Singing and Translating

This might seem a tweet I would write while doing my homework but it’s not. It’s about the translation of songs. Some may think that’s an easy thing to do but, even though my little experience, I consider it to be one of the most difficult things to do. Why is it difficult? Let’s talk briefly about the main aspects we have to consider when translating songs!

Translating songs is similar to translating poetry. The main difference, though, between translating a song and translating a poem is that we can’t translate a song properly without the music. It’s impossible to make a good translation of a song if we don’t know the rhythm, where the strong stresses in the original language go in the song, etc. We need to be familiarized with the song until it’s a soft tune inside our heads that we can recall easily.

Can we now start translating the song? The answer is ‘no, we can’t’. ‘Why not?’ you may ask. Well, almost all the songs have a hidden story  in it that the artist wanted to tell us so we have to know this story because how are we supposed to translate the words the artist uses to express himself if we don’t know what he wanted to say? Translating, not only a song but in general, doesn’t mean “translate every word literally”. What if there’s a metaphor or a set phrase and we ignore it because we translate the words literally? We might have the same words but a completely different meaning. Maybe it won’t even make any sense!

We also have to be aware of the role that the syllables play. Each verse of the lyrics has a determined number of syllables that match with the rhythm of the song so it is necessary to keep the same number in the language we’re translating to. That’s another reason why we can’t translate a song literally. If we did so it would be very difficult to match the lyrics to the music because some the number of syllables of a word varies in each language.

Last but not least, the rhyme. I think this is a very debatable topic. What I think it’s important to understand that it’s not compulsory that the verses of a song rhyme but it doesn’t mean that the translator has a complete freedom to make the translation rhyme or not. I think it depends on the original. If the author used a definite rhyming form in the verses, in my opinion the translator should follow it even if this means changing one word or the whole sentence as long as the meaning doesn’t change.

The reason to this post is that Alba and I are going to start our final project soon and it consists on the translation of some songs by The Beatles and a study about previous Beatles songs translated by Catalan artists so expect more posts about this topic. I couldn’t be more excited about it because we are going to do the most important project in our degree about the translation of something we both love and know a great deal about.

Thanks for reading,



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