For many, music is a com­pletely untrans­lat­able pro­ject. We fall in love so many times with songs we don’t know the lan­guage of that we are fine with not under­stand­ing the lyr­ics. Trans­lat­ing songs is a dif­fi­cult sport. One needs to take into con­sid­er­a­tion a num­ber of vari­ables for a suc­cess­ful trans­la­tion like singab­il­ity, rhyme, rhythm, nat­ur­al­ness, and fidel­ity to the sense of the ori­gin­al text. Even for the best trans­la­tion agen­cies USA, trans­lat­ing songs is a challenge.

Meta­phor­ic­al Translation

A lit­er­al trans­la­tion of songs is very rare and in most cases impossible. That is the reas­on that trans­lat­ing songs needs years of exper­i­ence. One must be able to know the cul­ture of the lan­guage they are trans­lat­ing to pro­duce a suc­cess­ful trans­la­tion. Some of the most suc­cess­ful song trans­la­tions are the following :

Hotel Cali­for­nia by The Eagles is per­formed by Gipsy Kings in Spanish

Some­body to Love by Queen, per­formed in Span­ish by Ednita Nazario

Stair­way to Heav­en by Led Zep­pelin is per­formed in Span­ish by Rodrigo y Gabriela

Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones that is per­formed in Itali­an by Cater­ina Case­lli (Tutto Nero)

Life on Mars by Dav­id Bowie, per­formed in Por­tuguese by Seu Jorge

Stand by Me by E King, in Itali­an by Adri­ano Celentano

Baby Love by The Supremes, per­formed in French by Annie Philippe

Keep the Iden­tity Intact

Anoth­er chal­lenge the trans­lat­or will face is keep­ing the song’s iden­tity intact. The iden­tity con­sists of the song’s mean­ing besides the lyr­ics, stay­ing true to the rhythm and the artist­ic inten­tion, all the while keep­ing the ori­gin­al con­text of the song. By check­ing out 7 For­eign Artist That Made Huge Dif­fer­ence in Music on Their Lan­guage, you can gain inspir­a­tion and ideas if you want to try and trans­late a song of theirs!

Match the Lyr­ics With the Music

Match­ing the lyr­ics with the music is no1 pri­or­ity for the trans­lat­or and one of the most dif­fi­cult parts. That is the reas­on that besides hav­ing the skills of a trans­lat­or, one must have an extens­ive music instinct and know­ledge to pull through such a project.


When one refers to the term “Singab­il­ity” they are refer­ring to the phon­et­ic suit­ab­il­ity after the trans­la­tion. Ori­gin­al song and trans­la­tion, while they are not the same, must be sim­il­ar in how they are sung to send the ori­gin­al mes­sage across. A com­mon mis­take trans­lat­ors make is when they focus too much on match­ing the melody that they for­get to trans­late the lyr­ics cor­rectly, and the mes­sage is often lost.

Dif­fer­ent Means to an End

There are a lot of ways to trans­late a song. The first option is to avoid trans­lat­ing the lyr­ics because the song was inten­ded to be listened to in the ori­gin­al lan­guage — this option depends on where the song is used. The second option is to first trans­late the lyr­ics and then adapt them to the melody. The third option is to keep the melody and write a new set of lyr­ics with the same con­text — many trans­lat­ors prefer this way over the oth­ers. And last but not least, the fourth option is to adapt the melody to the trans­lated song — which com­pletely changes the ori­gin­al song.


Over­all, trans­lat­ing songs requires a very spe­cif­ic set of skills. One must always be aware of the pur­pose of the trans­lated song — when and where it’s going to be used and why it’s trans­lated, all the while keep­ing the main com­pon­ents of the ori­gin­al song intact.


Merissa Moore is a con­tent writer and music lov­er. She has been writ­ing for the last 10 years on top­ics like music, busi­ness and com­mu­nic­a­tion. Dur­ing her free time, she enjoys extreme sports and ceramics. 

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.