Transcreation Services

The truth about the difference between translation and transcreation

Man writing with paint on his hands as metaphor for the difference between translation and transcreation

The difference between translation and transcreation lies in how much freedom the translator is given to be creative.

If you’re wondering about difference between translation and transcreation then you’re not alone. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer. Does the terminology matter? Perhaps not. But, knowing what your translator means when they use these terms will help you make sure you get a text that sells. So, what is the difference between transcreation and translation?

Before trying to answer this question, I went surfing. On Google. I found that localization and marketing companies don’t all coincide in their descriptions. They offer a range of explanations of the difference between translation and transcreation. It’s confusing. Here is the truth as I see it, from the perspective of a freelance translator and transcreator. (See a definition of transcreation).

Do you think the difference between #translation and #transcreation is clean cut? Click To Tweet

The literal translation myth

Since the beginning of time, professional translators have been telling their clients that “we don’t do” word-for-word translations. That is, unless you ask us to. Some texts need very high accuracy, such as contracts. But, even then, a professional translator changes the sentence structure and punctuation. They have to, so that the text can be understood in the new language. Anyone who says that professional translators write literal translations is talking absolute rubbish.

Part of the misunderstanding is caused by translators who claim they can write professionally in their second language. Most can’t. But, clients buy into it because these translators are cheaper. Translators writing in their second language produce literal, poor-quality translations. On seeing their work, the client concludes that all translators do that. So, they look to transcreation as the solution. For other solutions, see 12 Myths Busted to Help You Buy a Quality Translation.

While transcreation is normally linked to marketing, a translator can be creative in any genre.

When does professional translation become professional transcreation?

Professional translation aims to produce a text that expresses everything in the original. Including meaning, style, tone and register. When someone reads the new text, they shouldn’t notice that it’s a translation.

Translation is always a creative process. To a greater or lesser extent. This means that translation and transcreation often overlap each other. But, the translator is constrained because they have to be loyal to the original writer. They can write equivalent expressions and terms. But, they can’t add things that weren’t there before. Or change the text so it doesn’t look anything like the original. Not without permission, anyway. This constraint marks the difference between transcreation and translation.

When is there NO difference between translation and transcreation?

If you ask me to translate a blog article for you, and give no further instructions, I’ll convey your words in English. But, I’ll make a few changes, to help your article achieve its purpose. This could mean being mindful of search engine optimisation. Changing sentence length. Adapting idiomatic expressions. Looking behind your words to interpret your ideas, to better express your meaning. All good translators should do this.

If I see something in your article that I know won’t work with the new reader, I’ll tell you. I’ll ask your permission to change it. This is because, when I’m wearing my translator’s hat, it isn’t in my gift to make significant changes to your text.

Despite that one limitation, much of what I’ve just described could also be called transcreation. This is because I’m recreating the text in English. And I’m doing things to it to make sure it sells in the new culture. This is far from producing a mindless, literal translation.

When IS there a difference between translation and transcreation?

A transcreator has a creative brief. The brief gives them the gift to pick and choose, without always having to ask for permission. They respect the principles of translation and use the original text where they can. So, if an advert links food to happiness, they’ll try to find a solution that links food to happiness. (See Lucy’s article for transcreation examples).

Part of the misunderstanding is caused by translators who claim they can write professionally in their second language. Most can’t.

It may be that the original concept works with the new culture. Perhaps it needs tweaking, or perhaps it needs an overhaul. It’s the transcreator’s job to come up with a suitable solution. That is why a transcreator needs to be both a translator and a copywriter. They must understand the principles of translation and marketing. I describe all this in more detail in my article What is Transcreation?

While transcreation is normally linked to marketing, a translator can be creative in any genre. As I explained earlier, there is always an element of creativity in translation. Even with something as mundane as a contract. While the term transcreation doesn’t tend to be used in the literary world, literary translators apply masses of creativity in their work. Lisa Carter explains this well in her article about translator royalties in literary translation.

3 differences between translation and transcreation

1. The brief. Because a transcreator behaves like a copywriter, they’ll need a brief. A translator doesn’t normally get a brief. They tend to be just presented with the text and told to work their magic. It’s left up to them to figure out what this magic involves.

Give your #translator a brief. They’ll love it. And you’ll get better results. Click To Tweet

2. The timing. Depending on how creative the transcreator needs to be, they’ll need more time.

3. The cost. Time is money. So, transcreation costs more. Knowledge is money. Besides being a qualified, professional translator, a transcreator is a trained copywriter. So, you’re buying more skills. A good transcreator who is mindful of things like SEO can also make a lot of money for you.

3 similarities between translation and transcreation

1. Professional translation skills. Absolutely essential for both.

2. Professional writing skills in the native language. Absolutely essential for both.

3. Inability to be put in a box. Neither the translator nor the transcreator does the same job every time. The same professional can have the skills to do both jobs. They then adapt to what the customer needs and draw from both skill sets as necessary.

Should you mention the difference between translation and transcreation when you get a quote?

Yes. It’s a good idea to talk it through at the start. Give the translator/transcreator ample information about your objectives for the text. Ask them what treatment they recommend for you to achieve your objectives. Let them know how much of a free hand you’re prepared to give them. And, see how they respond. That way you can judge whether they’re the right person for the job.

Transcreation is an investment that can grow your profits. But, to be successful, good communication is essential. With transcreation, it’s best to work directly with the freelancer. Having non-specialist translation agencies in the middle makes misunderstandings far more likely. My article How to Give Translation Instructions that Get Valuable Results might be helpful.

Lucy and I are trained copywriters and qualified translators. Talk to us about what you need and we will guide you as best we can.

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