Struggling to translate formal titles


So I subtitle from English to Norwegian. I guess this could be a common thing with many languages, but I sometimes really struggle with finding a Norwegian equivalent to a word. My biggest struggles have been translating words of formality like “senior” (as an older student), “miss” or “mister”.

There are no words that correspond with “senior” in Norwegian, and if I were to write “senior” most people would associate it with an elderly person. With “miss” and “mister”, there are words for that, but they sound way too formal and almost awkward if they were to be said out loud. I have often considered using the first names of characters instead of using the titles because that how it would have been in Norwegian (even if it were a teacher or your boss).

With the word “senior”, should I use words like “sunbae” and “hoobae” (if it is a K-drama)? And what could be a similar word for C-dramas (and for dramas in other languages)? Is anyone else struggling with this issue and do you have some sort of solution to it?


I really struggled with the word “senior” as well. In Dutch there is no equivalent. So in a Chinese drama I subbed, I replaced it with the name of the character if they were addressing the character directly.

But if they said something like: “Oh, he’s my senior,” I would look at the context. In this case it was about fencing, so I would write in Dutch “senior (*term used for addressing older colleagues / classmates).” I personally don’t prefer using sunbae & hoobae’s, so I don’t, but have recently allowed hyung-nim to be used in a drama.

As for “miss” or “mister”, I struggled with that too, but then I noticed in day-to-day life that if people didn’t know you, they would use the formal “mevrouw / juffrouw” or “meneer” to address you, even if you’re a young person.

Is there a term that people use to address strangers in day-to-day life?


In German as well. We often take Senior or Junior when it sounds okay. If not we go by Brother oder Sister instead of Senior Brother.
Ms and Mrs. are often not that easy. Sometimes a Miss is in the Draa over 30 or 40 years old, but for me this is a Mrs.


It’s normal to struggle, if you want to transport the cultural thing of addressing someone from Asia to Europe for example.

Sunbae/junior - supervisor, superior, line manager/subordinates or underlings, …
That works for work.
For other things you might need to think what it stands for sometimes you find a way to express that. Some use Sunbae/junior and add a TN (translation note at the beginning). In earlier years you were seeing it a lot with Oppa and Unnie as well as Ahjumma …

We once translated a drama where a character was constantly addressed by his profession and it sounded really strange, so we were discussing it and in that drama we changed it for him to be address as “Mr. Lee” - in my language “Herr Lee”.

Although in German there is still the polite form pretty much in use a little different to the common “you” in many Scandinavian countries, we do since 2 decades no longer officially use Fräulein/Miss, yet in Asian dramas we often need to since there it still is. I wonder if “Fröken” (sorry do not have the right “o” at hand) went out of modern use in Norwegian too?


Unfortunately, there isn’t really a term for when addressing strangers. I mean, the person would be addressed as “you” until you know their name… But thank you for your advice on the usage of “sunbae” and “hoobae” :smiley:


I guess Norwegian and German is pretty similar. The usage of “herr”, “frue” and “frøken” are very out of use, and rather than sounding formal, it sounds like you are elderly or even trying to do it for fun. I did use these terms in a drama as well, but when I watched the drama to look over the subtitles, it seemed so unnatural :confused:
It seems like it is better to stay away from “sunbae” and “hoobae” then.

Thank you for your help!


Hmm… the problem is that we don’t even use the terms “brother” and “sister”, so I not sure if that can work :((
Anyhow, thank you for helping!


How is it done in Norway with foreign movies, if I remember right, I spent two vacations in Norway, but a long time ago …
Back to the topic, foreign movies are not dupped but have English subtitles, don’t they?
Maybe try watching some from officially subbed Asian movie content and get your inspiration from there?
I would give it a try, but must say I only saw Japanese movies in cinema the past years that would fit with the needed “titles”. Like
“An” in German it was “Kirschblüten und rote Bohnen” or “Okuribito” English title departures, if I find any Korean or Chinese movie that might be useful I will add it here.
Korean movies “Secret Sunshine” or “Il Mare”, “Failan”, “Dohee”.
The problem is most block buster will not help you with the dialogues same goes for thriller, horror …


I’d stick to the origin term like it is common for Japanese anime fan subs. (I still don’t understand why most subbers here feel the urge to translate almost everything into a Western language… and I really really hate the “Miss” addressing in fantasy or historical; even maids in an ancient palace or fantasy story are addressed like that sometimes and of course it’s similar terrible if you got a “Fräulein” then for the German version).

I recently watched some series with professional subs and they used in most cases the name instead of the brother, younger sister etc. thing. It was so much more fun to watch/read because it felt quite less disturbing than seeing Western terms all the time which do not even transport the nuances of the origin language (e.g. in Chinese the brother/sister/uncle etc. titles have a clear difference between blood relatives and sworn brothers or disciple brothers/sisters… but in English, German etc. it’s all the same so the essence gets lost plus the brother thing in English is more like modern rap/hip hop, religious style… e.g. in a Western show about rapper/hip hop they call each other Bro(ther) and Sis(ter) all the time, but for ancient times or fantasy it wouldn’t be used that way when it is an European story).


