This is part 2 of the Tech tools for working with music texts series.
Step 2: Translate the text
My next step is to translate the text I’m singing. I like to do a word-for-word translation and write it into my score. If I’m short on time, or if I have difficulty translating the text myself, I’ll look for a translation from one of these sources. Some of them have literal translations, some have poetic translations, and some have both. I generally double-check the translations I find online, as they occasionally contain mistakes.
If I’m doing the translation myself, these are the main tech tools and references I use:
- WordReference is my workhorse dictionary for French and Italian and they have many other languages as well as verb conjugations. They have a website as well as a free iPhone app and Android app (which I use on my Android phone, and like). No iPad-specific app, but the regular website works fine on an iPad. The smartphone apps require an internet connection.
- I like BEOLINGUS for German (although I use WordReference for German as well). BEOLINGUS has many useful search options as well as sound clips of word pronunciations by native speakers. I also find it easier to stumble across idiomatic usages in BEOLINGUS. In addition to the regular website, there is a mobile-friendly website as well as free third-party Android apps that use BEOLINGUS as the translation engine (Quickdic Offline Dictionary and Emilio’s Dictionary, both of which work offline).
- Latin is a tough one for me – I don’t know enough of how the language works to get very far doing my own word-for-word translation from reference materials. I usually go to CPDL and hope that it’s a commonly-set text that I can look up. Otherwise if it’s some oddball text and I have to attempt the translation myself, I’ll try these dictionaries: University of Notre Dame’s Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid, William Whitaker’s Words (mobile-friendly-ish version here), or the Latin dictionary from the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University.
- Google Translate is a catch-all tool; copy and paste your text and watch Google do its magic. Results are decent-to-good but occasionally wacky. Mouse over the translated phrases to see alternate translations. There is an Android app and and iPhone/iPad app.
- Nico Castel libretti books – the footnotes are great for untangling idiomatic or archaic usages, cultural/historic references, and similar translation challenges.
- If I end up heading to the library and hitting the stacks, these lists of printed references are helpful: Translations & Song Texts, Finding Translations and Phonetic Readings of Vocal Music Texts, Finding Translations of Vocal Music
If I got really stuck on a translation problem, another option would be to post the translation work I have done so far on a forum like ChoralNet, the New Forum for Classical Singers, or a language-learning forum and ask the community for help.
As I work, I like to type my translation into the Evernote or Dropbox document I created earlier that contains the original text. Once my translation is done, I can write it into my score on my iPad with the forScore app’s annotation feature. I can either use the “Draw” option and write it in freehand with my stylus (zooming in if there’s limited space to write in) or the “Type” option and type it in, adding extra spaces between words so that my word-for-word translation lines up properly with each word of the original text. I may also write in a paraphrase or poetic translation, in a different color than the literal translation just so my eye can distinguish. If there’s some pesky, godawful singing translation already printed in the score, I can erase it first using forScore’s “Whiteout Pen” option.
It’s during these kinds of tasks that I really appreciate having a tablet. I like having the equivalent of a big, heavy bookshelf full of dictionaries and reference books and scores all on this slim little tablet that I can take anywhere. The information is accessible to me at any time and place, so I can work on the translation wherever I happen to be. With my translation document stored in the cloud using Evernote or Dropbox, I can read it or work on it regardless of whether I have my laptop, iPad, or phone with me.
There are some other kinds of translation tech resources that I haven’t looked into yet but would like to, for example, translation-related iPad apps (myLanguage Translator Pro looks interesting and has good reviews) and also dictionaries/references in app or ebook format that work offline. But I will have to save that for a future blog post.