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07th Oct 2021

Been binging Squid Game? There are some key parts of the story that may have been lost in translation

Fiona Frawley

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably spent most of your weekend enhancing The Fear tenfold by fervently working your way through Netflix sensation Squid Game.

But whether you’ve enjoyed the hit South Korean show with subtitles or dubbing, there are some key components that simply didn’t translate, according to some bilingual and multilingual Korean speakers.

Comedian and podcast host Youngmi Mayer, who is fluent in Korean, expressed her frustration at the English translation of the show in a TikTok which has racked up over 10 million views. In the viral video, Youngmi explains that the translation for Han Mi-nyeo’s character is “botched” and sterilized. In the tense scene where Han Mi-nyeo frantically searches for a partner to play the game with her, the translation reads: “I’m not a genius, but I still got it work out.” Youngmi says that what Han Mi-nyeo actually says in this moment is “I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study“. Youngmi goes onto say that this is a huge part of her character, and something English speaking viewers of the show are missing out on.

“That is a huge trope in Korean media, the poor person that’s smart and clever and just isn’t wealthy, that’s a huge part of her character”.

Youngmi goes onto say this might seem like a small detail, but it’s actually the character’s “entire purpose of being in the f*cking show“.

Youngmi also breaks down the moment between main character Seong Gi-Hun and Oh Il-nam (the old man we all fell in love with) ahead of the painfully tense marbles game. What we saw with the English subtitles was Oh Il-nam tell the protagonist, “Gganbu, come on, you know. It’s a good friend… You share things with them, you see?” Youngmi says the translated subtitle completely misses what this moment was about.

What that translates to is there is no ownership between me and you, NOT we share everything. That is a huge miss. That’s like the entire point of this f*cking episode. It’s a very small sentence… but now it doesn’t even make sense. That is such a difference in ideology the writer is trying to get across to you.

In a follow up video, Youngmi mentions that the subtitles option on Netflix has better translations than the closed captions option, so if you’re about to watch an episode, maybe check in settings which one you’re using.

Cut to us all downloading Duolingo in a frenzied attempt to learn Korean. It’s definitely the type of show where you don’t want to feel you’re missing anything!

Header image via Instagram/netflix 

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