How to Translate Song Lyrics Step-by-Step Guide

By Merissa

When an average person takes a quick look at the typical song lyrics, it may seem simple to translate them, yet it takes way more than that to explain the original meaning and explain the creativity and the poetic devices of the foreign language. While it may seem natural to translate it all precisely just like a machine translation would, the most popular approach is to create a poetic masterpiece in one’s native language that would transpose the emotional content and have a certain poetic value. Since a great share of slang words and specific expressions will be completely different from language to language, one must consider being creative and knowledgeable at heart to handle the translations of song lyrics correctly!

4 Steps to Translate Song Lyrics

  1. Set Your Priorities. In most scenarios, you do not need a direct translation of the song lyrics unless you are dealing with analysis and the exploration of the foreign language literary devices. Likewise, if your task is to keep the singability and fit in within the original (or a slightly changed) musical background, you must consider the original content unless you already have a new set of lyrics that are completely different from the original. For example, we can take the famous “Love to Hate You” by Erasure, which has been translated more than once in Spanish, German, or Russian. As one can see, the lyrics have been changed a lot, yet the musical part and singability of the original have been kept.
  2. Consider Country-Specific Content to Convey The Original Meaning. Another crucial part is the use of certain proverbs and slang expressions that can be encountered in any genre of music. It can be a reference to a country’s history or the slang used by jazz musicians or someone coming from the American South. Since your translation may be dealing with English to Japanese as an example, one has to find relevant proverbs or expressions in a target language to convey the meaning and express the same set of emotions if possible. You can approach the best translation companies in USA and discuss this aspect of lyrics translation before you start. As a rule, you will encounter creative personalities who may offer various options that will keep you satisfied!
  3. Adapt The Context of The Song To Your Target Language. The final translation must remain true to the original context of the song while sounding natural in your language. For example, if you are dealing with a song that speaks of a Spanish festival and the local meals, it has to be adapted in terms of your local culture by using certain terms and additional explanations that will make sense to your target audience. In other words, some things that will sound clear and natural to Spaniards or your English-speaking audience may sound odd and out of place to Chinese.
  4. Know Your Target Audience And Objectives. Most importantly, always consider your target audience and the list of professional goals that you want to achieve as a translator. Ask yourself about what matters more to you: the direct content and the meaning or the creative approach to song lyrics translation. Remember to read it aloud and compare it to the original meaning to ensure that nothing has been missed in terms of time, ideas, cultural context, numbers, or anything that is often lost in translation.

Direct Translation VS Creating Something New

In either case, you will always create something new, which is why one must consider the source and the intention of your translation. For example, if you want to translate certain song lyrics for a singer and meet the timing, it is one case while you may provide a translation that does not have a rhyme but sounds direct for subtitles or overdubbing in movies like what many of us have seen in Bollywood films or anime series. As long as you stay creative and true to the source, you are on the right track!


Merissa likes exploring various cultures and language specifics through various art forms. Her posts always see the world through the lens of being innovative and creative.