Song Localization: How to Guide

Music has always been known to bring together people from all over the world. If you come from a non-English speaking country, chances are that some of the greatest English hits have been translated in your native language. Have you ever wondered though, how much effort and skill goes into these popular song translations?

Localizing a song is certainly a lot different than localizing a book or an article on an online blog. There is a whole process which has to be followed if you wish to come up with a good result. Here are some essential steps you need to take if you wish to learn how to localize a song in your native tongue.

Poetic translations

There are many different ways to start translating a song into another language. The first one you can follow is called a “poetic” translation which pretty much means that you will be translating the lyrics in a much looser way than the original. The problem with song translations most of the time is that the phonetics of one language won’t allow for the translation to happen while keeping the same meaning.

This is why poetic translations are usually the most common road most song translators take in order to give a good quality translation of the song in another language. The only problem with this type of song localization is that it is not always accurate and close to the original.

Different languages have different phonetics, grammar and spelling rules which can truly play an important part in how a song will be translated. Because of these facts, it is often better to give a song a slightly different meaning and keep it balanced and beautiful sounding, rather than to make it incomprehensible to the native speakers of any language it is being translated into.

Word-for-word translations

Opposite of the poetic translation, the word-for-word translations aim to translate each and every single word of a song in order to bring it as close to the original version of the song as possible. In most cases, these kinds of translations completely disregard grammar and phonetics.

The problem with these translations is that they might not always make sense in the language the song is translated into. As grammatical accuracy doesn’t really become a priority in this kind of song localization technique, the song ends up being more of a piece of art than a song just anybody can listen to and sing along to.

Translating word-for-word requires a very talented translator who is usually a native speaker. It really takes a lot of effort to manage to translate every single word of a song and find the best meaning for every word in order to keep the translation as accurate as possible. If you’re looking for some of the best translation and localization services, The Word Point is a great tool which can help you connect with professional translators at any moment.

Choosing the right method for your work

Each of these two methods serves a completely different purpose and is there to be used under different circumstances. It is very common though for the people translating to start with a word-for-word translation, in an attempt to keep the soul and the meaning of the song intact, even in the new language. This sadly doesn’t always work out though and it can take away a lot of meaning from the song, if it is hard to comprehend by the native speakers.

Probably the best thing you can do in order to create a beautiful translation of the song is to start out with a word-for-word translation, but then incorporate elements of the poetic translation in every part which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. You can always keep the basic meaning of the song intact, but you will come to find that some parts can simply not be translated accurately in another language as they will end up changing parts of the song in order to fit in.

Incorporating some looser meanings into your translation will help make the song a lot more suitable for the local audience and will also help you put a personal touch into the creation or rather translation process. This happens very often, especially in the European Union where many Balkan countries tend to share songs and translate them in a way that is enjoyable to each individual country.

Localizing is more than just translating

The localization process of a song involves much more than a simple translation. This is usually why word-for-word translation will not work when you are trying to translate a song for a particular targeted population.

What this essentially means is that not every single thing a song says in its original language will make sense in another country. Trying to translate local phrases and words which under normal circumstances would make sense only to the locals will simply confuse your target audience and it will make the song less popular.

The best way to approach this is to alter the translation and change it to something that will make sense to the targeted native audience. While it might stray away from the original meaning, it will make much more sense to the people who speak the language and it will become a lot more likeable and enjoyable by them.

Using the right technique to localize your songs

While a simple translation will always be the easiest way to go about translating a song to another language, localizing a song has a little more content to it than a simple translation. In order to make a song likeable to a target audience, it will have to only be grammatically correct, but to also make sense to every native person that listens to it.

While there are different ways to go about translating a song, the poetic method will probably be your best option as you will be able to give meaning to your song and make it easy to understand and relate to for the people you are aiming to translate it for. A word-for-word translation might be good for poems and other sorts of projects but when it comes to localization of a song, the best way to achieve it is to go for the less time-consuming way and give the song a bit of a native touch.

BIO: Pauline Farris speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian. She travelled the world to immerse herself in the new cultures and learn languages. Today she is proud to be a voting member of the American Translators Association and an active participant of the Leadership Council of its Portuguese Language Division.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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