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March 2017

The World’s Most Translated Songs

Songs translated into multiple languages and beloved around the world

Music is a powerful thing. Songs have the ability to tell stories like eloquent poetry while also possessing the moving qualities of melody. From hymns sung during pensive times to celebratory odes for happy days, we associate both the hardest and best of life with songs. Some have transcended time and place, having been spread and translated across the globe. These are the songs that are now ingrained in our universal consciousness, songs that bring the world closer together, reminding us that we are all one people. Today we’ll take a look at a few of the world’s most translated songs, some of the most beloved tunes in all of human history.

“Happy Birthday to You”

“Happy Birthday to You” is one of the most recognised songs in the English language, according to the 1998 Guinness World Records. The song was written by Patty Hill, a kindergarten principal in Louisville, Kentucky, using the song "Good Morning to All" as the melodic basis. "Happy Birthday to You" was first seen printed in 1912. Copyrighted since 1935, royalties for the song would make as much as US$700 per year in more recent times (not bad for a song most of the world thinks is free). In 2015, the copyright was deemed invalid, and now it has become public domain, meaning restaurants around the world can now sing the song to their customers without the threat of a lawsuit. Of all the songs in history, “Happy Birthday to You” is the one that has received the most royalties over its lifespan.

“It's a Small World”

“It’s a Small World” is undeniably one of the most famous songs to come out of Disneyland. Written by the legendary Sherman Brothers, the songwriting dual who wrote many Disney classics, some say it's the most performed and translated piece of music in history. The ride that it is associated with, which goes by the same name, was created for the 1964 New York World's Fair UNICEF pavilion as a showcase for universal togetherness. UNICEF subsequently asked the Walt Disney Company to keep it in the public domain, and the corporation agreed.

“Amazing Grace”

The Christian hymn Amazing Grace was first published in 1779 and was written by English clergyman John Newton. Today, it's one of the most recognised English songs in the world, famous even to those who are not religious. Its place in history as an African-American spiritual has further cemented the song into American legend. "Amazing Grace" is estimated to have as many as 10 million performances annually, making it one of the most performed songs in all the world. The hymn has been translated into various languages, most notably into the Cherokee language as it was song during the sorrowful Trail of Tears.

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht”

“Silent Night” is undoubtedly one of the most translated songs in the world with versions in over 100 languages around the world. UNESCO has even dubbed it a work of “intangible cultural heritage” in 2011. Originally written as “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” by Austrian priest Joseph Mohr and organist Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818, the song remains incredibly popular every year as one of the world’s most famous Christmas carols. It was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf in the then Austrian Empire. The version of "Silent Night" as performed by Bing Crosby is the third best-selling single in music history.

Do you know these songs in your native language? Which is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language and culture.

Picture (c) Fotolia, Antonioguillem