Ever since the launch of any number of platforms where you can watch films and series online (Netflix, HBO and Disney+, among others), lovers of audiovisual content have had more freedom to enjoy this hobby at their leisure.
In addition to offering a wide variety of content, these platforms allow users to choose not only the audio language (original version or dubbed), but also the language of the subtitles (original version or translation). The original version is almost always available, with one or several other languages also offered, depending on the location.
While watching a film or series that has been dubbed is very convenient, subtitles offer a major advantage: the original audio is maintained, thereby allowing spectators to appreciate the show in all its splendour.
Yet subtitles that truly offer spectators a good experience require considerable creative effort: they must reflect the tone, rhythm, personality and sociocultural context of each character, plus they have to meet certain standards that ensure that the subtitles can be easily followed by viewers.
This is no simple task, given the multitude of aspects to consider. That’s why it’s important to use professional translators when producing the subtitles of any audiovisual content.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
Last month, various mass media outlets published comments from Netflix users who were complaining about the English subtitling of the successful series, Squid Game. One might think that platforms would be concerned about ensuring the high quality of their products, especially when we’re talking about series or films with big audiences. But in this case, we would have thought wrong.
This is hardly the first time that notable errors have been pointed out in the subtitling of a film or series. We’ve provided a few examples below, which might sound familiar:
In the original in Korean, the character says: “I am very smart, I just never got a chance to study”. It’s a social criticism of the bias in education. Yet in English, we see that the second part of the sentence is omitted and is subtitled as: “I’m not a genius, but I still got it worked out”.
Modification of the original
In the original in English, the sentence is “I got a question”, which is translated into Spanish as “Si fueran hombres…” (“If you were men…”), probably with the intention of ensuring that viewers understand that the reference is to a romantic date. It’s an unnecessary modification of the original.
Change of meaning
In the original in English, Arya says to the Red Woman: “You said that I’d shut many eyes forever”. It refers to the fact that Arya will kill several characters. But the subtitles in Spanish lead you to believe that she is the one who will die (“You said that I’d shut my eyes forever”).
In the original in English, prince Oberyn is going to “attend the wedding”. But in Spanish, the translation is literal and means that he is going to “take care of the wedding” (“atender la boda”), instead of what would be correct: “asistir a la boda”.
The correct name of the character is Robb.
On the tomb, the date is 21.6.2019, while in the Spanish subtitles there is an error in the year (2020). Considering it is a series about jumps in time, this could be confusing to viewers.
In addition to these examples, other types of errors are also commonly found in subtitles: from grammatical and spelling errors to inconsistencies. Not to mention the aforementioned standards that should be followed in professional subtitling, including aspects related to length, line breaks, duration, repetitions, etc., which are often overlooked.
Subtitling is a complex world, whose dedicated professionals are always seeking to improve subtitles in order to enrich the spectator’s experience. And as we have seen, not using a professional could lead to errors in the comprehension of a series or film. Plus viewers might think that they’re not watching quality material, no matter how much care might have been put into producing the audiovisual content.
At Siens, we’re committed to overall quality, and we check every last detail. Our services also include subtitling of audiovisual materials. You can rely on us!
 BBC (2021). “Squid Game subtitles ’change meaning’ of Netflix show” (online). <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58787264>
 Tradugeek, traducción y tecnología (2014). <http://tradugeek.com/2014/04/hbo-latam/> [Accessed: 8/11/2021]