I am wondering what are some guidelines when translating the lyrics of a song to another language, because lyrics depend a lot on musicality (rhymes, syllables), it's very hard to maintain the same meaning across languages, so should you try to keep the meaning as much as possible or not and for what reasons?

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    I don't believe this is a duplicate. There are lots of differences between poetic (linked question) and music (this question).
    – linksassin
    Mar 1, 2019 at 5:31
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    I agree this is not a duplicate, since the intent is for the new lyrics to fall to the same music. That means more limitations than with translating poetry. Mar 1, 2019 at 8:44
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    @Weathervane which is why the question is tagged translation. We have a tag for translation, a popular one at that. Translation is writing. Mar 7, 2019 at 11:45
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    @Galastel, I've revoked my close vote, but I still think the tag could use some clarification. Existing questions tagged translations are predominantly about either publishing issues or in-universe translation. This question is hardcore translation theory and would be IMHO more fitting for Linguistics.SE.
    – user23425
    Mar 7, 2019 at 12:00

3 Answers 3


It would be wonderful if you know the language you are translating from, if this is the case, try to find words that have similar meaning and the same number of syllables, if you do end up changing the meaning a little and a line in the song doesn't make sense, change the rest of that line to make sense even if it doesn't match the original meaning. Who will know? If you have to use idioms, that would work too.

And also I noticed someone mentioned the irrelevance of this to the subject of writing, and it gave me an idea for where you can get more help. There are several Stack Exchange sites related to language, I suggest you go here to find idioms or similar phrases to help piece together your translated songs

Here are some links:

and if none of these are quite right for you try going here and proposing your own Stack Exchange:

Area 51


A song has lyrics and music. Translating the lyrics, you'd want to keep the music. It means that as you're translating, you'd have to try to sing each line to the original music. The beats would have to fall in the same places.

There are other auditory elements you might want to preserve, or at least try to preserve. Alliteration sounds like music in our ears, for example, so whenever possible, it should be kept. Preferably with the same letter, though that might not be possible. Pay attention also to homorganic consonants.

On the other hand, lyrics tend to be less rich in layers of meaning, so that should make your job easier. You should, of course, preserve the general meaning and the overall image created by the song, but consider, for example, Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls: if, for reasons of rhyme or meter, a translation to another language changed "blue-eyed floozy" to "brown-eyed floozy", the overall meaning of the song wouldn't change one bit, would it? That is to say, you have a bit more leeway with the particular words, than if you were translating prose.


There are two main reasons to translate lyrics:

1) You want the audience in the target language to understand the original lyrics (for instance, for liner notes, or a song lyrics website). In this case, translate for meaning. If you can give some hint of the original rhyme scheme or meter, do so.

2) You want to create a version of the song in the target language. You'll essentially need to write all new lyrics that fit the rhyme scheme and meter. If you can capture some of the spirit of the original lyrics, all the better.

It's impossible to do literal translations from one language to another that also preserve rhyme and meter, so you're forced to privilege one or the other. Consider:

I Dreamed a Dream (English version)
I dreamed a dream in days gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

(literal translation of original lyrics)
I dreamed of another life
But life has killed my dreams
As we stifle the last cries
From an animal that we finish


Habanero (English version from Carmen Jones)
Love's a baby that grows up wild
And he don't do what you want him to
Love ain't nobody's angel-child
And he won't pay any mind to you

(literal translation of original lyrics)
love is a rebellious bird
that no one can tame
And it is in vain that it is called
If he agrees to refuse


Seasons in the Sun (English version)
Goodbye my friend it's hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that spring is in the air

(literal translation)
Farewell Emile, I'm going to die
It's hard to die in the spring, you know
But I go to the flowers, peace in the soul

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