean series where 456 debtors try to win a competition’s major cash prize or literally die trying, will soon be the most-watched show on the streaming platform.

The show, created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, has subtitles in 37 languages translating the original Korean. At least one prominent Korean speaker, however, has pointed out that the subtitles for Netflix’s English Closed Caption translation are different enough from the Korean version that the intent of the show may be lost.

Youngmi Mayer, who hosts the Feeling Asian podcast, was one of the first to call out the discrepancy: “not to sound snobby but i’m fluent in korean and i watched squid game with english subtitles and if you don’t understand korean you didn’t really watch the same show,” she tweeted out last week. “translation was so bad. the dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved.[sic]”

Mayer broke down her issues with the English CC subtitles on her TikTok account. The post currently has 1.2 million views.

Other viewers of the show who are also fluent in Korean backed up her assessment. “This happens so very often with me,” Twitter user Oculus Siñister wrote in reply to Mayer’s initial tweet. “My wife doesn’t speak Korean and I have to translate it differently so that she catches the nuances of the dialogue.”

Twitterer Anaemicbadbinch responded to Mayer: "Me and my flatmate both watched Squid Game on two different laptops and our English subtitles were different. The distinctions were subtle but even that made it feel like we were watching different shows."

It should be noted that Mayer was referencing the English CC subtitles, which include audio descriptions or things as well as speech. They are usually auto-generated. According to the BBC, Mayer has clarified that the English subtitles were “substantially better” than the English CC translation. She did, however, add that even the English subtitles were far from perfect. “The misses in the metaphors - and what the writers were trying to actually say - are still pretty present,” she said.

The first season of Squid Game is currently available on Netflix. 

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