Localization / Translation of 飛得更高

Translation can be a technical and literal task.  However, localization is an art.

As a Chinese-American who knows a bit of my ethnic language, but not enough to be fully comfortable in it, I often wonder if I can make great English versions of the various Chinese songs I come across. The goal is to make sure that the English version is:

  1. Singable within the same melody.
  2. Grammatically and linguistically acceptable.
  3. Evokes the same emotions, if not the same imagery.

Today’s challenge is:  飛得更高 by 汪峰 (Fly Higher by Wang Feng)

Here is my localization and thought process:

[Verse 1]

  • 生命就像 一條大河
    Life is just like a winding river:
    “winding river” is a stronger idiom in English than the literal translation “long” or “big” river.
  • 時而寧靜 時而瘋狂
    at times it’s calm and quiet, at times it’s crazy.
    “quiet” by itself matches the syllable count, but doesn’t feel as complete as “calm and quiet.”
  • 現實就像 一把枷鎖
    Reality is like one big shackle,
    To keep the rhythm of the Chinese measure words here that don’t exist in English, I’ve added “one big” to the imagery.
  • 把我捆住 無法掙脫
    holding me down with no way to get out.
    “holding… down” is a looser translation here but fits better with the overall narrative of flight.
  • 這謎樣的生活鋒利如刀
    This mysterious life is sharp like a razor.
    刀 just means knife, but razor is the stronger image in English when talking about injury.
  • 一次次將我重傷
    time and again causing me pain.
    I couldn’t find a two syllable word/phrase to end this line that felt as concise as “pain.”
  • 我知道我要的那種幸福
    But I know the happiness that I want
    I think this line translates very nicely as is.
  • 就在那片更高的天空
    is in that wide open sky over there.
    I am actually still on the fence about whether “is right over there in the open sky” ends better with the final emphasis on “open sky.”

[chorus]

  • 我要飛得更高 飛得更高
    I want to fly even higher, fly even higher.
    Literal translation.
  • 狂風一樣舞蹈 掙脫懷抱
    I want to dance like the wind, breaking away.
    The second phrase is tough to translate as it’s a Chinese idiom; there’s more meaning there than I can pack into the English.
    “break away” is a bit of a cheeky callout to the Kelly Clarkson song of very similar imagery to this one.
  • 我要飛得更高 飛得更高
    I want to fly even higher, fly even higher.
  • 翅膀捲起風暴 心生呼嘯
    My wings kicking up a storm, my heart shouting out for joy.
    This is pure idiom localization. “rolling up a storm” and “heart whistling” don’t work as well literally.
  • 飛得更高
    I want to fly even higher.

[Verse 2]

  • 一直在飛 一直在找
    I keep on flying. I keep on searching.
    Literal translation.
  • 可我發現 無法找到
    But you just can’t find what I’m looking for.
    The Chinese uses first-person this whole line, but to facilitate the transition to the indefinite second-person in the next line, I brought “you” into this line.
  • 若真想要 是一次解放
    If you really want a taste of freedom,
    “taste of freedom” is an idiom localization choice, though the imagery differs slightly with the rest of the song.
  • 要先剪碎 這誘惑的網
    you have to cut loose from the nets of temptation.
    This was a very difficult line; I like the imagery but the word “temptation” feels clunky here.
  • 我要的一種生命更燦爛
    I want a life that’s more brilliant.
    Literal translation.
  • 我要的一片天空更蔚藍
    I want a piece of the sky that’s more blue.
    Literal translation; I really like the imagery here.
  • 我知道我要的那種幸福
    I know that the happiness that I want
  • 就在那片更高的天空
    is in that wide open sky over there.

[repeat chorus]

Overall, some of the hardest challenges with this were:

  • Keeping a similar syllable count: certain semantic phrases in Chinese are shorter than in English and vice versa.  Luckily, music can often be a bit forgiving, allowing for you to create an double eighth note rhythm to accommodate the extra syllables in what was a quarter note in the original language.
  • Keeping to the important musical enunciation: as a counter to the previous point, there are certain musical high points or held moments that cannot be sacrificed without changing the rhythm and you HAVE to build around these.  For example, in the original Chinese, much of the emphasis falls on the two-character phrases that end each line; thus in English, I have to look for two-syllable words or two-syllable phrases with similar power and rhythm to preserve the overall structure of the song.
  • Literal vs. idiomatic? This is part of the artistry as well.  Making decisions about where the artist’s original imagery is great and should be kept versus where a more idiomatic English construction would be more powerful is a very subjective decision that really boils down to the transcriber’s own opinions.

 

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