If you’ve ever watched a film in a language other than your own, you know how important subtitles are in allowing you to understand what is happening. Subtitles can guide you through a foreign film with ease, conveying the meaning of each scene through text that helps you experience the film effortlessly. In fact, the better the subtitles, the less likely you are to even notice you’re reading them by the time you’re engrossed in the plot!
However, if you have ever come across a film with some questionable subtitles, you know that this can ruin your entire film-watching experience. If subtitles do not correctly convey the humor, drama, or emotion of a scene—how it was originally intended to be experienced—the movie experience is simply not the same.
How do you think a Chinese-speaking filmgoer would appreciate the humor of Guardians of the Galaxy if each time a character meant to insult Rocket by calling him “rodent” or “weasel”, the subtitles translated it as a term of endearment instead, such as “small raccoon”? It doesn’t quite have the same feel, right? You can find several more examples of mistakes within that particular movie here. Even the title went from Guardians of the Galaxy to Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team!
The reasons why subtitles get mistranslated are numerous. Here are just a few:
- The film company could be relying on someone who either isn’t a professional, or who simply isn’t fluent enough in both languages to tackle this sort of work.
- The company may also expect the translator to adhere to a deadline that is too strict for 100% accuracy, or offer less compensation than more qualified translators would be willing to accept for this complex work.
- The translator may not be able to fully understand the humor, slang, or jargon within the original dialogue, since they are translating into their native language, and not from In this case, having a translator who is near native in the source language is a must.
- It’s possible the translator may have simply misheard the original line(s) if they were not provided with a written script, thus resulting in an incorrect translation.
For your amusement, here are a few other subtitle translation mistakes we’ve found:
- Juno: The Spanish translator translated “I’ll have a Maker’s Mark” to “Just sit down next to Mark.”
- Gone with the Wind: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” was translated as a slightly rougher “Straightforwardly, my dear, I would not give you a damn” in Russian.
- Apollo 13: the German translator mistook the word “peg” for “pig” in the quote “You have to learn to put a square peg in a round hole”, making for a humorous translated sentence!
Subtitles can truly make or break a box office experience in a foreign market, and it is important to use qualified translators and proofreaders to handle the task! If you’ve come across some particularly poor translations within subtitles, please let us know in the comments below!
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