What’s being lost in translation in Netflix hit ‘Squid Game’

Netflix hit series 'Squid Game'
Netflix hit series 'Squid Game' (Image credit: Netflix)

It’s No 1 on Netflix and has taken the streaming channel by storm, on course to take over from Bridgerton as its biggest ever original series, but some viewers of Korean thriller Squid Game are unhappy that English-language viewers are missing out on key nuances in the show.

Some are complaining that the closed caption subtitles of the dubbed English version are way off the original Korean dialogue. So much so that important character information is being missed or misconstrued. 

Squid Game is an ultra-violent, vibrant thriller from director Hwang Dong-hyuk which brings together 456 people who are heavily in debt and who are given six days to compete in six competitions based on popular Korean childhood games. The winner will receive around £30million and be able to pay off their debts, while the losers – all of them – will die.

It’s a premise that has made Squid Game a global sensation and has echoes of 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner Parasite, another thriller about the haves and have-nots of South Korean society.

Some viewers are not entirely happy with the series, however. A US comedian of Korean descent, Youngmi Mayer, has aimed a shot at the translation for Squid Game, saying “not to sound snobby but i’m fluent in korean and i watched squid game with english subtitles and if you don’t understand korean you didn’t really watch the same show”.

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It’s important to note that Mayer is referring to the closed caption English subtitles, which match the dubbed English version of the show, as opposed to the English subtitles for the Korean dialogue. Closed caption subtitles are often used by viewers who are hard of hearing.

Mayer made a video explaining what was being lost in translation. 

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Her comment and subsequent TikTok video on the same point has gone viral on social media and inspired others to chip in with their comments.

One fan wrote: “With the woman "gangster" character I felt she was coming off nonsensical and unhinged but your translation helps ground that character more. I wish would provide better translation. ”

But another key contributor on Mayer’s Squid Game thread revealed that she actually translated English to Indonesian dialogue on Netflix and explained how the situation occurred.

Keishakarina said: “What happens is, we have this thing called “reading speed limit”, in which we can only use certain amount of characters to translate a dialogue. Thus in lots of subtitle, we have to “paraphrase” the dialogue so the translation fits.”

Squid Games is streaming now on Netflix. Find out what the fuss is about with everything you need to know on season 1 of Squid Game.

Meanwhile, Mayer joked about the fact her post has gone viral: "my squid game translation got so much attention i was thinking of changing careers from comedian to translator but realized that there is one job that pays less than comedian and it’s translator.”

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 


An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.