Tips and Tricks of Translating Songs

The world of translation and interpretation is a huge one, with continually changing dynamics. As more and more companies seek to make their operations globally, translators and linguists have found unique ways to get the job done professionally and seamlessly.

However, this translation is not just limited to business documents and files. It encompasses a range of fields, each with its own set of challenges and hurdles. Be it electronic media, finance, technology, or medicine, translation gets the globalization task done for its clients, no matter how hard.

The translation of songs is also one of these tasks that come with its own challenges. When working on the translation of a song, it might be easy to overlook these challenges, but it requires careful scrutiny and inspection before the translator can complete the translation of the song. This is because songs present a unique problem of maintaining the rhyme scheme. However, every problem has a solution. And song translation is no exception.

Here are some tips and tricks that are sure to give you a head-start on the translation of songs so they are accurate, understandable, and enjoyable for your audience as well.

Tip #1: Understand the difference between poetic and word-for-word translation

This tip is an important one as poetic and word-for-word translations are quite different from each other. A poetic translation is loosely based on the original text and captures the overall idea of the poem. In contrast, word-for-word translation gives a definition for every word, irrespective of grammatical accuracy. Unlike the former, this word-for-word translation will not exactly make sense in the language it is translated into.

The choice of whether to start with poetic or word-for-word translation is often a topic of debate amongst singers, linguists, teachers, and enthusiasts. Most opt for word-to-word translation so that no bias is evident from the translator. However, it is best to start with poetic translation if you have no knowledge of the original language.

This is because word-for-word translation will require knowledge of the grammar and verbs of the original language and if you don’t have it, the task of translation could become extremely cumbersome. Keep in mind, though, that if you start off with poetic translation, you will have to go back to it after your word-for-word translation in order to ensure accuracy. This is why it is best to start off with several poetic translations so that you gain a rough idea of the structure of the song to make your own literal translation.

Tip #2: Consult a variety of resources

It goes without saying that the translation of songs or poems needs thorough research of several resources before the actual task is undertaken. Paper dictionaries are a good source of getting the literal translation of words for poem translations.

Consulting multiple dictionaries is likely to give you synonyms for translations that you might not have an idea about, such as the difference between “love”, “like”, and “sad”, which can make a huge difference in meaning. It is important, however, to write down all the possible translations of your target word when you are doing word-for-word translation so that you have a variety of words to complete your translation.

For poetic translation, too, you will need to consult multiple resources, maybe more than for word-to-word translation. This is because poetic translation is subjective in nature—it relies on different interpretations from different translators, as we all have different emotional and intellectual connections to our needs.

Consulting a variety of poetic translations will give you an idea of suggestions from different translators. You will be able to answer questions like what is the nature of the song. What is its tone? Is it sorrowful or bitter? These emotional traits are different for different translators but are likely to set a tone for your translation of the song.

Finally, help should be taken from different resources in order to understand the cultural, colloquial, and historical nature of the song. Be sure to research the nature of the poem text too. This can be done by researching the poet, their inspirations, the time period in which it was written, any surrounding influences, and any proper nouns which appear in the text.

Tip# 3: Plan your translation properly

This may sound obvious, but formatting and planning can make a huge difference in the comprehension of the translation. Just like it is hard to read a text where there is no indentation, it is equally hard to read a translation if it does not align with the original language. Format your translation by carefully observing the words of the poem and then considering the rhyming words in the language to be translated.

Take stock of the length of the poem, its inner essence, and the tone that it is trying to convey. Be sure to stick to the main idea of the song as any deviation can mean a loss of comprehension for the audience. Lastly, view the whole song once it is translated to make sure it is as close as possible to the original one.

Tip #4: Review your translation before finalizing

This is perhaps the most important step in the process of translation. Without reviewing the final translation, one cannot establish surety that the translation has been done accurately. After you have undertaken the difficult task of translation, chances are that parts of the translation may make sense to only you.

This is the reason why you should seek help from colleagues, friends, and family in the review of your translations. Even better, get someone who understands the original language. Getting a review from original to translated text could be a huge step in ensuring your translation task is as accurate as possible.

The Last Word

The translation of songs may seem like an arduous task to many, but beneath the surface, it is actually entertaining and enjoyable. This is because, during the performance of the song, most of the focus lies on the lyrics. But there are words in a language that cannot be directly translated into another language.

Similarly, different words have different meanings in other languages. The translator has to carefully scrutinize the original message and take care to translate in such a way so as to keep the original message intact. Some minor changes, however, are acceptable and easy to understand by the reader of the lyrics.

The translation of songs is a challenging task, and not everyone is capable of dealing with it. All it needs, though, is knowledge of the original message and the help of a reliable translation agency which could make the task of translation an easy and manageable one—professionally and efficiently.

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