Translation definition - Translation vs Transcreation

Translation vs. Transcreation

Posted by Matthew Stibbe Picture of Matthew Stibbe on 30 November 2009
Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing. Writer, marketer, pilot, wine enthusiast and geek. Not necessarily in that order. Never at the same time.

In this final guest post, Christian Arno from Lingo24 explains the difference between translation and transcreation. It’s an important distinction.

Translation basics

Translators should only ever translate into their mother tongue, regardless of how fluent they are in another language. This ensures that the linguistic nuances of their native language are respected.

Furthermore, many linguists have qualifications in other fields, such as accountancy, engineering or law. This means that they are in a good position to translate documents from these industries, as the often highly specialised, technical terminology will preclude other translators from fully understanding the texts.

Some translators are more inclined towards creative writing and hence translation companies are more likely to use these linguists on projects such as marketing, advertising and media texts.

The difference between transcreation and translation

For truly creative pieces, translation needs to be taken a stage further, which is where transcreation comes into play.

Transcreation is about taking a concept in one language and completely recreating it in another language – it is normally applied to the marketing of an idea, product or service to international audiences. The language, therefore, must resonate with the intended audience.

The best way to distinguish transcreation from translation is to completely forget about translation for a second.

Imagine you work directly for a company that has a new product or service that they wish to launch, and you are charged with creating and manipulating the promotional text that will not only introduce this to the target (domestic!) audience, but bring it to life and make people really believe in it. It should intrigue them, beguile them and, ultimately, prompt them to buy into the concept. This is what is known as copywriting.

But how does this work when you are asked to convert an existing set of promotional messages from one language into your mother tongue? Well, this is where transcreation comes in and it requires a different mindset to that of translation.

With translation, words such as ‘faithful’ and ‘accurate’ are normally used to describe the quality. But with transcreation, you should be thinking more along the lines of ‘creative’, ‘original’ and ‘bold’. And a translation will normally be carried out by a single linguist (even though a proofreader will be used later), whilst with transcreation, a team will normally be involved in the development of the text – the transcreator will have to work very closely with the client to ensure their brief is met.

Beyond grammar, towards 'feel'

Grammatical correctness is crucial to translation and there is never any room for error, which is why a translator should only ever translate into their native language. But fluency in a foreign tongue and an in-depth understanding of one’s own language doesn’t automatically qualify someone to transcreate. They must have conceptual and linguist dexterity too.

You may wonder why a company would want transcreation at all: why don’t they just hire a team of copywriters in the target country who can produce the text from scratch? Well, most clients will want the ‘feel’ of the original text to be maintained, which requires someone who has an intimate knowledge of the source language – they will have to understand why the message works and produce something that is localised for the target language.

The goal of transcreation isn’t to say the same thing in another language. Indeed, it is often not possible to say exactly the same thing in another language. The aim of the game with transcreation is to get the same reaction in each language, something that translation in itself won’t be able to achieve.

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