Interview with Kateryna Zabotkina about the adaptation of Eurovision songs and criticism

Interview with Kateryna Zabotkina about the adaptation of Eurovision songs and criticism

“Can you send a sign language interpreter to the Eurovision Song Contest?” – Ukrainians wrote about Kateryna Zabotkina, who on February 3 “fired up” on the air during the national selection for Eurovision.

However, Kateryna herself is against being called a translator. It is better to be a “sign language singer”, because she does not translate the text verbatim, but adapts it for people with hearing impairments.

Kateryna is from Kropyvnytskyi, received her higher education in Kyiv, and lives in Gostomel. She started learning Ukrainian sign language on her own 8 years ago, worked at festivals, and now she has become a star of the national selection for Eurovision.


This year, together with Olga Bunaziv, she performed the songs of the finalists in sign language for the first time in the history of the National Selection.

Many people liked it, but some Ukrainians with hearing impairment complained that it was difficult for them to understand the meaning of the songs, and the Ukrainian Society of the Deaf called the translation “low-quality”.

In an interview with “Ukrainian Pravda. Life”, Kateryna Zabotkina talked about her unexpected popularity, the peculiarities of sign language and the importance of inclusion, her own favorites in the finals and her big dream for the future, and she also reacted to criticism.

Photos courtesy of Kateryna Zabotkina

– Kateryna, how do you perceive the enthusiasm of Ukrainians for your performance? Do you feel like you’ve become a star?

– No, I don’t consider myself a star at all. I’m not even embarrassed by it. At this year’s national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, I didn’t really have the goal of showing myself or my abilities. It was much more important for me, first of all, to show the meaning of Ukrainian songs for deaf people and people with hearing impairment.


Over the past five years, Ukrainian music has become so diverse that watching it is a real pleasure. It is so fantastic that Ukrainian music acquires a taste. There is also rap, there are also deep lyrics that touch the soul. There is something very light, dancey, that gets stuck in your head. I am pleased that I had the honor of introducing people with hearing impairments to this part of our work at the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s just fantastic.

And my second goal is to popularize sign language. I didn’t look at many comments, but I saw how many people wrote “Wow, is that possible?”. Although the adaptation of songs in sign language has not been around for the first time, it had a “wow effect” for many people on the scene of the national selection.

I hope that more people will understand the importance of accessibility, inclusion. I repeat it every time, but I really get goosebumps from the inspiration that I managed to feel.

Kateryna has been studying sign language herself since 2016

– They appeared on social networksI critical comments that some hearing impaired people did not understand your translation. As Do you agree with these comments?

– In fact, I have a super positive attitude towards any comments and criticism. I am very pleased when people write to me and tell me what can be improved. During this time, I already communicated with people who told me that here it would be possible to add more rhythm, and here I missed such and such a word.

But I would also clarify that the adaptation of songs in sign language does not involve a literal translation. If a person wants to learn the text word for word, he will open it, and for this he does not need another person who will say the same thing in sign language. I believe that conveying the atmosphere, rhythm and mood of a song is as important as conveying the words.

That is, to adapt so that it is clear what the song is about. After all, it happens that in some songs for the sake of rhyming or for some “splendour” words are used that are used rather for beauty. And if you explain the meaning itself, then it means something completely different. Or, for example, when there are two “no” in the sentence – a double negative can confuse a person even more. That is why adaptation makes sense.

There were also songs in English at the national selection. There is generally a double translation here. That is, I translate the song in my head, and then adapt it in Ukrainian sign language. Because of this, there could be pauses, or I could fall behind the artist. But I tried and did my best to make up for it. Sometimes I deliberately spoke English words in Ukrainian. I used Ukrainian sign language because it was important to me that Ukrainians understood everything.

The girl says that she adapted the songs for the national selection, and did not translate them verbatim

– In the moments where you actively move or seem to “play” the guitar, is it more for the atmosphere, or are these gestures really supposed to convey the rhythm to deaf people?

– In fact, there is a double task here. Adapting songs is both about creativity and the opportunity to show how you feel.

And sometimes in order to adapt this or that song, I can ask two or three people who use sign language. And together, some kind of solution is born in us, which is then managed to be shown.

Before adapting a song, I listen to it a hundred times, that’s for sure. It is necessary to spread it simply one second at a time. What is happening there, what is there, for example, is the instrument now the main one, or is the artist taking a high note? It is desirable to depict all this as much as possible.

– And after your performance, have you already communicated with the audience who have hearing impairment?

– Yes of course. I saw a lot of posts in the comments from deaf people, people who use sign language, and translators.

It is so inspiring, so gratifying. To be honest, I am not able to answer everyone, because these days the phone is simply on fire. But it’s a very cool feeling.

However, hearing-impaired or deaf people complained about the insufficient quality of the translation

– There is a myth that sign language is one universal language, but there are many sign languages. What sign languages ​​do you know and how did you start learning?

