Mistranslations, Misinterpretations and Costly Mistakes
By Sara Jeffrey
Squid Game has had a profound impact as it exposes the Western front to Korean culture and media. Despite Squid Game’s widespread popularity, it does not cover all things related to Korean culture.
Squid Game (2021), the Netflix original series is a Korean thriller revolving around the fight for survival and the chance for a wealthier life devoid of any hardships they previously experienced by hundreds of poverty stricken contestants. The Netflix Original was written by Hwang Dong-hyuk and released September 17, 2021. It has since amassed 1.65 billion hours of viewing time and has remained number one on Netflix’s Top 10 Non-English TV shows in more than ninety countries; this data stems from the overall hours viewed during the first four weeks of its initial release.1
Squid Game has had a profound impact as it exposes the Western front to Korean culture and media. By November 17, 2021 there were 250 Squid Game–related apps released on Google Play Store2, a large demand in the Korean sweet, “dalgona,” an increase of Netflix stock by an estimated 7%, and a trending hashtag, “#SquidGame” on TikTok which currently has 69.9 billion views, all of which have been dubbed the Squid Game effect. Despite Squid Game’s widespread popularity, it does not cover all things related to Korean culture.
To an extent, Squid Game exposes its audience to a certain level of understanding of Korean culture through the translation of subtitles into their language of best comprehension. Though, there is a lack of research concerning the effects of the mistranslations and/or misinterpretations of the English subtitles in Squid Game on the viewers, specifically high school students at Queens Gateway to the Health Sciences Secondary School. Based on pre-existing literature relating to the inadequate effects of mistranslations, it can be inferred that a repeated amount of improperly translated phrases can consequently be misunderstood resulting in an entirely different idea being conveyed straying from the original train of thought. Users on social media that complained about the errors of translation of the English subtitles had high comprehension levels in both languages especially when compared to the high school students attending Queens Gateway to the Health Sciences Secondary School. These mistranslations would otherwise go unnoticed due to a lack of fluency in the language of the original audio.
Queens Gateway to the Health Sciences Secondary School has a 50% South Asian population, 27% Black population, 10% Hispanic population, 4% Caucasian population and 6% American Indian population3 that have no knowledge of the Korean language and ultimately will have to depend on English subtitles to gain a meaningful understanding of the show. Therefore, an error in translation will cause misinterpretation on the audience’s end and will affect their understanding of a specific scene or even the overall show. To effectively analyze the effects of translation errors, a survey can analyze the differences in levels of interpretation between the original scene and a retranslated scene. Along with a thorough content analysis of cultural Korean terms which will express its significance to the plot. These two methods of research will indicate the frequency with which these misinterpretations occur even through a reputable streaming service giant. Therefore, this research seeks to investigate the following research question: To what extent do the major mistranslations of English subtitles in “Squid Game” negatively impact the overall viewing experience and understanding of Korean culture for high school students attending Queens Gateway?
1“Global Top Ten.” Netflix, Netflix, 8 October 2021, https://top10.netflix.com/tv-non-english
2Wright, Sarayah. “The Squid Game Effect: How Popular Media Is Influencing Hypercasual Game Development.” InMobi, InMobi, 17 Nov. 2021, https://www.inmobi.com/blog/2021/11/17/the-squid-game-effect-how-popular-media-is-influencing-hypercasual-game-development.
3“Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School (2022 Ranking): Jamaica, NY.” Public School Review, https://www.publicschoolreview.com/queens-gateway-to-health-sciences-secondary-school-profile.
I was inspired by the topic of language as language allows for communication between different groups of people. Through language we can express ourselves and our ideas. Additionally, language helps to preserve culture as well as learning about others. I was interested in researching to what extent the misinterpretations in Squid Game can actively affect the viewer’s watching experience and their understanding of Korean culture.
Sara Jeffrey is a 16-year-old girl with great ambitions. She’s an individual that loves anime, manga, art, fashion and listening to music. Sara also wishes to explore the world later on in life and wants to be an architect.