Translating a translation

18 posts / 0 new
Miss Pumpkin~
Joined: 26.09.2017
Pending moderation

Hi there~ Something has been bothering me for a while and finally I decided to ask...
Is it ok to translate a song using another translation instead of the original lyrics? Like from Russian to English and then from THAT English translation to Spanish (or any other combination you like...)
I mean... I don't think that's a good idea and I've seen some users doing it (it's like a pet peeve for me). Not that I'm going to do anything about it (since it's their choice anyways), but I just wanna know what do you guys think.

Translating from one language to another sometimes makes it loose some of its essence because maybe one language doesn't have a proper equivalent for what it originally says, so the translator changes the lyrics a bit to try to convey the intended meaning... so translating that to another language feels like a telephone game.

Maybe some translators have no choice when it comes to certain types of texts, but I'm talking about this forum in particular.

Super Member
Joined: 10.05.2012

From my experience, not many do that and if they do, it's something that happens once or twice, usually when the original text is in an endangered/ little known language that you learn either from a native speaker or from a hard time spent in trying to find the material, but there's no school offering courses in that language. I, personally, prefer to avoid it: if there's a song I like but don't understand, I'd rather ask for a request in my mothertongue or then check the translations in the languages I know to understand the general meaning, but still requesting a translation.
Once, someone asked me to translate a song from Italian to English so that they could translate it from English to their mothertongue. Honestly, I didn't really care, some things got lost in translation (as you said, sometimes it's inevitable to change some things in order to convey the meaning of the lyrics), but I did what they asked, then what they did is their business. If you don't feel good about it, I suggest you to request a translation, then someone who actually knows both languages will help you. I must be honest, though, not many people would translate from another translation.

Miss Pumpkin~
Joined: 26.09.2017

I've already spoted some users that do it regularly (some of them do every translation like this). My problem is that... what if the translation is not a good one? They'll never know if they don't know the original language, so their translation will be wrong too. But how can you offer good quality translations then? BUUT you're right there: "it's their bussiness".

I did it once too. I was asked to translate a Japanese song from Spanish to English. I spotted some mistakes in the translation (from Japanese to Spanish), and I added footnotes to point them out, but I did what I was asked to do.

Editor and cheeky nitpicker
Joined: 14.09.2013

I've done that on request a couple of times for Ukrainian songs because I was asked to and nobody else seemed interested in doing a French translation. Ukrainian is close enough to Russian, and with both a Russian and an English translation I felt confident enough I understood the meaning of the original.

In my opinion, translating lyrics you don't understand is a recipe for disaster. This is also true if you're fluent in the language. There are so many French and English songs I didn't want to translate because they just made no sense to me.

Editor True-to-original translations.
Joined: 29.08.2015

I have read many translations that were more like interpretations. For that reason, unless you have a good grasp of the original language to start with, it's not a good idea. Think of it as playing the Telephone Game.

Moderator of the avant-garde
Joined: 05.04.2012


I often do it when I'm not fluent in the language enough but I want to contribute/help, or in other cases. Ex.: There was once a Vietnamese->Portuguese request, but as I don't know Vietnamese I used the English translation someone else had added to the song as a guideline for me. But as Vietnamese is far too out of my comfort zone, I only do that more often in languages I know at least a bit (for instance: Italian). I generally ask before adding a new translation, and always mention whoever added the original translation in a comment to thank them for their help.

Miss Pumpkin~
Joined: 26.09.2017

@petit élève & @Alma Barroca Well, I guess if both languages are similar and you've got support from another source, then how bad/hard can it be? There are some languages, like Italian or Portuguese that I'm able to understand even though I've never studied them before, because they are somewhat similar to Spanish. So I guess with proper research I can make a decent translation. But what happens when, for example, someone translates a song that was originally in Japanese and s/he doesn't have a clue of what it says but trust that the Japanese to English translator got it right? I think this is the main reason I'm not particularly fond of doing that. I don't wanna mislead anyone...

@MichaelNa Exactly! If it's not a literal translation, maybe the end result will be TOTALY different from what it really says in the original lyrics. Also, not everyone gets stuff the same way, so you'll never know if that's what it's trying to say or if it's just the translator's interpretation. That's why I think it's better for you to make your own translation, that way if you're wrong it would be because you made an honest mistake, and maybe you'll also learn something new.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not judging anyone. I don't like it, true. But do as you wish~ this place is for recreation & to help those who want to know what their favorite songs say (that's also why I prefer to make literal translations instead of interpretations, because some people -like me- are here for studying purposes). If some of you do it, I wanna know why...?? If you don't... I also wanna know why!

Editor from the Land of Fire
Joined: 21.06.2013

Hi. Well, I have done this. But When I do that, I let people know that I have translated the lyrics from its english translation in the submitter's comment field. It happens when I like some particiluar songs so much, but I don't understand the language. At least, people who read my translation will understand that I have translated the song from its english translation. I never thought it would be a problem.

