VoiceBox, Part of Wolfestone Group

We’ve all been through those lazy days when all you want to do is binge-watch TV. And if you’re anything like our 150 million fellow partners in crime, you’ll do so through Netflix.

For the American media giant, translation (perhaps, more specifically, subtitle translation) is vital to reaching international audiences.

While English-speakers can simply afford to click play and relax, it’s a totally different story for everyone else. Me included.

Waiting for the dubbed version of your favourite show can prove challenging for even the most patient non-English speaker, so many of us choose to watch the original version with subtitles instead.

“Who needs professional subtitlers, anyway?”

Just like translating, subtitling is an art form with its own rules (e.g. each subtitle should have a maximum number of characters and lines and must be synchronised with the image). But what happens when they make no sense at all? And why would Netflix have nonsense subtitles in the first place?

To answer the latter, it’s important to look back to March 2017, when the company, faced with a growing need for content localisation, launched a recruitment process for translators.

Despite being described by Netflix as the most efficient way of finding the “best translators” in the world, the process itself left a lot to be desired and allowed anybody and everybody to apply.

Logging in to the recruitment platform, people started to realise that the only prerequisite for taking the test was to understand English. And that was it.

The media saw this as a display of ironic frugality from Netflix and suggested the multinational giant was spending as little as possible to make even more money from a growing global audience.

Netflix subtitles failing in multiple languages

Here’s a fine example of their multilingual subtitles gone awry.

An example of Netflix subtitles

In the original English, this line read: “TripAdvisor is the life blood of the agrotourism industry.” Once translated into French, however, TripAdvisor ceased to resemble a proper noun and took the very literal form of “Conseil Voyage”.

Obviously, the fansubber (a non-professional subtitler) to blame was dependent on something or someone else for their hotel and restaurant reviews.

This kind of mistake can prove costly to monolingual viewers, who need accurate subtitles to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in their favourite shows. For me, as a genuine translator, I sometimes grind my teeth at the haphazard approach taken to subtitle translation.

And here’s another example.

An example of Netflix subtitles

In its original English, this line ran: “I’m gonna tell her the truth, I’m gonna come clean.” Once translated into French, however, it read: “I’m gonna tell her the truth, I’m going to come clean up.”

Maybe cleaning up this subtitle and replacing it would be a better idea, eh?

Unfortunately, Netflix has chosen to prioritise quantity over quality in their search to become the best and biggest content provider out there. Evidently, it’s their aim to create as much content as possible – an approach which has let its viewers, specifically those who depend on subtitles, down.

Professional translation bodies, including the ATAA (Association of Translators/Audiovisual Adapters) and their viewers have picked Netflix up on their faulty subtitles, but the question remains: will it do any good?

Only time and their subtitles will tell…

Want your multimedia to transcend languages barriers? Then get in contact with a member of our subtitle team today.

Article written by Béatrice Dedeurwaerder, Translation Intern at Wolfestone Translation and VoiceBox.