With the release of the new hit show Squid Game, a conversation has surfaced about the accuracy of the English Dub. This is not the company’s first attempt at a dub like this and certainly won’t be their last. But why has this show in particular sparked such controversy?
With a number of things to consider such as tone, voice and expression, content may be the most important. What the character is actually saying. With regards to this, it appears that Netflix has missed the mark with many complaining that the show fundamentally changes some characters by completely altering their dialogue with comedian Youngmi Mayer claiming that “If you don’t understand Korean you didn’t really watch the same show”
This however becomes an even more interesting debate when you consider that the English subtitles for Squid Game are accurate according to many native Korean speakers. This means that the change was a conscious decision by the show.
The most prominent example is a quote by one character who says “I’m not a genius, but I still got it worked out,” instead of the closer translation: “I am very smart. I just never got a chance to study.” This is a very popular trope in Korean media and one that seems to have been ditched in the dubbed version.
A key point made by many online is that the closed captions and subtitles are very different. Watching Squid Game with closed captions should be considered as watching the English version, whereas watching with subtitles would be a closer representation of the original Korean version. It is important to remember that closed captions describe all audio in a scene, whether dialogue or music. Subtitles on the other hand offer an alternative for dialogue alone. What this means is that the closed captions are simply putting the English speech into text. The subtitles are offering a translation of the Korean speech.
Jinhyun Cho, a senior lecturer in translation and interpreting at Macquarie University’s department of linguistics clarifies that while there are some minor omissions, the overall quality of the dubbed version is very good and also states that “There are always things that can’t be translated perfectly.”
Regardless of the accuracy of the show, this certainly raises some interesting questions about the links between language and culture and the altering of content for other markets. Perhaps the omission of some tropes was intentional in order to adapt Squid Game for the western market? In translation we strive for accuracy and native level fluency, but in this instance, perhaps missing some meaning has in fact increased enjoyment of the show globally and could be one of several reasons the show has soared in popularity in late 2021.