It turns out, Squid Game might have gotten lost in translation for a lot of viewers. Many English speakers watched the buzzy Korean drama using Netflix’s translated subtitles and dubbed voice acting, but a now-viral TikTok explaining why Squid Game’s English translations are wrong argues fans who used this method to watch missed a ton of important details in the show. Now, bilingual and multilingual Korean speakers are providing examples of notable translation flaws in Squid Game, and they really are pretty major.
The whole translation controversy kicked off when comedian Youngmi Mayer shared her disappointment in Netflix’s English subtitles for Squid Game in a Sept. 30 tweet. “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,” Mayer tweeted. “Translation was so bad. The dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved.”
To illustrate her point, Mayer took to TikTok to point out a few examples of the English translations not doing the Korean dialogue justice. In the video, Mayer argued that the English subs and dubs constantly sanitized the character Han Mi-nyeo’s coarse language, and the most glaring example came when she was trying to convince others to play Episode 6’s marble game with her. Her pleading is translated as her saying she isn’t a genius but can still work things out, but Mayer said the line really translates to: “I am very smart; I just never got a chance to study.” Mayer went on to point out the scene in which Oh Il-nam and Seong Gi-hun describe the word “gganbu” as meaning “we share everything” would actually be more accurately translated as “there is not ownership between us.”
In response to Mayer’s TikTok, other multilingual speakers also pointed out translation errors in Squid Game, such as Cho Sang-woo’s mother telling her son he doesn’t need him to get her an expensive gift when the original dialogue was a much more selfless statement about wanting her son to take care of himself and not worry about her.
Actor Greta Jung, who has done voice dubbing work for Korean and Chinese Netflix shows, also pointed out a big part of Kang Sae-byeok’s character that isn’t apparent in the English translation. “They should have made a parenthesis in the subtitles when the North Korean character speaks,” Jung told NBC News. “[Sae-byeok] has a North Korean accent and hides it around South Korean people — that’s important, that’s significant.”
Mayer herself also gave one more example in a follow-up TikTok, pointing out the major metaphor in the first episode’s Korean title that got totally lost in translation for English-speaking audiences. Episode 1’s title most accurately translates to “The day that the mugunghwa flower blossomed,” which both references the stop-and-start game’s Korean name as well as the national flower of South Korea. However, the episode is simply titled “Red Light, Green Light” in English, stripping it of its important second layer of meaning.
While English-speaking fans definitely experienced all the major thrills and shocking twists of Squid Game, unfortunately, it sounds like a lot of the nuance was totally lost on them.