What are the Main Types of Song Translation?

Song translation is no easy task. It takes one language and musical skills, as well as poetic talents to do it well. Experts argue that song translators face the challenge of considering and combining multiple theoretical approaches to song translation to achieve the ‘singability’ of the end product. 

If you are a big music fan, you must have at least once considered translating some of your favorite songs from or into your mother tongue. What are the main types of song translation? What are the advantages of each type? We review the three main types for your consideration. Check out our summary below to choose the type that fits your needs best.

  • Word-for-word translation

This is perhaps the easiest and most common type. As a translator, your goal is to reproduce an exact match of the original text in the target language. The good thing is that you do not need to worry about strict grammar rules, punctuation, or even spelling. Contractions are fine too. 

Song translators opting for this method are not much bothered with phonetics either. As long as you stay close to the original, you are fine. It is a work of art in both direct and figurative senses. Just get the closest equivalents of all worlds and make them work together somehow. 

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  • Poetic translation

Poetic translation is a more complex type of song translation. It is not for amateurs. Unlike the word-for-word translation, you do not need to worry about being precise and immaculate with your word selection. The goal is to reproduce the same artistic vibe you experience when listening to the original song.

Loose translation is another way of referring to this type of song translation. It is used by professional translators working with poetry. Some translators may not even speak the language of the original text perfectly to be able to do a good job. 

All they need is to understand the meaning of each word, any underlying meanings, allusions, or cultural references. Their task is to achieve the same intensity, rhythm, and emotion with their effort.

Experts argue that music can improve writing skills, taking them to new levels of proficiency. That is why many songwriters using this method keep listening to their favorite tunes while translating. If you have ever taken a stab at writing poems or lyrics, you must appreciate the power and impact of creativity and music on your artistic efforts. 

  • Adaptive translation

Adaptive translation lies somewhere between the above two types of song translation. It is a happy middle ground that professional translators use to combine the goals of the word-for-word and poetic translation approaches.

Those who manage to do it well achieve great results on aggregate. They are able to retain the semantic significance of the translated songs without losing the emotional impact intended by the author.

This method is a great option if your language and artistic skills are more or less comparable. You might end up getting a piece that is as close to the original as possible.

Final Chords

Song translation is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. If you decide to test your skills, carefully review the three main types of the most popular translation techniques. Depending on your objective and skill level, choose one that matches your interests best. 

It makes sense to start with the word-for-word translation method to assess your capabilities. You can then move to the adaptive and poetic types for a more advanced and proficient level of translation.

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Carl Hill is a multi-skilled musician, professional writer, and blogger. He has years of experience translating songs from and into English. Carl particularly enjoys playing the guitar, and he has written a number of songs himself. You can often see him performing his favorite songs on the veranda of his house.



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