The Alternative Squid Game: Learning Languages from TV

Squid Game

The fact that we still struggle with languages might seem like an odd problem to have in the new decade. For all the efforts of the internet, which has made the world smaller and much more connected, the language barrier is still a major concern of business people, technologists, and anybody who tends to be a little bit experimental with their media consumption.

In the latter case, TV, books, and video games can be an indispensable aid to learning a language but they often present a type of language that isn’t conversational. This way of talking is often singled out by learning sites as a priority of learners, as it’s useful for people who like to travel. Having this taught on a 1-to-1 basis by experienced tutors provides the ability to create scenarios that are conducive to conversation.

There’s a problem, though. Following the release of its smash-hit show Squid Game, Netflix ignited a debate over whether anything truly translates from one language to another. The BBC noted that the subtitles changed the meaning of the plot, erasing key parts of the character development of Han Mi-nyeo. As Netflix continues to provide original, foreign-language shows, this hints at a wider issue.

Of course, Korean is arguably a much more difficult tongue to translate into English than German, for example, which is the language used in the popular Netflix sci-fi Dark. What does that mean for the Japanese show Alice in Borderland, though, or the bleak Icelandic thriller Katla? Both of these languages present difficulties for English translators. Japanese, in particular, has caused problems for localisation teams for decades.

Suspension of Disbelief

The question that needs to be answered is a simple one – just how much value can TV add to the process of learning a language? Unfortunately, Netflix’s lack of care over subtitling means that movies and TV may actually create a stumbling block for new learners. Returning to Squid Game, the Guardian notes that the Korean word for ‘boss’ was mistranslated as ‘sir’, a seemingly minor error that actually erased an anti-capitalist message from the series.

Part of the problem with Netflix’s translations is the company’s split loyalties between dubbing and subtitling. Netflix seems to prefer dubbed content, which, while making things a little easier for English speakers, can cause a suspension of disbelief if it’s not exact. After all, live-action isn’t the same as foreign-language cartoons or video games, where mouth movements can be adjusted to fit new dialogue.

As anybody who has ever learned a second tongue will attest, access to natural language is one of the most valuable tools in the linguist’s toolbox. Short of actually living in another country, though, opportunities to speak Korean or German (for example) can be difficult to come by, meaning that different types of entertainment have traditionally served as a bridge between one language and another.

Of course, if Netflix continues to translate ‘oppa’, meaning ‘older brother’, as both ‘old man’ and ‘babe’, it’s hard to recommend TV as an aid to learning.

About the author

Brian Altman

Brian Altman is with us for the last 10 years and manages technology-related newsletters, blogs, reviews, and weekly opinion articles. He is a passionate writer and is the chief of content & editorial strategies. He writes articles on artificial intelligence, Blogging, SEO, Technology, and cryptocurrency. Brian Altman is a professional writer from the last 8 years in this industry and, in leisure time, he likes to be connected with people via social media platforms. If you may wish to contribute a post though contact here:

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