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If you are learning about Korean language and/or culture, you have probably seen at least 1 Korean Drama, K-Drama.  Many say that watching K-Dramas is one of the best way to learn both language and culture.  But once you know more about both, the subtitles can become more confusing.  How so?  Take for example an older K-Drama that we will not name.  One of the main characters is found crying on the sidewalk by an older woman who knows here well.  The main character calls her 할머니 (pronounced as hal mo nee), the Korean word for grandma.  But the subtitles say that she called her Mrs. Kim.  There is a big difference between using someone’s family name, and calling them your grandmother.  Why would the subtitles say that, instead of putting what she actually said?

Subtitles Are Made More For Korean Beginners, Not Advanced Students

When you look at how subtitles are done in English, they are written more of people who have no understanding of Korean language or culture.  For instance, let’s review the example of the K-Drama talked about in the first paragraph.  If you are familiar with Korean language and culture, you know that everyone is viewed as family.  So instead of always using a person’s name like you would in English, you use a title when addressing them.  So in this case, it was more polite to refer to the older woman as 할머니 instead of as Mrs. Kim.

But what if you do not know anything about Korean language or culture?  You may think that the older woman was really the biological grandmother of the main character.  The fact that the main character ended up dating Mrs. Kim’s grandson may make you think that this is a story of incest, when that isn’t the case at all.  So to avoid having you make this mistake and possibly not supporting K-Dramas in the future,  the older woman is referred to as Mrs. Kim.

Subtitles can be helpful to many people.  Even people that I know who are 100% Korean and have spoken Korean and English their whole lives will still watch some Korean dramas with the subtitles on.  So do not feel bad if you have been studying Korean language and culture for a while and are still using subtitles when watching the latest K-Drama.  Be happy with the fact that you know enough about the language and culture to recognize that the subtitles are not accurate.  Not only does this mean that you have learned about Korean language and culture, but that you are remembering what you have learned.  You are truly making progress.

I hope this clears up some misunderstandings about K-Dramas and subtitles.  And as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to #askthewaygookin.