The main reason we love Netflix is because of its diverse content. They probably have enough content from all the inhabitant continents to keep the whole world entertained if need be. And for those who do not speak multiple languages—like us—we depend solely on the subtitles that Netflix ever so kindly provides with every show. But there has been a hot debate to test the validity of Netflix’s subtitle for a long time. Thus, the question arises: Are Netflix’s subtitles reliable for most shows?
Let us try to find out if relying only on subtitles is a mistake we have all been making for so long.
Are Netflix’s subtitles reliable for most shows?
We all love the anime collection Netflix has, and not the quasi anime’s like Castlevania alone. We also love the traditional Japanese anime’s like Demon Slayer and Komi Can’t Communicate. And we are safe to say that majority of us watch these amazing Japanese shows in either dubbing or with subtitles (no judgment here).
Now, as we do not speak or read Japanese, we cannot legitimize the validity of the subtitles. However, Reddit user u/ryuk0tsuki is taking one for the team. Since he is learning Japanese, he now watches a bunch of shows in Japanese dubbing or with Japanese subtitles. And finds the subtitles problematic.
“おい やめろ,” but the subtitles will only include やめろ,” says the user, explaining how the subtitles sometimes just omit some characters. The user then gave a reasonable explanation that to rely completely on subtitles, one should make sure that the captioning of scenes is done in Japan itself. This will make sure that the essence of dialogues is not lost in translation.
However, another Reddit user Susurrus03 was quick to defend Netflix. The user’s wife is Japanese and claims that the couple has never had any problems with the subtitles.
Netflix’s Popular Squid Games also had Subtitle issues
Until recently, foreign language films and television programs in English-speaking nations drew very limited viewership. However, since the emergence of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, cross-border productions have grown in popularity.
And this popularity skyrocketed when Squid Game premiered on Netflix. A few years ago, it was impossible to think of a foreign language show to reach the level of success that Squid Game did. However, as soon as the show’s popularity grew, many Korean speakers showed their resentment to the translation of some dialogues from the show.
The most prominent complaint was when in Episode 8, Sang-woo tells Gi-hun, “[You] always have to get in trouble to know it’s trouble.” Korena speakers who saw the show were uneasy with the poor translation of the original phrase. Which should be something like, “you need to eat something before you can tell whether it is shit or doenjang.”
Now obviously, all of us do not know about doenjang (doenjang is a brown paste prepared with salt and fermented soybeans). This could be why doenjang remained missing in the translation. It is a cultural reference to the Koreans that the rest of the world might not understand.
Another complaint, and this one being rather embarrassing on Netflix’s part, is that in the show, “Oppa” which means older brother was dubbed as “old man” and “babe” in the subtitles. In eastern Asian languages, older siblings and elders who are outside of the family have specific terms. So you cannot translate them accurately no matter what. But in no sense can Oppa mean Babe.
Now that foreign shows are getting attention and appreciation they so rightly deserve, Netflix needs to put in the time, effort, and finance on upping their subtitle game. And in their defense even with these translation issues, Squid Game‘s popularity had no reduction whatsoever. It went on to receive great accolades and love from the fans.
Shows where Netflix subtitles failed badly
To be honest we are wholly dependent on subtitles to watch foreign content. This means, for better or worse, we cannot complain about the quality of translation that much. However, our dependence should be an indication for Netflix to take the job of translation more seriously. But that does not seem the case, even with some of Netflix’s most important films.
According to an article released by ATAA, Alfonso Cuarón‘s Roma, which won Netflix its first Oscar, lost its essence when subtitled in French. The movie had been “turned into a tragi-comic farce,” according to the group, with strings of phrases devoid of verbs or articles and people swinging between contemporary slang and 19th century French at random.
Another case of embarrassing and confusing translation was with Derry Girls’ Japanese translation. In the scene “I couldn’t manage my Chinese last night,” one character says after the family dog is reportedly dead. But Japanese viewers got this: “I couldn’t pronounce the Chinese language last night.”
A reason for these issues can be the way translators get the material. For example, while translating Squid Games in French, the translators received scripts already translated to English. Meaning any mistake in the English script trickled down to the French one.
Most Anime shows on Netflix have horrible subtitles
We have established enough that some of the translations by Netflix are really disappointing. But why is that the case? Let us try to find out the reason behind such a blunder by a billion-dollar company like Netflix.
The most prominent case has to be that the translating industry is an overworked but underpaid one. Translators usually get $255 for a 110-minute film for a local streaming service. This low compensation, along with tight deadlines, can lead to substandard work. Moreover, the condition of the industry has worsened since Netflix entered the scene in 2015.
According to Jason Gray a veteran of the industry, “Fees have fallen by about 25 percent for very experienced subtitlers but nearly halved for entry-level work.”
In Japan, agencies that function as middlemen, contracting with streamers and farming out the job to freelancers, manage a vast volume of subtitling business. As a result of the agreement, actual workers receive lowered pay.
To sum up our whole research and to quote the movie Paterson, “Poetry in translations is like taking a shower with a raincoat on”. So, no matter how good the translation is some of the original work will not make it.
But Netflix needs to invest more in translators so that the viewing experience of the audience remains undiminished.