Translators, Experts Weigh in on Subtitle Debate Around Netflix's ‘Squid Game'

For bilingual Korean speakers watching “Squid Game” with English subtitles or closed captions, some aspects of the dystopian series felt lost in translation

Scene from Season 1 of "Squid Game" on Netflix.

Like so many people around the world, Youngmi Mayer recently binged Netflix’s survival drama “Squid Game.” The comedian and co-host of the podcast Feeling Asian, who is fluent in Korean, took to TikTok last week to vent some of her frustrations with what she believed were the English subtitles for “Squid Game” in a video that’s since racked up more than 10 million views. 

Mayer, like many others, didn’t initially realize she was watching the Korean drama with English closed captions rather than subtitles, but she said even after watching the subtitled version, she still felt frustrated.

Her videos have spawned an online debate about translation, subtitles and dubbing, with viewers echoing Mayer’s concerns on social media, accusing “Squid Game” and other Netflix productions of cutting out swear words and suggestive language from subtitles and condensing dialogue in ways that can change the meaning of a scene. (Though, not all Korean-language speakers agreed with Mayer’s translations.)

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

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

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Cedric the Entertainer hosted the 73rd Annual Emmy Awards Sunday, Sept. 19.
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