Friday, June 18, 2010

A Song Lyric Native Translation

All translators sometimes need help. It may be for a complete translation or it may be at any one of the stages in the translation process from understanding the original to assessing a translation already made.

Professional Translators have their own forums for ‘crowdsourcing’ their community at times of need. I have recourse, and occasionally contribute, to one called Apart from its forums, has a remarkably useful term and phrase bank that preserves the advice given.

This week a call for help has came through a forum for non-professionals called Lang-8. It’s all the more interesting for being about the translation of a song lyric. Previous posts (April 30, 2010 and September 28, 2009) have mentioned that Sebnem Susam-Sarajeva of the University of Edinburgh is doing research on crowdsourcing and the translation of song lyrics.

The song is sung by a very popular Spanish singer named Alex Ubago (see photo) and it’s available with the lyric on YouTube. The poster of the appeal, a young woman named Asmaa, asks:
I need help with the song's lyrics and translation. I got them from Yahoo Answers [another forum], apparently the poster was a native Spanish speaker. I just want to make sure that he/she got it right.
Here’s the beginning.
E: (With shouts of hope) or something like that lol.

S: A pesar, que la luna, no brille, mañana,
Dará igual, sólo verte reír,
Es lo que me hace feliz, mi alma.

E: If the moon doesn’t shine tomorrow,
It will be the same, only seeing you laugh,
It’s what makes me happy, my soul.

”my soul” is her, like saying, you are my life, he is saying you are my soul in that part.
You can read the rest at

She goes on,
Honestly, I don't feel like I fully understand it even with the translation. Here is the song… Could you please review the Lyrics and translation and tell me if there is something wrong with it?
Which brings us up against one of the elementary norms of all translation, from Native to Professional: it should be understandable. Not necessarily understandable to everybody, but understandable to the readers/listeners to whom it's addressed.

That the translator is not an Expert Translator is obvious from the first line, with its “or something like that”. Expert translators are not supposed to say this, even though they often think it.

Certainly the English could be improved in small ways. But interestingly, even English is a second language for Asmaa. She lives in Egypt and her first language is Arabic. Yet you’d never guess it from her forum post. She explains:
I'm studying English on my own. I already studied it in school but I'm trying to improve my fluency and to think in English exactly like a native speaker does. But I won't pull it off without your help, guys. So please help me with that and I promise that I'll try to be a hard working student.
“¡Muchas gracias, amigos!” is Asmaa’s ending. Maybe you can help.



Alex Ubago. A gritos de esperanza., search for Alex Ubago.

Photo: tucocheesnuestro


  1. Thank you Professor Daly for your commentary on this case. Your post helped me considerably in understanding the depth of the decision, especially when considering the interpretation of the decision in both languages, which is always an issue. Übersetzungsbüro Essen