How to Translate Songs



I am having a very serious issue, in my subtitling projects.
That is the translation of OSTs and songs.
Somehow, whenever I try to translate a song, I feel like I am deviating from the original meaning of the song and the poetic expressions of the song doesn’t really remain out there.
In short words, I don’t know to translate a song while keeping the touch that we feel while listening the song.
Is there any way in which I can translate songs while keeping everything in plain context and making a sense out of the song?
Please guide me…


You are right, songs often make no sense at all. Even to native speakers, so it’s not a question of the English translation being weird.
Therefore, I usually feel free to change them, keeping the gist of the meaning, but making them, as you say, make sense. Precise word-for-word translation is never good, but in songs I believe one can take many more liberties than in dialogue. It’s not Shakespeare. The intention is to convey the meanings and the mood/feeling correctly, because that’s what the songs are there for.


Thanks a lot for your reply.
I try to translate songs as accurately and in a poetic manner as possible. But, somehow, my translation just yells that I am not proficient in translating.
Often times, I want to use Google Translate for translating a song, but I guess that is even worse. GT, sometimes, just romanize it, or the lyrics translated by GT don’t make sense to me.
Therefore, I have been in a mess translating songs. And, in mere bewilderment, I asked the question.
Thanks a lot, thou.


Translating songs always makes me feel incompetent in my translating abilities, so I don’t like doing it. Most other websites also don’t translate the songs, so I always wondered the point of it.Most of the time, I find the lyrics distracting from the mood. Since a few months I discovered that songs sometimes get removed or replaced and in that case, the lyrics on the screen no longer make sense of course.
So, now I just don’t bother translating back ground songs anymore. I only translate them when it’s the actors singing in the show. .


Same for me. I don’t know what to do at all when it comes to translating songs. Probably, I have listened to many songs in my own language that I find it way too hard to translate a song which is already been translated. (You see, from Korean/Chinese/Thai to English to My Language). So, it is difficult. Yes, I too feel incompetent.

So, what do you do with timed segments? Like, won’t it reduce the translation percentage (I don’t know how to put it.)


Any unfilled segment will not fill the subtitle percentage to a 100%. There are more cases were it’s not possible to fill all segments. Either because there is nothing to translate or for another reason.

In my opinion, as long as you try to translate everything in the story you can and the average percentage for each episode of the entire show is in the high 90’s percentage, then it shouldn’t matter if the songs are not translated. An example from my own translated episodes in a series: 2 of them are 97% translated and 1 is 96% translated, but for both of them 100% of the story is translated.

Actually, a lot of the subs in an episode is (unnecessary) details. LIke ‘Timing & Subtitles brought to you by XYZ team’, or ‘Thank you to everyone who helped’ (in the last episode). If these segments are emptied out, the subitle percentage will go down, but it doesn’t matter at all for understanding the story.


Thanks a lot for the information. I would try to stick to the story in the near future, and not to fulfilling the timed segments, if it is feasible.
I like this strategy.


I would not call giving some credit to the people who worked hard to give a show decent subtitles an “unnecesssary detail.” :eyes:


Maybe not entirely, if they only appear once in each episode. More times just seems redundant.

But for the story itself, these subtitles don’t matter.


Nowadays, it’s just one at the beginning and one at the end. Old shows had more, though, to the point that they may have gotten annoying.


I agree. This is credit to all of our work so it’s normal to fill those segments.


In my way to work on songs or OST, I think the good way to understand them is to appreciate the drama and watch it.
Some volunteers are translating without watching so they don’t completely understand the drama. Then how could they translate an OST from it ?
If you had completed to watch the drama or the actual episode you are working on, then you have to understand the situation where the OST is used. It’s logical to think that when the drama was filmed this OST was put there to show out emotions, to help the scene. If you manage to understand the context of use of the OST, then you’ll be able to translate it in the better way possible.
Of course, you have also to be careful of who is singing the OST. Woman or man. Sometimes it change everything on my translation.
You have to understand to which person on the drama the OST is referring to or for which person the OST is to


I’m a French moderator and I admit that translate from Chinese to French is not an easy task. Then, the English version lost sometime in process the real meaning of some sentence. But I’m sure subbers made their work in the best way for us OL moderators. But I really love translate OST in French because our language is full of words that can help to nuance or make OST beautiful in their way.
When I started by being a translator only, some moderator didn’t like to translate OST. Then, I was subber and also making OST for all the team to help. I really appreciate those specific translations.


Totally agree!

I find it hard for me to translate for the sake of it, if you want to do a good job in it!
You have to understand the situation and the story so you can come up with the best translation for the story, sometimes I struggle with phrases in English that doesn’t make sense in my language so I had to change it to become more parallel with the story!
And my language has a different rules for speaking to a girl or a boy, it is complicated, so if a translator done it without viewing the story it will be a mess!

A bout the songs, actually I love Viki subs because of it!, even if the songs had to be removed or changed, if the lyrics is still their they could manage to give me the feeling of the lead / story! It is just my opinion as a Viki audience


So, thanks to everyone for your generous help

The thing is that; I have listened to a number of songs in my language. I can translate English translated lyrics into my language, and I can also keep context in my mind as well. However, the problem starts when after a ten times of translating the same line, I still can’t get what can be appreciated as a translation effort. Like, if I am to translate my language song into English, I can do that pretty well (maybe because English is easy to be translated in… or at least, I think so… You can do anything and any word in English… or maybe, that’s also what I think so…)

But, when I am translating English into my language, you have to omit some words and add some new words (to fit in the context), that’s what is difficult. Further, I just can’t find a word to translate into in my language. English is widely spoken in my country, and in day-to-day life, I think I speak more English that my native language in my own native country.

And, in my native country, the songs that are sung has little words and little sentences. A line can end in maximum 7-8 words. In English, there are long lines, and when I am translating them, they become even longer… like 10-11 words can become 20-something for me. Then, I have to edit the lyric. But, I cannot make the song give me a feeling that it’s good and it’s enough.

I am stuck right now.


What about… Listen to the song, its music, read the line, understand the meaning and the context … then close your eyes, without looking at the English anymore, think of what a songwriter in your language would say in the same situation to convey the same mood and meaning. That might help, I think.


Also, I would choose context/ meaning over poetic ! If you can’t come up with a song like line, just stick with a meaningful one, it’s not like the audience will sing the sub along while watching the show nor it will be dubbed in the language you sub for, so keep it simple and don’t over work it.


If I have the feeling that my translation is not good enough, sometimes I try to watch the MV on y***tube. Some fans make good English version and it can help to have a better interpretation of the OST.



There are also links that offer the lyrics of the songs, but sadly usually it’s popular songs, and some drama songs are just written for the drama so those you won’t be able to get the lyrics.

When it comes to Asian OST in dramas/movies, I learned that they want to connect the scene/characters/story, to the song, and most of them make a good job at it. For example: the song [THAT WOMAN] the song from Secret Garden was so perfect for the story, characters, emotion in that particular scene at the time. In my opinion, that song is so perfect as a message of a strong love a man can develop for a woman, and incredibly this song has been used in several dramas with great success.

As a translator of any OST, I personally concentrate of the message in the song, and if the song’s lyrics is making no scene to me with the characters playing and or scene development, I know the translation is wrong, and needs to be worked on by doing a bit more of a research (finding other dramas where the song was used, helps a lot, too).