By

Fran Puddick

Translation
4th November 2021

Learn about the impact Netflix’s Squid Game has had on the translation conversation – and how you can make sure your client’s campaigns side-step common translation mistakes.

You’d have to have been living under a rock to have side-stepped streaming giant Netflix’s latest smash, Squid Game. Love it, loathe it, or even if you’ve not seen it, as a marketer you might be curious about the conversations taking place around the accuracy of its subtitles.

With its themes of debt, desperation and survival in modern South Korea, Squid Game has become a global sensation reaching over 111 million views in its first 28 days. However, its ‘botched’ subtitles could be preventing English speaking viewers from properly understanding its wider narrative.

For many bilingual and multilingual Korean speakers watching Squid Game with English subtitles was like watching a completely different show, with this prompting debate around how its subtitles miss out on some of its core messages, cultural references and symbolism.

'Botched' translation in Squid Game

One example of this can be seen in the title of the first episode, which translates to “The day that the mugunghwa flower blossomed,” which itself is a popular Korean childhood game, as well as the national flower of South Korea. For most English-speaking viewers, this title didn't mean anything, so translators decided to use the English equivalent of the game “Red light, green light”. Though this meant the gameplay itself became recognisable to Western audiences, it erased the title’s metaphorical meaning in Korean culture.

Understanding Squid Game’s dialogue through subtitles

Another example where translation has been distorted is through dialogue. Key characters in the series use strong language and regularly swear, as you’d expected when facing certain death.  However, many commenters have pointed out that the dialogue portrayed in the subtitles is, at times, stilted, without some of the swearing and stressed languages you’d expect in life-or-death situations. Which changes some characters entire portrayal and how they are being perceived by the viewer.

The controversy around Squid Game’s ‘botched’ subtitles has highlighted the importance of the translation industry and sparked debate over what true and effective translation looks like. With some of Netflix’s biggest hits over the last 2 years including non-English series like Money Heist, Dark and Elite, the spotlight is firmly on Netflix’s ongoing investment in its translation services.

Marketing campaigns translation

This brings us to campaigns and marketing. Few of us have the budgets to compete with Netflix, so how can you make sure that your non-English marketing activity, however creative and innovative, doesn’t repeat some of the issues that put Squid Game under the  microscope?

Using human translators rather than machine translation

When using human translation you can be assured that the level of accuracy will be much higher than that of machine translation. This is because humans are able to identify and contextualise words and phrases that have multiple meanings, cultural and grammatical differences, as well as spotting nuances that other wise machine translation would have overlooked.

Human translators are also able to shape words so that the style and tone are consistent with your needs. This means a text will read like a human with personality has written it, rather than a robot. This is essential for persuading clients or communicating to certain target audience.

Get expert help in understanding cultural differences

At ILC we understand that translation is more than just words, it is about people.

We have a strong understanding of accurate localised languages and an appreciation for culture that sets our service apart.

We will ensure your clients retain the sense, meaning and tone of their digital content, avoiding the possibility of any mixed messages when it comes to international marketing campaigns. If you’ve got a project or campaign and need some support, work with the best, get in touch via hello@pabcom.co.uk

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