Editor from the Land of Fire
Joined: 21.06.2013

And well, let's be honest each of us has done it once in our lives :d

Editor from the Land of Fire
Joined: 21.06.2013

And another thing, it's impossible to translate lyrics literally. We all make some changes, but after all the meaning is the same. I, myself, often don't translate literally, makes no sense then. And by not translating literally, we also help people, they understand that one particuliar sentence may mean yet another thing.

Super Member
Joined: 02.02.2016

There is always the risk of the meaning becoming more and more distorted as it is consecutively translated through a chain of languages. To translate something is to isolate the meaning of a text and to then convey that same meaning in a different language. The process by which we do this requires that we alter things such that it makes sense in the context of the target language (and this can be as simple as tweaking a simple phrase to creating entirely new metaphors depending on the translator in question). When another person then translates that original translation, they are doing the same thing to the original translation that was done to the original work. Only, in this case, there effectively is no original work. The nuance in meaning, as understood by the original translator, cannot be understood by the second translator, who doesn't have that information. All the second translator has is the nuance in meaning attained from the original translation, which is the nuance of a completely different language.

All the same, this is still an exercise in taking meaning from one place and conveying it elsewhere. Theoretically, as long as the same meaning is being carried throughout each consecutive translation, the broader meaning of the original work should remain intact. And if the only way for those who speak one language to enjoy a work is by enjoying its broader meaning as conveyed through a long series of translations, then that's probably better than no translation at all.

Likewise, if nothing else, it can be a great learning experience for a translator.

Junior Member
Joined: 13.11.2017
  • Look, a person who does this for a living did just that, and with a whole novel.  Hungarian-->German-->English.
  • So, it may not be a mortal sin. I have to agree with Taddy26 there. Enough said.

Editor and cheeky nitpicker
Joined: 14.09.2013

Who talks about a mortal sin? That's just good business, selling second-hand translations of an hyped author to the crowd.
Sandro Marai has become quite fashionable since the mid-90's and apparently the English audience clamoured for something to read.
That particular translation apparently angered quite a few people though.

Miss Pumpkin~
Joined: 26.09.2017

@taddy26 When I say that I translate literally, I mean "most of the time and when it's possible". I've seen translations that try to be more... poetic? and they change thinks that were not really necessary. There are some other things that have to be changed in order to make sense, but I still consider that as a "literal" translation, as long as you convey the exact same meaning. Though I don't do this when I'm asked to translate novels or short stories, because there is an audience that I have to consider.

@Miguel Bosé Fans and Forever As I said in my original post, I'm talking about this forum -free translations of song lyrics- I'm not really interested in what professionals do with technical or literary works, because most of the time they do what they're asked to do (and because here not all of us are professionals so there's a difference in opinions and approaches). BTW...of course it is not a mortal sin, take it easy there. "Translating tranlations" is a thing, and it has been since forever~ we all know that.

Editor || ᴋɪssᴇᴅ ʙʏ ғɪʀᴇ . ♔
Joined: 08.09.2014

This is indeed something I have seen a lot on LT and also a "crime" of which I have been guilty multiple times. Of course, this is something I do not in any way recommend unless you are at least a bit familiar with the language you are translating from, enough in order to grasp the general meaning of the text.

See, the good thing about being a polyglot is the abundancy of sources you have access to. For example, I sometimes translate from Old Norse, since I have studied many of the written texts in depth and I have been trying to get more familiar with it. (as familiar as one can be with a dead language) But the resources are very limited for languages that are not widely spoken, so when translating to Greek, for example, I try to do research in English or French to better convey the meaning and minimise the possibility of a misunderstanding. Regardless, I almost always leave a comment saying it is not a direct translation.

But then again, we are not professionals and I highly doubt any of these translations are ever going to be used for literary purposes. Still, it's nice if there are translations from and to "unlikely" languages, such as from Vietnamese to Portuguese as mentioned above. It contributes to the universal spirit of the community.

Editor Polyglot Scot
Joined: 26.07.2013

I don't think I've done this on the site, but I would do it on very rare occasions. For example, when a request is several years old, it seems no one who has those language combinations has seen it or wants to complete the request, so I may do it if there is an existing translation that makes it possible for me to do it. And I would always notify people that I had done this from X translation. But it should be very much a last resort, imo. What I have done frequently is looked at existing translations when I'm unsure just for a quick check that I'm getting the idea of a line right, but I think that's a slightly different thing. Tongue smile

Super Member
Joined: 06.02.2016

of course. let the other translation be your crutch to limp along. this can be an excellent solution if you don't know the source language well, but are proficient in a language s.o. has already done a translation in.. how good your own translation gets often depends on your target language, not the source language. that's why i favour english over any other language, if you've nailed the english you can get a translation into almost any other language..
google, reverso etc. can help you with missing bits if you feed it sparingly with small portions. its your pet dog.

Joined: 30.09.2014

Personally, I think it is wrong. The lyric itself is the first barrier. It is about the author expressing his idea with his words. When you have to translate it to another person, your understanding will distort the resulting translation, creating another obstacle. Consecutive translations will largely distort that it will no longer be worth it, due to a big difference between original and final translation.