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Song Translation: Tips and Ideas for Inspiration

Traduction de chansons : conseils et idées inspirantes
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Translating songs can be a challenge for even the most experienced professionals. The following is a summary of the keys to achieving optimum results.

Keys to translating a song

Translating an audiovisual product, like a YouTube video, for example, is a challenge that you can overcome by taking into account the following tips for translating a song.

Read and understand the lyrics

You should look up the original lyrics and read them carefully to get the meaning before starting the actual translation. Underline the stylistic resources, if any, and the parts into which it is divided to tackle the job in a more organized way. 

Always work on one verse at a time

You must ensure that each verse makes sense in Spanish, pay close attention to idioms and turns of phrase, and find the equivalent expression in Spanish.

Beware of slang or false friends

This will depend on the musical genre, but in some very specific cases, there is a very unique jargon or figures of speech you’ll need to look up in specific dictionaries. There’s always the option of putting the literal translation and a footnote to explain the real meaning of the expression.

Remember that these types of turns of phrase are updated periodically, so you will need to research, as appropriate, the meaning of the phrases used at the time the song was composed.

Don’t rely on translations that were done in the past

Using someone else’s work and changing a few words is the best way to perpetuate any mistakes that may have been made. It’s much more appropriate to start from scratch and not have any kind of reference except your own work. 

A final reading

It’s absolutely essential to check if you really understand what you have just translated and if it sounds right. Don’t forget that you also have to give the text a touch of musicality by choosing words that maintain a certain harmony. Think of it as a translation of a poem and don’t lose sight of the musicality of the words you choose. This subjective nuance can make the difference between an average translation and an excellent one.

Learn about the history of the song

Every song composed has a story behind it. Search the Internet for the album the song belongs to, try to research as much as possible about what led the composer to write those lyrics and also if there are any parts that use words with a double meaning. This second reading is always essential for a translation that is much more faithful to the original message. This last objective will be easier to achieve if you listen to the original version of the song and think about the time when it came out. 

As you can see, translating songs always involves taking a different approach, in which all kinds of elements come into play. Combine them all and focus on putting yourself in the author’s shoes. This way, you will be able to transmit the same sensations and understand the lyrics of that special song.


This post is also available in: Español (Spanish) Français (French)