What’s the Difference Between Translation and Transcreation?

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

Written by Gwenydd Jones

Translator, translator trainer and copywriter

If you’re wondering about difference between translation and transcreation then you’re not alone. Knowing what your translator means when they use these terms will help you make sure you order the right service to get the results you need. This article will explain the difference between translation and transcreation.

The basic difference between translation and transcreation

Transcreation refers to creatively translating marketing materials, whereas translation has a much broader meaning. Translation is about producing an accurate and idiomatic rendering of the original text. Transcreation, on the other hand, involves translating with more artistic licence.

The translator has to stay true to the original. The transcreator stays true to the original where this will work, but can also incorporate copywriting, as they see fit.

You might say that the translator is constrained by the limits of the original text. The transcreator, on the other hand, can break away from those constraints. They may even break out of the text, to look at the localization of images. Read What Is Transcreation? for more information.

Want a quick summary of the difference between #translation and #transcreation? Read this. Click To Tweet

The literal translation myth

Professional translators 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. We have to, so the text reads naturally in the new language.

Some people wrongly think translation is literal, while transcreation is non-literal translation. This is a misconception. If you want your translator to adapt your text to the new culture and create copy for you, that’s when you should consider transcreation. If you want a natural translation, then a professional translation service is what you need.

“When I’m wearing my translator’s hat, it isn’t in my gift to make significant changes to your text.”

When IS there a difference between translation and transcreation?

Translation is always a creative process. Professional translation aims to produce a text that expresses everything in the original. This includes meaning, style, tone and register. But it isn’t the translator’s job to introduce meaning that wasn’t there before, or to take meaning out. This is a line that marks the difference between translation and transcreation.

Another line is that transcreation is used specifically for the creative translation of advertising and branding materials, whereas translation is a general term. To better understand what a transcreator does, our article Transcreation Examples: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Lucy will make you laugh.

A transcreator has a creative brief. The brief gives them the gift to pick and choose without always having to ask for permission. They’ll keep the parts they think suitable for the new culture, and alter the parts they think unsuitable. Check out How to Get the Best out of Your Transcreator: Mapping Out the Perfect Brief, by Lucy.

The transcreator’s brief may encompass looking at visual elements as part of the job. While a translator may decide to comment on visuals, it isn’t normally part of their commission. If you need to brief a transcreator, get help here: 23 Questions to Help You Make a Good Transcreator Brief.

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, if necessary, I’ll make a few changes, to help your article achieve its purpose. This could mean making SEO adaptations or changing sentence length. I might find equivalent idiomatic expressions. I’ll look behind your words to interpret your ideas, to express your meaning as fully as possible. All professional translators do this.

If I see something in your article that I know won’t work for 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 restriction, much of what I’ve just described could also be called transcreation. 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.

As I explained earlier, there’s always an element of creativity in translation. Even with something as mundane as a contract. While we don’t say that we’re “transcreating a novel”, literary translators apply masses of creativity in their work. The article An Author Asks: Why Should a Translator Get Royalties When the Story is Mine? by Lisa Carter illustrates this well.

“Transcreation is used specifically for the creative translation of advertising and branding materials, whereas translation is a general term.”

Three differences between translation and transcreation

1. Brief. Because a transcreator behaves like a copywriter, they’ll need a brief. A translator doesn’t normally get a brief, even though one is always useful. Translators 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. Timing. Depending on how creative the transcreator needs to be, they’ll need more time.

3. Cost. Besides being a qualified, professional translator, a transcreator is a trained copywriter. This means their rate will be similar to that of a specialist translator. But transcreation takes longer than translation. So a transcreation project will cost more. The cost is justified. A good transcreator who is mindful of things like SEO will contribute to higher profitability.

Three 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 do/get a quote?

Yes, talk it through at the start. The translator/transcreator will do a better job if they understand the client’s objectives for the text. They can probably offer recommendations to help the client achieve their goals. It’s helpful if the professional knows how much of a free hand the client is prepared to give them. A conversation like this can also help the client judge whether they’ve found the right person for the job. 

Transcreation is an investment that can increase profitability for the client. 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 provides help for doing this.

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