Language Peculiarities in the Korean Drama Shows

There’s nothing better than curling up on the sofa to watch a series. And what’s even better is the fact that you can now watch or stream South Korean dramas and series. They’ve been popular for quite some time now, stimulated by the export of Korean culture as the government seeks to boost its global soft power. But one Korean series that you would have definitely heard about is the one known as Squid Game. This show is “rapidly becoming a sensation” and is the “first Korean drama to rank No. 1 on Netflix’s top-10 show chart in the United States.” According to Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos, this series has “a very good chance” of being Netflix’s most popular show ever.

If you haven’t watched it already, the show revolves around a group of people who compete in a series of children’s games for the final prize of a lot of money. However, the stakes are raised high as they compete with their lives, too. Being a country with such a rich cultural depth, it’s important for the translators of this show to have translated the subtitles correctly. However, there has been criticism directed at them, which has shown that some of Squid Game subtitles were simply wrong. Here’s why.


Honorifics play a huge role in Korean culture. There are dozens of ways to address a person depending on their age, rank, gender, status, social standing, and more. Generally, some terms are used to show respect to older people while others convey relationships of brotherhood, for example, and this is one area in which the translators of Squid Game got a bit wrong. For example, the term “oppa” is used to literally refer to an older brother, but it is also an endearing term used by women to refer to their male counterparts whom they have a romantic relationship only in the cases when the men are older than them. The term “oppa” was directly translated into “babe”, but this did not take into account the actual intended meaning behind the original script, the age of the two characters involved and thus the dialog went south and the entire scene makes no sense whatsoever.


Language Peculiarities in the Korean Drama ShowsMuch like China, metaphors are also widely used in the Korean language to convey deeper meanings with layers of intricacies. Another example which the translators got wrong was referring to the blossoming of the Korean national flower. In fact, this translation was not accurately done, meaning that the intended meaning was lost on viewers, with many dual-language individuals taking to social media to complain about this concerning a set of translations.


The point about swearing was also off-point. With terms like “jerk” being used to convey a much deeper meaning of a swear word, which goes to insult the affected party’s mother. “Jerk” therefore was quite a mild term substituted for the harsher language used by the screenwriters and this and other swear words did not convey the depth of the situation.

Literal translations

Literal translations or localized translations also put a spanner in the works regarding some of the translated sentences. In fact, one mistranslated sentence, if translated accurately, would have given more depth to one female character, indicating that although she may be poor, she is still smarter than many who may have money. This specific fact about this character is widely popular in Korean culture, but the mistranslation means that viewers could not access this accuracy and therefore could not immerse themselves in the rich linguistic features that this series offered.

Other challenges

Another television series that is also widely popular is My Name on Netflix. The My Name TV show revolves around a young woman who is involved in a criminal underworld, hoping to avenge her father’s death. However, while hugely popular, the My Name Korean series also suffered from incorrect or wrong translations and subtitles mistakes, similar to what was discussed above.


Netflix may be the world’s largest streaming service with huge investments made in translations and localization of local content. This is only set to increase as more and more local content is produced. However, Netflix can get subtitles wrong, too. Because of the intricacies of Asian languages, a few small mistakes can make entire characters and episodes to make no sense as well as convey a completely different message making the viewer experience way worse as well as pissing off a lot of native speakers. The importance of localization in entertainment cannot be underestimated and cultural nuances and depth need to find a way to reach the greater audience it is intended for in order to give them richer, more accurate entertainment.