Translate songs: step-by-step guide to learning with music

Music is a power driving us to explore the languages we don’t know. And you can use this power to accelerate your language learning! How? Just start to translate songs.

Music doesn’t know language barriers. It can make you mumble the lyrics on the language you don’t know and feel the meaning without translating a single word. It can even throw you on the way of learning a language.

I know what I’m talking about.

a) I was completely indifferent to Thai despite the fact that I lived in Thailand for many months. But a single Thai song I heard one night in Phuket Town made me to step on the way of learning this language.

b) I studied Greek just because I love Greek music.

c) I get a temptation to grab a Romanian language learning course every time I hear any of Carla’s Dreams songs.

Your love to music can be an amazing power force on your way to language learning.

So what happens when you actually translate songs in your own language instead of being a passive listener?

Why do you want to translate songs on your target language

There are many solid “because of” when it comes to the reasons to become an amateur translator. Just consider these ones:
  • develop heart-to-heart connection with your target language;
  • find inexhaustable source of inspiration for language practice;
  • become an active and self-driven language learner;
  • increase your vocabulary faster than ever;
  • turn into a more attentive listener;
  • understand foreign speech in all sorts of form;
  • comprehend different accents of your target language;
  • match your prononciation with that of a native speaker;
  • become the master of idioms and proverbs;
  • improve your writing skills…

Honestly, this simple practice of translating songs gives you a lot of aces in the hole.

You can easily find your own reasons. And if you do, don’t hesitate to share it in the commens below and inspire other language learners!

The process: 10 steps to get the amazing translation and improve your language skills

Translating songs is not hard. However, you can make it difficult if you go about this task carelessly.

To avoid this waste of time, follow the routine of 10 simple steps that will help you to get a perfect translation in minimum time. This is how I translate songs:

  1. Choose a song

    That’s the hardest step. Frankly. You probably have like dozens of songs you really like. What usually happens is that you grab a song, translate few phrases, stumble over something “untranslatable”, run out of steam and grab the next one. It’s highly unproductive.

    What I recommend is to choose one single and don’t move to the next one until you submit the legit translation of the first. Just make it a rule.

  2. Listen to the song multiple times

    If you like the song you probably went over this phase hundred times – because this is how the idea to translate the lyrics usually comes in mind.

    Still, this time you want to listen to the song carefully and attentively. You may detect phrases you already understand and it will give you a boost.

  3. Find the lyrics

    That’s not a “mission: impossible” as well. With Google you can find lyrics of any song in any language within the seconds. There are thousands of websites that would give you either English transliteration or the lyrics in the original script of the language. Choose the last option as English transliteration will not help you to translate songs.

    However, if you use original lyrics in the language of the song you will always have a chance to check the meaning of any new word.

    One last thing to pay attention to: ignore all existing translation of your song. Don’t read them, even a single line. It can be tempting but if you do it, all your next actions will make no sense.

  4. Save the lyrics on your phone

    You will have to refer to the original lyrics pretty often when you translate the song.

    So simply copy and paste the text in Evernote. As you will see in the next step, you want to mark the lyrics in various ways while translating the song.

  5. Highlight all words you don’t understand

    Yup, all of them.

    However, what I noticed from the personal experience is that, at first, the whole text seems incredibly hard, disconnected and untranslatable. So you may want to go over it few times before starting to highlight new words.

    You may also find that you are familiar with a certain word but forgot its meaning. Highlight it with a different color.

  6. Select a piece

    Once again if you jump from the hook to the second verse to the bridge to the first verse you won’t do a great deal. This is not how people translate songs, this is how people procrastinate.

    To avoid that, start with the intro and don’t even look further.

  7. Identify sentences

    You will notice that lyrics often have no punctuation at all. There are no commas, no stops – nothing. You cannot rely on intonation neither. It’s because rhymes and syntax do not always go along very well.

    So identify sentences or just large chunks of meaning and put some basic punctuation to make it less confusing.

  8. Find translation of new words

    It’s pretty obvious.

    The only thing I recommend you to keep in mind is that a word can have lots of meanings. Especially, if it is already a familiar word.

    So if you cannot fit a certain word in the context, check its full list of meanings. There’s a high chance that you will have to use the least evident.

    Come on. If you translate songs you should always expect the worst: the most obscure, rare and poetic.

  9. Repeat steps 6-8

    Now, pick the next verse and go over the steps 7 to 8 one more time. Until you have processed the full text.

  10. Proofread your translation

    You may want to leave your translation in a cool dark place for a day or two.

    Your brain will switch to the “problem solving mode”, so you may automatically find a better translation of certain passages.

Translating songs is not a long process overall but it can take some time.

Just keep in mind that you don’t have to translate the whole song at once. If you brake it down on several pieces, translating songs can be a perfect language learning time-killer when you’re in public transport.

Finally, take the last step: submit your translation online.

Go public: the best platform to publish your song translation

Submitting your own work gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment! But it’s always better when you get a feedback or someone’s thanks.

Don’t miss this follow-up! Choose the right platform.

My choice fell on Lyrics Translate.

This website lives off volunteers who love music, languages and the art of blending them together. It has the most friendly multilingual translation community in the Internet. You don’t have to be fluent in the language to translate songs. Your translation may not be perfect but you can always ask the community to proofread your work for you.

And what can be better than free proofreading by a native speaker?

Lyrics Translate has an enourmous database of songs in any language. However, if you don’t find the song you want to translate you can submit the original lyrics by yourself. Plus, there are always new requests for translation, so you will never run out of ideas for your next works.

It’s very addictive. The more you translate songs, the higher status you get in the system. And it’s extremely rewarding to see your achievements on your profile page.

The bonus: Lyrics Translate has developped a huge database of idioms on any language of the world. Remember the Step 8? When you translate songs you come across new idioms fairly often. In many cases, Lurics Translate will have the translation of this one.
One more: as all good things, it’s completely free ;) So don’t lose the momentum and add this practice to your language learning to-do list. You have one, don’t you?

Your Next Challenge:

By the time you complete these 10 steps you will have learned the lyrics by heart. Take the next step and learn to sing this song!

Author Details
Polyglot, Author and Founder of Linguapath
Hey! I am Alina Kuimova, and my long-lasting obsession with learning languages led to the creation of this site. Apart from being a grammar enthusiast, I enjoy reading smart books in any language available, finding easier ways for the brain to learn things and buffing productivity stats by 180%.
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