‘Squid Game’ Was Poorly Translated Into English–A Look At What Was Missed


Whether you’ve binged all of Squid Game or stopped after the first episode, you’re not alone. Overnight, the Korean survival drama was a worldwide sensation. 

Its first month was successful. More than 100 million people watched at most two minutes the series. But unless you’re fluent in Korean, you might have missed a lot more than you think.

Flubbed Dubs and Confusing Captions

Comedy host and comedian Feeling AsianPodcast Youngmi Mayer shared her concerns with Squid Game’sTranslation on social media

Mayer then gives several examples of faulty translations. She isn’t nitpicking semantics, either. Subpar dubs are devoid of metaphors, double meanings and general context.

Players’ Misleading Dialogue

Mayer begins with Player 212 (aka Han Mi-nyeo). “Every little thing she says gets f—ed up,”Mayer states in a TikTok video follow-up. “I think it’s because she plays a ‘low class’ character, so she cusses a lot. And [the translation] gets very sterilized.” 

Mi-nyeo cites one example. “what are you looking at?”Translation: “go away.” “Which might seem arbitrary,” Mayer says, “but everything she said isn’t really aligning. You’re missing a lot of this character and what she stands for.”

A major Korean trope is also lost in Mi-nyeo’s translations. In one scene, Mi-nyeo’s dubbed dialogue says, “oh, I’m not a genius, but I can work it out.” 

“What she actually said is, ‘I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study.’ That is a huge trope in Korean media,” Mayer explains. 

“The poor person that’s smart and clever but isn’t wealthy—that’s a huge part of her character. The writers—all they want you to know about her is that. It’s the entire character’s purpose of being in the f—ing show.” 

Greta Jung, an actor voice who has dubbed parts in many Korean and Chinese shows, shares the same concerns With NBC News

“They should have made a parenthesis in the subtitles when the North Korean character speaks,” Jung told NBC. “[Kang Sae-byeok] has a North Korean accent and hides it around South Korean people. That’s important. That’s significant.” 

Jung said that adding accent-specific context could open non-Korean speakers’ minds to the subtle variations in the language. And it isn’t just the dialogue and dialect, either.

Korean Morality Through an American Lens

American-washed ideology and morals that the writers present are also part of their writing. As Mayer and several other social media users explain, they’re often incorrect. 

You can take, for instance: “Gganbu”The episode’s sixth title. But the titular word’s meaning is lost entirely. The Same TikTok videoMayer shares a short clip from episode 6 where Gi-hun & The Old Man chat. 

“Okay, we are gganbu,”The Old Man said to Gi-hun. “It’s a good friend—one who you trust a lot. You share things with them, you see? Your marbles. Everything.”

Mayer cuts in “what that translates to is, ‘there’s no ownership between me and you.’ Not ‘we share everything.’ That’s like the entire point of this f—ing episode. That is such a difference in ideology that the writer is trying to get across to you.”

A Twitter user also shared a screencap of a conversation between a character on the phone and his mother. This is the translation “I’m just worried that you might get me, you know, something that’s really way too expensive.” 

“This one got me early on in my watch cuz [sp] it’s his mother going, ‘you don’t need to buy me anything, just take care of yourself.’ But they changed it to…this,” Andrew Minghee Kim Tweeted.

These moments are crucial because context is key. Some social media users believe it’s on purpose. “This doesn’t look like ‘not enough translators.’ More like ‘don’t let the world know Korea is much more left than Western media says,’” One Twitter user respondedKim.

Even the titles are wrong

Mayer then calls out the titles. Mayer then focuses his second TikTok video on the first episode. The title in English is “Red Light, Green Light.” In Korean, it’s “The Mugunghwa Flower Has Blossomed.”

“Red Light, Green Light”This provides American context. The game is familiar to us from our gym class and we can predict what will happen in this episode. Mayers clarifies that the original title contains many metaphors specific for Korea. 

“The mugunghwa flower is the national flower of Korea,” Mayer says. “Metaphor alert! It’s the first episode. I personally think they could have called it that in English, and I think people would have understood it by watching it. They would have googled that…right?”

A Bigger Problem Than Squid Game

Mayer also added this to her original tweet “the reason this happens is because translation work is not respected and also the sheer volume of content. Translators are underpaid and overworked. It’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the producers who don’t appreciate this art.”

“How stupid is it that in this country, the media—run by and large by white people—get to criticize art?” Mayer Continue reading. “They don’t even know what we are saying. This is language, but same goes for food, art, music, etc.” 

Denise Kripper, a translator, blames the rapidity at which the audiovisual sector moves. “Time is money on TV, so turnaround for translations can be fast,”She Submitted NBC.

But, she argues, it’s important to take the time to slow down and do things accurately. “A big part of the challenge in preserving cultural references in translation comes from a generalized lack of familiarity and exposure of English speakers, Americans in particular, to other cultures.”

“The more subtitled films they watch, the more translated books they read, the better, in terms of being able to appreciate and learn more about a different culture, which is the whole point of a translation,” Kripper says. 

Mayer’s videos and tweets have since gone viral. The increased attention should encourage translators to slow down and produce accurate, thoughtful translations. That way, we’re all on the same page and in the same game.