Squid Game smashes barriers and records, highlights importance of translation

Squid Game, the blood-spattered, dystopian South Korean critique of modern capitalism from Netflix, is set to become the streaming platform’s most watched series in any language. Taking the world by storm — Netflix Facebook pages as far away as Greece have multiple threads dedicated solely to the show — in the two and a half weeks since its release, the Hunger Games-meets-Battle Royale-meets-Saw-meets-Le Capital au XXIe Siècle drama has earned praise not just for its content and production, but for Netflix’s globalization strategy in general (this last bit of praise coming from no less than Amazon’s Jeff Bezos).

While the blockbuster success of Squid Game and the lesser, but no less impressive, success of shows like La Casa de Papel and Lupin show decisively that media does not need to be in English to be a worldwide hit, issues of translation quality, and faithfulness to the source material, still remain.

One TikTok user, Youngmi Mayer, took to the short form video platform on September 30 to give a rundown of some of the issues she had spotted with the English subtitles, many of them having to do with elements of Korean culture and the modern class system that she claimed the English subtitles had failed to faithfully translate.

@youngmimayer##squidgame translations are sooo wrong here’s a little example♬ original sound – youngmi

Mayer followed-up with a later video clarifying that the issues were the English close captioned (CC) subtitles, which are based on the dubbed audio, and not the original English subtitles, which were more correct (I checked the Greek and French versions of the subtitles and they both hewed closer to the original Korean). Mayer went on to say that, though the non-CC subtitles were much better, they still failed to properly convey key elements of Korean culture.

Mayer also took to Twitter to say that she respects and admires the work of translators, and that they are often overworked, underpaid, under-respected, and deluged with large volumes of content.

Subtitling can be particularly taxing because not only does one need to understand the source and target languages and cultures intimately in order to effect a faithful translation, but there are time and text length constraints that aren’t present in other forms of translation.

As Hollywood’s grip on global content exportation seems to wane, and more and more media in various languages becomes available and finds success outside of its country of origin, all languages have the potential to become world languages, highlighting the importance of having qualified and well-compensated translators, as well as making sure that translations standards are maintained across the board, be it for dubbed or subtitled projects.

Michael Reid
Michael Reid, Managing Editor at MultiLingual, is an educator, translator, and language, culture, and diversity consultant who lives in Athens, Greece, with over 20 years of experience. He speaks six languages fluently and another seven to basic competence. He also speaks just enough Klingon to negotiate safe passage through the Neutral Zone.


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