Is Squid Game lost in translation? TikTok user claims English subtitles botched

Comedian accuses Netflix of botching Squid Game subtitles. (Image via Netflix)
Comedian accuses Netflix of botching Squid Game subtitles. (Image via Netflix)

A TikTok user has accused Netflix of ruining Squid Game by botching English subtitles for the show. According to her, the incorrect translations changed the meaning of the show, going so far as to say that anyone who watched with subtitles didn't actually watch the show.

Ever since its release, Squid Game has become a global phenomenon, finding viewers in people who have never watched K-dramas before. Pegged to take the spot of Shonda Rhimes' massively popular Bridgerton as the most-watched Netflix show, Squid Game's mass appeal lies in its exploration of humanity, the best and the worst.

Thus, the TikTok user's accusation, which appears to have found several supporters on the Internet, is a serious one.

Netflix allegedly ignores nuance in Squid Game subtitles

A lot can be lost in translation. Nuances, cultural expressions, even cuss words. This difficulty becomes even more pronounced when any media is translated for an English-speaking Western audience.

Any regular viewer of K-dramas on Netflix would recognize the replacement of honorifics like unnie, hyung, and dongsaeng, with merely the names of the characters, which though correct, ignores the relational aspect of the words.

Comedian and TikTok user Youngmi Mayer, though, goes a step further and highlights several other similar instances where nuance is allegedly ignored.

Youngmi Mayer is a fluent speaker of Korean. After watching Squid Game with the subtitles, the comedian said the closed English captions are “so bad” that they lose all nuances in the dialogues.

“The dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved,” Youngmi claimed.
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. translation was so bad. the dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved

Netflix currently offers two kinds of English subtitles. One is closed-caption, for people hard of hearing, which matches the English dubbed version of the show. The other is the English-language subtitles.

In the TikTok video shared on September 30, Mayer points out the character of Han Mi Nyeo specifically. The manipulative and clever character, Mayer says, has been "sterilized" by translation, with Netflix censoring out the cuss words. Moreover, her comments on Squid Game, Mayer claims, have been changed, which changes what she stands for.

i want to do a scene breakdown on tiktok to show you what they could’ve translated to i might work on it today just so you can see what i mean and see what you missed. such a shame. translation is extremely important.

In one of the scenes, Mayer points out, Mi Nyeo says “What are you looking at?”, whereas Netflix translates it to "Go away."

In the scene where Mi Nyeo tries to convince others to take her in their team, the subtitle says “I’m not a genius, but I still got it worked out.” Mayer, though, points out that the actual translation would be “I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study,” which ties in with the intelligent but too poor to afford education trope, which is big in Korean TV and film.

Mayer, who was understandably very aggravated by these discrepancies, says,

“Almost everything she says is being botched translation-wise... the writers, all they want you to know about her is that. Seems so small, but it’s the entire character’s purpose of being in the f***ing show.”

Another Squid Game scene Mayer discussed was the touching Gganbu scene between Oh Il Nam and Seong Gi Hun. The line, which was translated to a simple "we share everything", actually translates to “there is no ownership between me and you”, which according to Mayer, depicts a completely different ideology, and relationship between the two.

'That is a huge miss.That’s the entire point of this f***ing episode. It’s a very small sentence, but now it doesn’t even make sense. That is such a difference in ideology that the writer is trying to get across to you.”

Mayer is not the only person to have this opinion. Several other viewers of Squid Game have added to the Twitter thread, exploring different scenes. One user pointed out the conversation between Sang Woo and his mother in Squid Game.

While some viewers have come in support of Netflix, several others have chimed in with similar experiences, in other languages. Native Korean speakers, who watched with non-speakers, claimed they had to pause and give the correct translation.

@ymmayer My boyfriend and I are both half, and though neither of us are fluent in Korean, he can understand a lot more than I can, so every five minutes while we were watching Squid Game he kept saying "that's not really what they said" so I feel like I missed out on quite a bit
@mblock507 i was watching it with my nonkorean friend and i had to keep pausing in fits of rage because i would see a dumb subtitle lol

Youngmi Mayer concludes her thread by highlighting how poorly paid and overworked translators are. The fault is not the translators', but "it’s the fault of producers who don’t appreciate the art."

also i want to point out that the reason this happens is because translation work is not respected and also the sheer volume of content. translators are underpaid and overworked and it’s not their fault. it’s the fault of producers who don’t appreciate the art

Her entire TikTok video can be viewed here:

ok i made this really fast so it’s not very good but these are the small examples i could find in ten mins
Edited by Prem Deshpande
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