Yes, that’s a very handy tip as well. I also did this in modern dramas. But I could only think of the most recent example I used, and that was for sport-sunbaes :slight_smile: (I don’t remember what it is called in Chinese, but they meant fencers that were).

That’s very interesting.


I have not contributed yet and am still learning about being a contributor. However, I noticed in some k-dramas if a character calls someone Oppa for the first time, it is being subtitled as “she called be by my name”… It doesn’t make sense to me as Oppa is definitely not a name in those cases. Personally not sure but is that an appropriate subtitle/translation?


In German “Mister” and “Mrs” are often used, but not alone, always with the surname “Mister Lee”. “Miss” is really outdated and not used anymore in German, but I use it in historical dramas for any woman, who is not married. In modern dramas I use substitutes, but depending on the age of the speaker. Elder people still use “Miss” and sometimes it can be used if you want to scold a child or a teenager. In historical dramas we use for Mister (if the name is unknown) “werter Herr” which means “dear Mister”. Since we have no “Sir” in German, we leave it out or make the reply more formal. “Yes, Sir!” in an ancienct drama would be “Jawohl!” and in a modern drama just “Ja!” (or Okay! Verstehe! In Ordnung! Alles klar!)

And I never use “Senior” and “Junior”, my teams always use the name instead. If you talk about someone, we use paraphrases, for university like “Min Ho ist ein Erstsemester/Drittsemester…” which means, Min Ho is a classmate from the first semester or third semester. “Min Ho ist ein/zwei/drei Semester unter/über mir.” which means Min Ho is a classmate one/two/three semesters below/above

For Korean dramas we use “Oppa”, since this is wellknown. But in Chinese dramas we skip “ge” or “gege” and just go with the name. And the common “little” plus “name” in Chinese dramas, we use “Xiao plus name” and a short explaination, when it occurs for the first time. “little plus name” is not only outdated in German, but often used in outdated jokes, so it would be hilarious to use it. ^^

“Brother” and “sister” are okay for the disciples in historical dramas, in modern dramas it depends on the subtitles and the context.

To translate those expressions is always a juggling act :)) Although I like foreign expressions, I don’t want to make it hard for the viewers to read and understand the subtitles. “What the heck are they talking about? Who is whose brother?”


Really? You use Senior and Junior? I never found a drama, where this was used. ^^ Brother and Sister, okay, but I have problems with Senior and Junior :slight_smile:


Hahaha I’ve seen that so many times in the timed comments, that I do the same thing as you with Chinese dramas. I do skip the ‘xiao’ though. I asked my Chinese teachers and both said I could leave it out if I wanted to :smile:

Do you refer to classes as semesters in German? I’m learning so much :blush: In Dutch I would say: “Min Ho is een eerste/tweede/derdejaars-” (if in uni), but it really would depend on the context, cause I might have to translate into something totally different, f.e. bovenbouw / onderbouw (high school).


I actually very much disagree with feyfayer here. I love sunbae, hoobae, ahjussi, ahjumma etc. I love adding the flaire of Korean to my translations. It is what distinguishes Viki’s translation from the rest, anyway.

Ahjumma can sometimes be translated as auntie (tante) or Mrs.
Ahjussi could be onkel, more so if the characters are from the countryside.

Aghassi is very rarely heard of outside of period dramas, but then translating it with the archaical frøken is perfect.

There is no good way to translate oppa, hyung, unnie and noona, either. But they are a vital part of Korean culture which would be lost if you replaced it with a personal name instead (like NX does).

Senior is a tricky one. Sometimes I translate it as Granny/Grandpa, but that does not translate well to Norwegian. Which one would it be mormor or farmor, morfar or farfar? But here we come to a good point. How would we translate to English mormor? Mother’s mother? Or would it be cuter and flattering to leave it as mormor and explain in English what it stands for?

The thing is, the viewer only struggles with the Korean terms the first time they watch a Korean drama. Later on they become natural to them. Perhaps the only thing we should be careful of is not to introduce those terms all at once in a drama (ie. all in the first 30 min).

The real problem I’m struggling with is Chinese families with multiple siblings.
First sister, third brother, or just simply seventh. There I really opt to write their first names.


It’s not and appropriate translation. The translation should be consistent. Either you’re going to use the word oppa and explain what it means. And then translate “She called me Oppa.”

Or you’re going to find another way. The problem is, in English, there isn’t another way. Because there is only one form of “you”. In other languages there is the formal and informal form, so we could translate this scenario you named in two different ways. Either using “oppa” or using the difference between the formal and informal “you”.


I feel with you! The struggle is real because the word “Senior/junior” doesnt exist in german at all ^^’


Figured as much. I guess those that subtitled those dramas should change that.


Same in Swedish but knowing that they are more polite in asian countries than in Scandinavia or in the western countries I don’t mind Miss, Mrs or Mr and think it’s suitable. :slight_smile:


LOL veto - in work place it can be Vorgänger/Nachfolger and at other places but it doesn’t always fit. I agree there.