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“I sing songs with my hands.” Katya is a sign language interpreter”

“I sing songs with my hands.” Katya is a sign language interpreter”

7 minutes read
This text is about: 22-year-old economist Kateryna Zabotkina talks about her hobby - translating songs into sign language.
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I come from Kropyvnytskyi and now live in Kyiv. I have been performing songs in sign language for over a year and a half. I became interested in this after seeing performances with such a translation at a Kyiv festival. The performance impressed me so much that I wanted to learn sign language. I started reading articles on this topic, watching videos. I used to spend several hours a day on it!

In particular, I became interested in the work of foreign translators. For example, Amber Galloway – the founder of musical translation in sign language. How fast her hands move when she translates Eminem’s songs!


During a few months of study, I suggested that the student parliament of my faculty translate Khrystyna Solova’s song “Trimai” to the Ukrainian Language Day. I was supported, so I spent the next few days working on the song. Finally, I shot the video and posted it on YouTube. Everyone liked my sign language translation, even the singer shared it on her social networks.


But over time, I began to realize that I had made mistakes in the sign language of “Trimai”. The song had to be translated more figuratively. I was ashamed and stopped practicing translation.

Fortunately, during that period I met a professional pedagogue who inspired me to continue. That’s when I started practicing sign language with native speakers. Now I practice online and offline. The lesson is similar to a regular foreign lesson: we learn new words, speak dialogues, but not with the help of words, but with the help of hands.

To “rock” the audience, you need to not only show gestures 

The most important thing in translating songs in sign language is the emotionality of the translator. No one is interested in watching the “dry” translation, because instead you can just read the lyrics. The translator’s task is to “revive” this text, to show the rhythm of the song, its mood. To “rock” the audience, you need not only to show gestures, but also to use facial expressions and even dance.

С группой The HARDKISS

The performer of the songs should be dressed in black in sign language, because gestures are better visible on a dark background.

I translate one song on average a week: it all depends on the complexity of the composition and how much time I have left. For example, when a few days before the first semifinal of Eurovision I decided to shoot a video translation of the song “Shum” by Go_A, I adapted it in just a day. But I spent a month on the rap song “Sumno” by Alyona Alyona. This song was emotionally difficult for me.


In general, I have to like the song I’m translating, I have to understand what the artist wanted to convey. Then my feelings are added to his feelings and it turns out to be a really cool translation – the song seems to be “written” in my head.

I translated songs at a big music festival

When I was invited to translate songs at a festival in Kyiv, at first I was scared because I didn’t have a professional translation. And decided to try. We were first given exclusive information about the songs that will be played on stage. I understood how much responsibility I had, so I prepared carefully for a month – I listened only to the songs I had to perform in sign language. And I trained to translate them.

During the week of work there, I performed a translation of 30 songs! I slept only 3-4 hours a day, but I felt such an emotional charge that I completely forgot about physical fatigue.

All the songwriters responded warmly to the adaptation of their compositions in sign language and reposted my videos. Due to this, my audience on social networks has grown.

By the way, on the first day after the publication of the video for the song “Shum” by Go_A gained only 500 views. But literally in a day, journalists and bloggers started talking about my translation, and now I have 200,000 views.


But these numbers are not as important to me as grateful messages from people with hearing impairments. In general, for many, my interest in sign language seems very strange. Like, why do I need this? I explain to everyone: it’s just nice to help people with hearing impairments, I’m very inspired by their words of gratitude for my work.

Of course, it is good when your favorite activity, in addition to inspiration, also brings financial motivation. But so far I have not thought about turning a hobby into a job and a source of income.

Tips for those who want to translate songs in sign language

1.   Try to repeat ready-made sign language translations. But at the same time study sign language persistently. It is much better to know all the gestures, rather than just repeating them for someone.

2. Sign language, like any other, requires practice with native speakers, so communicate with them.

3. Look for “your” songs – the ones that feel good. Then the translation will be high quality and interesting.


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