#126 The Great Song Translation Activity

Published on June 2, 2008

English Teachers in Russia & Elsewhere

E-textbook — Issue #126


=> The Great Song Translation Activity
=> Where to find songs?
=> Lyrics to Cole Porter’s “True Love”
=> In the Next Issues

The Great Song Translation Activity

This activity has many steps, but that’s what makes it good. Students are challenged to use several skills along the way: translation, composition, correction, listening closely. And then there are interpersonal skills like negotiation, discussion, comparison, speculation.
Time: 30 minutes.  Depends on the length of the song lyric.

Materials needed:Kevin’s mother, featured singer

(1) Recording of a song. You can use the song “True Love” (1:18) if you want. You’ll find a free downloadable mp3 of it at the bottom of this post, sung by me and my mum. (There she is, to the right, in 1946 at the age of 22.)  But any song or poem will work, of course.
(2) Handouts of translations of this song into students’ native language (L1)
(3) Blackboard, whiteboard, or poster paper.

Step 1

Find an English language song. It should be a song the students don’t know. It shouldn’t be too long. You’ll need the lyrics and an audio.

Step 2

Translate the lyrics FROM English to the L1 of the students using a computer translator. Let your students know it’s a computer translation, but they should try to make the best English they can out of it. You’ll see that the translation comes out kind of funky. Here’s a Russian translation of the Cole Porter song “True Love.” (For the English lyrics see below).

Kind of funny, huh?

And here are translations (using Google: http://www.google.com/language_tools) in Japanese…

“True Love” in Japanese

… and Arabic.

“True Love” in Arabic

I suspect they are funny too, although I don’t read Japanese or Arabic.

Now if all your students speak Russian, or they all speak Japanese, paste the appropriate translation onto an MS Word document. You can fit about 20 on a single page in fact.Print that page, cut it up, distribute. Or you could even write the translation on the board.What if your class is a mixed group–made up of 5 Chinese speakers, 6 Arabic speakers, 2 Czechs, 2 Romanians, 1 Mexican, 1 Thai, and 1 Turk? Well, make translations in those seven languages. It’s easy. All you do is paste the English into a free translator, like Google’s, or one of these:


Then paste the various translations into your Word document. Print and distribute to the appropriate pairs and groups.It doesn’t take long to do even seven or eight computer translations, and you don’t mind because you’re such a good teacher, and you love making really interesting and useful activities.

Step 3

Distribute handouts of the translated song (NOT the English version), one per group. Groups will work together, translating the song into English.

Step 4

With the translations done, you now have several versions, one for each group. Ask someone from each group to write their group’s translation on the board, or on a poster so that everybody in the class can see

Step 5

Take a moments to compare the several translations. Students may want to talk about the differences.

Step 6

Give a piece of chalk or a marker to one student from each group. These students will stand at the board next to their group’s translation.

Announce that–at last–you are going to play a recording of the English language version of the song. The students’ job is now to listen very closely, to compare the original English version with the translation that they have written. The standing students will make corrections, trying to make the translated version exactly like the original. Members of these students’ groups will help by advising (or shouting) from their desks.
Do not stop the song. Play it all the way through.

Step 7

Does any group have the English version rendered exactly? If not, play the song again. Give groups another chance at listening. Discuss changes and corrections. If the song is short, you may even want to play it a third time.

Step 8

By now, everyone knows the words, and they are written for all to see. Play the audio and have the class sing along.

Where to Find Songs

You can use any song. I’ll you need is a recording of it and the original lyrics. Simple songs work best, of two minutes or less. A long song would be strictly for advanced learners.
Try English Teachers Everywhere (www.etseverywhere.com). You’ll find tons of songs, for adults, teens, and kids.
Free Kids Music has some cool songs, free to download, but you’ll have to write down the lyrics yourself.

Or use “True Love” below.

Lyrics to “True Love” by Cole Porter

P loves X = True LoveI give to you and you give to me
True love, true love
For on and on through eternity
True love, true love
For you and I have a guardian angel
On high, with nothing to do
But to give to me and to give to you
Love forever, true

In the next Issues

Fathers’ Day stuff. Re-creation dictation. Text on the Sale of Alaska. Idiom - “Until the Cows Come Home.”

Copyright 2008 Kevin McCaughey & I.M. Poosheesty.

icon for podpress  "True Love" by Kevin and his mom [1:18m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

One Response to “#126 The Great Song Translation Activity”

  1. English Translation Says:

    Visit English Translation

    Great idea! Love seeing a creative mind work and gain success!!!!!! Hope it continues to grow!

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