– I only know Ukrainian sign language. We work only in Ukraine, so this is a priority for me. I started studying it myself in Kyiv. I did it with the help of video tutorials that I could find. When I first saw that you could perform songs in sign language, I didn’t even know where it could go. Probably, because of my shyness, I stayed at home, rehearsed in front of the mirror, repeated some gestures and taught myself everything.

I started in 2016, but then I quit. It seemed to me that I was translating very badly, that it was not the same at all. I didn’t know who to turn to for advice, so I gave up. And in 2019 or 2020, I returned.

She began to periodically record some clips, small pieces, choruses. Just during covid and lockdowns, TikTok started gaining popularity. I registered there, posted short videos, observed other translators, what skills they have. Some of them told me how to do better.

– Did you take sign language lessons from teachers?

– Of course. And before all important events, before performances, clips, it is always a very serious preparation. Always work with professional translators. Before the national selection, it was cooperation for six hours a day until physical pain in the hands.

And I already mentioned adaptation. I can imagine the meaning of a song in my own way, and another person will read it in his own way. At least two people, maybe three or four, should discuss it. A few heads are definitely better than one. We can all come to a common solution.

In learning sign language, I did not follow the rules – I started learning it from songs. I turned on some YouTube clip, tried to understand it and repeated the gestures. I don’t think this is a relevant way to learn sign language. But it happened to me like this. My path began precisely with songs.

In Ukraine, there is a full-fledged Ukrainian sign language. There is an alphabet, words are shown by letters. And for many words there are exactly sign words. This is a separate gesture that denotes a whole word. If you observe, you begin to see the logic in these gestures. Plus, sign language is very adaptable. It is subject to changes and new trends, when gestures begin to acquire other meanings. There are also dialects.

Kateryna believes that the adaptation of songs in sign language does not involve a literal translation

– How did you get invited to the Eurovision Song Contest and how was your activity noticed?

– This is still a mystery to me. I once said in an interview that my dream is to translate the Eurovision Song Contest. It seemed so impossible and distant to me then. But some time before this selection for Eurovision, a girl wrote to me on Instagram. She said she was looking for an interpreter for the concert. I usually try to advise my colleagues, because I understand that working at a concert is a rather complicated story, one person cannot cope.

But I decided that at least we could talk. And then they wrote to me that they were looking for a translator for the national selection. I don’t know how to describe these emotions… I thought that someone wanted to make a joke.

And then, in fact, the story of preparation, adaptation, and thinking about each song began. It’s an unreal experience. When a person shouts to an audience of millions, “look, someone is singing in sign language” – it’s very cool.

Many viewers admired the work of Kateryna and Olga, but the girl does not consider herself a star

– How long did it take to translate all the songs for the national selection?

– A few weeks. I also worked with an interpreter, asked for advice from friends who have hearing impairment.

– Which song did you personally like the most?

– Honestly, this is my favorite medley of Ivasyuk’s songs. When I heard this song, I listened to it 50 times during the evening. I specifically put it on repeat so that I would cry and not cry on the air.

She is so alive, there is something special in every line. I am infinitely grateful to all participants and Dmytro Shurov for this hit.

– And among the finalists who competed for the right to represent Ukraine, who is your favorite?

– I can’t answer this question, because I tried to adapt and perform each song in a special way. Like a small play. Each song should show the story that the performer wanted to convey to his audience.

I tried to be as unbiased as possible to show everyone equally cool. Therefore, I will not reveal my personal favorite.

– Which of the Western sign language interpreters who work with stars are you inspired by?

– I have two inspirations. The first Amber Galloway is actually a person who was the founder of musical translation into sign language. She is one of the pioneers of this style of adaptation with sign language, when tools are shown and so on.

And the second is Justina Miles, Rihanna’s interpreter at the Super Bowl last year. They wrote about her that she overshadowed Rihanna herself. It’s like you know all of Rihanna’s songs, they can’t impress you in any way, but you see a new perception in her. I was completely blown away.

Kateryna says that now she dreams of working at the big “Eurovision”

– Which artists’ songs are the most difficult for you to adapt?

– This is rather not about artists, but about the type of songs. When in songs, for example, there is only one exclamation, “hey, hey, hey” through each line of the song – you have to show a lot of creativity to figure out how to show it.

It is difficult, obviously, to adapt rap, because it is read very quickly and not always all words carry a meaningful load. This is where adaptation comes in.

– Do you have any dreams regarding the adaptation of the songs of certain musicians? Or would you like to work on a specific concert?

– You know, once I had such a dream on the air… Probably, from such dreams, this is already a big “Eurovision”. And, of course, the main goal is the popularization of sign language.

Read also: Everything you will be interested to know about sign language. Narrated by the translator

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