Translators and experts take part in the debate on “Squid Game” subtitles

Like so many people around the world, Youngmi Mayer recently took to Netflix’s survival drama “Squid Game”. The comedian and co-host of the Feeling Asian podcast, who speaks fluent Korean, expressed some of his frustrations on TikTok last week on what she believed to be the English subtitles of “Squid Game” in a video that has since racked up over 10 million views.

In one of Mayer’s widely viewed videos, she said brash character Han Mi-nyeo’s dialogue was “sloppy” and sterilized. When the actor tries to convince other players to play a game with her, the caption reads, “I’m no genius, but still managed to do it,” but Mayer said she actually said, “I’m very smart. I just never had the chance to study.

For some bilingual and multilingual Koreans who watch “Squid Game” with English subtitles or closed captions, some aspect of the dystopian series felt lost in translation. But experts also point out that translation is an art form, often underestimated, underpaid, and limited by industry practices.

Mayer’s videos sparked an online debate over translation, subtitles and dubbing, with viewers echoing Mayer’s concerns on social media, accusing “Squid Game” and other Netflix productions of removing the big ones. words and the suggestive language of the subtitles and condense the dialogue so that it can change. the meaning of a scene. However, many Korean language speakers pointed out that they disagreed with Mayer’s translations.

Netflix did not respond to a request for comment on the English translation process for “Squid Game”.

Actor Edward Hong, who was part of the English dubbing cast of “Squid Game”, was delighted to see that the voice actors were of Korean and Asian descent, which he said helped correct translation errors in the script or to add authenticity.

“Korean actors, even if they don’t speak fluently, can shout something if it’s not right,” said Hong, who voiced Player 244, a pastor, on the hit series. “The way Korean clerics, especially pastors, speak is a very specific way of speaking. This is something I knew all too well to have been stuck in these Korean religious services when I was a child.

Hong said that voice acting is hard work, even more so than voice acting for animation, as the actor has to honor the performance of the original actor while also matching the flaps of the actor’s mouth, so it’s not out of sync. He founded the List of PGM VOs, short for People of the Global Majority Voice-Off List, in 2020 to support efforts for inclusion in voice-over work.

Subtitled in 31 languages and dubbed in 13, Hwang Dong-hyuk’s allegory on modern capitalist society and class disparity reached Netflix’s No. 1 spot in 90 countries.

“Audiovisual translation, subtitling in particular, is limited to space constraints on the screen,” explains translator Denise Kripper, who has captioned numerous television shows. “Typically, captions can’t be longer than two lines, that’s even fewer characters than a tweet. The most perfect translation still needs to be paraphrased or adapted if it does not fit within these spatial limits.

Kripper said each channel or platform has its own guidelines for formatting, offensive language, and culture-specific references.

“The audiovisual industry is changing fast, time is money on TV, so translation times can be quick,” she said. “Translators work around the clock so people can watch their favorite shows. ”

In other video, Mayer said that the title of the first episode of “Squid Game” translates to “The Day the Mugunghwa Flower Bloomed,” a reference to the game’s Korean name, “The Mugunghwa Flower Bloomed” and the flower National South Korea. But the English subtitles just read “Red Light, Green Light,” as the game is known in the US, which she says erases its metaphorical meaning.

Mayer, like many others, did not initially realize that she was watching the Korean drama with English subtitles rather than subtitles, but she said that even after watching the subtitled version titled, she still felt frustrated.

“I still think there are so many important things missing from the story,” Mayer told NBC Asian America. “I understand that there is a cultural difference and that we don’t have time to explain things in detail, but I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘I’d like to know what that means.’ I think it does a great disservice to the writer that the translator, [because] economy of words, cannot include these cultural references.


Contestants face off in one of the deadly games from dystopian Korean survival drama “Squid Game” on Netflix.Netflix

Mayer and others online have noted that translation work is often underestimated, and the sheer volume of content makes translation for film and television even more difficult. Some studios have chosen to use automatic translation, which Kripper says is not efficient compared to using a real translator.

While viewers credited the translated subtitles and the English dubbed versions of “Squid Game” as being more accurate than closed captions, some Koreans believe this highlights a more significant historical issue at play.

Greta Jung, who has dubbed roles for several Korean and Chinese Netflix shows, shared the sentiments of fans who fear English speakers will watch a watered-down version of “Squid Game.”

“They should have taken a parenthesis in the subtitles when the North Korean character is speaking,” Jung said. “[Kang Sae-byeok] has a North Korean accent and hides it around South Koreans – it’s important, it’s meaningful. “

Masked staff members handle boxes containing the corpses of participants in the Korean survival drama “Squid Game” on Netflix. Youngkyu Park / Netflix

Jung added that the context would open the minds of Americans to the fact that there are accents in other languages.

“The world doesn’t revolve around English,” she said.

Americans were previously known to avoid foreign language programs and be averse to playing subtitles, as a director. Bong Joon Ho made a famous joke about during his Golden Globe 2020 acceptance speech for “Parasite”.

“Much of the challenge in preserving cultural references in translation comes from a widespread lack of familiarity and exposure of English speakers, Americans in particular, to other cultures,” Kipper said. “The more films they watch with subtitles, the more books they read translated, the better it is to be able to appreciate and experience a different culture, which is the point of translation.”

Views of foreign language titles have been more than 50 percent in 2020 on Netflix, and the streaming giant said the average American viewer now watches three more time dubbed content as in 2018, which underlines the importance of casting.

Fans like Mayer are hoping that productions can do more to preserve linguistic and cultural accuracy and give English-speaking viewers a little more credit, for example by believing that if viewers don’t understand something, they can seek it out.

“People are watching the media now with their phones in their hands,” Mayer said. “Imagine if someone who wrote ‘True Detective’ was like, ‘Well, people won’t have that reference, so let’s delete it.’ It would never happen.


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