What is transcreation?

What is transcreation and how is it different from translation? I have a marketing brochure I need putting into Japanese but I’m not sure which service I need. Help!

Hi Sue, thanks for your question.

From what you say in your question, I’m guessing that you probably need transcreation but the best way to be sure if to give us a call and we can discuss in more detail, however I hope you find the following information useful.

Translation v.s. Transcreation

Let’s start by exploring what translation is first, as understanding what transcreation is will make much more sense once this is covered off.

Translation is the process of translating what is being said in one language into another. That sounds obvious and it’s what most people would say if you asked them to describe translation.

What’s not too obvious is that all but the most basic of translation involves the translator adding their own skill and judgement in order to best capture the essence of what the author of the original document means.

Unlike mathematics, where there is usually a right and a wrong answer, language is much more subtle and nuanced so that no two translators will produce exactly the same finished texts even though both are equally accurate.

As a general rule, the more abstract a document the more variation between two translations of it are likely to be even though they both remain ‘correct’, or ‘accurate’.

For instance, there will be be much more variance in the translation of a poem than there will be in the translation of a set of operating instructions for a toaster. The former is loaded with emotion and personal interpretation, the latter is a set of instructions with little ambiguity.

In summary, and without wishing to sound pretentious, translations can almost be thought of as being closer to works of art than to mechanical mappings from one language to another. Incidentally, this is why machine translations and back-translations must be treated with care.

So much for translations, what is transcreation and how does it differ?

Transcreation means ‘translating’ and ‘recreating’ the original text in a new language whilst making sure it is still appropriate in the context for which it is intended. The person producing the transcreation must understand the desired outcome thoroughly, and be given the freedom not only to translate the original but also to make significant changes to it in the process.

Most transcreation projects are undertaken when working with marketing teams.

To give you an example of what I mean, here’s an example of transcreation of a sales headline from US English to UK English –  believe it or not, we often get asked to work between US and UK English (and the other way around). Although most transcreation projects are between very different languages, keeping everything in English allows me to demonstrate the challenge.

“Don’t go postal” underneath a picture of a stressed office worker holding a stack of urgent letters was the proposed strap line for a new super-fast fax machine back in the days when faxes where just starting to become affordable.

Now, in the USA ‘going postal’ is widely understood as going berserk due to a number of unfortunate incidents which occurred when stress got the better of some US postal workers late last century.

The strap line’s intent was to use dark humour to imply that it’s better to fax the documents than post them and risk them being late and the negative consequences that could bring about. The tag line was never actually used as it was considered (rightly, in our opinion) to be in bad taste.

So, how would one go about ‘transcreating’ this in UK English? It’s only three words but the number of words is not the point, it’s how do you convey the same message where there is no direct translation or cultural hook.

The client liked our suggestion of “Fax. Relax.”.

Even though the words are completely different, the strap line succeeded in conveying the meaning of the original tag line but without relying on a cultural reference which would not have been understood by a UK audience.

This is a very simple example and but I hope it makes clear the difference between translation and transcreation.

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