Beijing Olympics multilingual song released

Hero Curve Element

Have you ever run your favourite foreign-language song through an online translation tool, only to find the lyrics at best literal and at worst gibberish? Have you ever started tapping your feet to a song on the radio, only to find it being sung in another language? The translation of songs can be a controversial topic and one that many people have strong opinions on. However, if you want to reach a global audience, a professional translation can vastly increase your audience.

For the 2022 Beijing Olympics, CGTN took the ambitious decision to produce a song that’s sung in nine languages and subtitled in two.

“Together For a Shared Future” features English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Mandarin, and the video shows clips of CGTN reporters, hosts, athletes and musicians from around the world.

Listen and see what you think:

Whether or not you like the multilingual element, it certainly highlights some of the things to bear in mind when translating songs:

First, don’t just translate the lyrics – listen to the rhythm of the song and consider how your translation is going to fit in with the music. For example, in Yesterday by the Beatles, the very first word ‘Yesterday’ has three syllables, while in Spanish it has only two: ‘ayer’, making it tricky to accommodate. The singability of a translated song, or musico-verbal unity, can make or break it, and in this case, Spanish translators opted for ‘desde ayer’ to improve singability.

Second, think about whether you want a literal translation or a more poetic rendering of your song.  While a creative translation will resonate more with the target audience, a word-for-word translation will be truer to the original lyrics. So, consider what the translation is going to be used for – is it just to get the gist of the song or is for recording?

Song translation is not for amateurs. Don’t be fooled by the short lines and deceptively easy words. Songs must be translated by professionals with musical experience and artistic sensitivity, as some of these famous translated songs show:

Silent Night – the well-known Christmas carol was originally written in German and has been translated into over 300 languages. It has even been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in recognition of its role in fostering cultural diversity.

Gloria – the first translation of this classic Italian love song wasn’t popular, but when Laura Branigan changed it from a love song to a story about a girl on the run, it was a huge success.

My way – did you know that ‘My Way’ was first written in French? The original title ‘Comme d’habitude’ (‘As Usual’) is a perfect example of creative rather than literal translation, as are the lyrics, which have that rhyme and rhythm in English.

So, if you want your translated song to transcend time and place, the solution will always be: go to an experienced, professional translator!

At Knockhundred we treat all our jobs with care and sensitivity, matching your needs to the best possible linguist. Feel free to <<get in touch>> [] to find out more about our song translation and subtitling service, or any of our other services, including voiceover and interpreting.


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