Have you ever wished you could speak another language just so you could translate your favourite song lyrics?

We all know how important translation services are to businesses. They can help you make sense of market research conducted on an international audience, understand medical reports written in another language or get an accurate transcript of a legal document. However, it’s not just businesses that can benefit from the gift of translation.

When foreign language songs hit the charts, it’s not long before we are all making up our own nonsense lyrics to them in an attempt to sing along – although we usually end up warbling total gobbledygook. From Edith Piaf’s 1960 classic ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ (‘No, I Don’t Regret Anything’) and Ritchie Valens’ foot stomper ‘La Bamba’, to Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry’s ‘7 Seconds’ (which is sung in three languages, fact fans) and ‘Macarena’ by Los del Rio, some of the best-selling tracks of all time are proof singing in English is not the only way to be successful.

There are those of us happy to sing along despite having no idea what we are actually singing, but there are others who aren’t satisfied unless they can understand the lyrics. I remember sitting and translating the lyrics to ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion for my French exchange partner – although she seemed less than impressed when she learnt what Dion was actually singing!

Occasionally, foreign language songs are translated into English and go on to become even more successful, with the most famous example being ’99 Luftballons’ by Nena. This protest song was a hit in its original German, but it went on to become a classic after being renamed 99 Red Balloons and released in English. Interestingly, it was not the band who translated the lyrics, but Irish musician Kevin McAlea.

He tells Eighty-EightyNine that Nena, their friends and even a university professor had battled to translate the song to English without losing the poppy rhythm, but all had failed to create something that sounded as good as the original. McAlea decided to have a go and asked a German friend to just give him a summary of the lyrics before writing his own. As he explains: “I think the mistake in the previous attempts was in trying to adhere to the original meaning. I was more interested in the sound the lyrics were making than anything else.” Proof that lyric translation really is an art!

However, not every artist is as keen to have their song translated into English. Take the latest song craze sweeping the planet -‘ Gangnam Style’. The song – and the man who sings it, PSY – originates from South Korea and has become a global sensation, notching up hundreds of millions of views on YouTube. The popularity of the video has led to a host of parodies, while even celebrities like Britney Spears have been learning the trademark galloping so they can dance along.

Yet PSY sees no reason to translate the Korean lyrics to English. Speaking to MTV, he says: “For this song I think verbal is not that important. Nonverbal, I think just the dance moves and how it sounds and how it looks, I think that was the point of the story.”

But if you’re dying to get to the bottom of what ‘Gangnam Style’ is all about, Language Insight is happy to help! The song is actually a parody about the people who live in Seoul’s wealthiest district, Gangnam. However, with lyrics like “On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby,” you may wish you had never heard the translation!

What’s your favourite foreign language song? Let us know below.