Like so many people around the world, Youngmi Mayer recently sang the survival drama “Squid Game” from Netflix. The comedian and co-host of the Feeling Asian podcast, who is fluent in Korean, took to TikTok last week to let off some of their frustrations with the English subtitles for “Squid Game” in a video that has garnered more than 10 million views since then.
Mayer said the dialogue of the bold character Han Mi-nyeo was “botched” and sterilized. When trying to convince other players to play a game with her, the caption reads, “I’m not a genius, but I made it anyway,” but Mayer said what she actually said, “I’m very smart . I just never got the chance to study. “
In one episode VideoMayer said the title of the first episode of “Squid Game” means “The Day the Mugunghwa Flower Bloomed,” a reference to the game’s Korean name, “The Mugunghwa Flower Has Bloomed,” and the national flower of South Korea. But the English subtitles are simply “Red Light, Green Light” as the game is called in the US, which they think erases its metaphorical meaning.
Mayer, like many others, didn’t initially know she was watching the Korean drama with English subtitles instead of subtitles, but she said even after seeing the subtitled version she still felt frustrated.
Her videos have sparked an online debate about translation, subtitling and dubbing, with viewers reflecting Mayer’s concerns on social media, accusing Squid Game and other Netflix productions of removing swear words and lewd language from subtitles and reducing dialogue to one Condense ways that can change the meaning of a scene. (Not all Koreans agreed with Mayer’s translations, however.)
“I still think there are so many big things missing from the narrative,” Mayer told NBC Asian America. “I understand that there is a cultural difference and there is no time to explain things fully, but I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘I wish I knew what that means.’ I think it is not good for the author that the translator, [because] the word economy, cannot include these cultural references. “
But for bilingual and multilingual Koreans who watch “Squid Game” with English subtitles or subtitles, aspects of the dystopian series felt lost in the translation. Experts say that translating is an art form that is often underestimated, underpaid, and constrained by industry practices.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment on the English translation process for Squid Game.
“The audiovisual translation, especially the subtitling, is limited to the lack of space on the screen,” says translator Denise Kripper, who has subtitled numerous television programs. “In general, subtitles can’t be longer than two lines – that’s even fewer characters than a tweet. The most perfect translation still has to be paraphrased or adapted if it does not fit within these spatial limits. “
Kripper said each channel or platform has its own guidelines on formatting, offensive language, and culture-specific references.
“The audiovisual industry is fast moving, time is money on TV, so turnaround time for translation can be fast,” she said. “Translators work around the clock so people can watch their favorite shows.”
Mayer and others on the Internet have found that translation work is often underestimated and that the sheer volume of content makes translation for film and television even more difficult. Some studios have chosen to use it Machine translationwhich, according to Kripper, is ineffective compared to using a real translator.
While viewers have referred to the translated subtitles and English dubbed versions of Squid Game as being more accurate than the subtitles, some Koreans feel that this highlights a larger historical problem in the game.
Greta Jung, who has dubbed roles for several Korean and Chinese Netflix shows, shared the sentiments of fans who fear that English speakers will see a toned-down version of Squid Game.
“You should have put a bracket in the subtitles when the North Korean character speaks,” said Jung. “[Kang Sae-byeok] has a North Korean accent and hides it among South Korean people – that’s important, that’s significant. “
Jung said the context would open Americans to the fact that there are accents in other languages.
“The world isn’t about English,” she said.
Americans used to be known for avoiding foreign language programming and reluctant to read subtitles as a director Bong Joon Ho famously joked about during his 2020 Golden Globe acceptance speech for “Parasite”.
“Much of the challenge in maintaining cultural references in translation arises from a general lack of familiarity and contact with other cultures among English speakers, especially Americans,” said Kipper. “The more subtitled films you see, the more translated books you read, the better you can appreciate another culture and get to know what the real purpose of translation is.”
Views of foreign language titles were by over 50 percent on Netflix in 2020, and the streaming giant has said the average US viewer is now watching three times as much synchronized content as in 2018, which underlines the importance of the casting.
Actor Edward Hong, who was part of the English dubbing cast for “Squid Game,” was pleased to see that the dubbing actors were of Korean and Asian descent, which he believes is helpful when it comes to correcting translation errors in the script or adding authenticity.
“Korean actors, even if they’re not fluent, can shout something out when it’s not right,” said Hong, who spoke on the hit series Player 244, a pastor. “The way Korean religious, especially pastors, speak is a very specific way of speaking. I knew that only too well when I was stuck in these Korean church services as a child. ”
Hong said that dubbing is a difficult task, even more so than voice acting for animation, as the actor has to honor the original actor’s performance while adjusting the actor’s mouthcaps to keep them out of sync. He founded the PGM VO list, short for People of the Global Majority Voice-Over List, in 2020 to support inclusion efforts in voice-over work.
Fans like Mayer hope that productions can do more when it comes to maintaining language and cultural accuracy, and giving English-speaking viewers a little more appreciation, such as thinking that viewers can look up something if they don’t understand something.
“People are now watching media with their phone in hand,” said Mayer. “Imagine if someone who writes ‘True Detective’ says, ‘Well, people aren’t going to get that reference, so let’s take it out.’ That would never happen. “