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Translation vs Transcreation—what’s the difference? There are so many buzzwords out there. Is calling a translation a “transcreation” just a ploy to get you to part with more of your money? Or is transcreation something that can transform your content to give it wings in a foreign language?

The answer is not so simple because it depends on the type of content you are talking about. What we’ll cover in this article is that for some types of content, especially marketing content, transcreation can be a powerful technique that will get your content read in any language.

Here’s an explanation of the difference between translation and transcreation as well as seven aspects about that difference that you should consider when getting translation—or transcreation—services for your project.

  • Translation accurately conveys the meaning of a text in a way that is understandable for a target audience in another language.
  • Transcreation takes the message of a text and adapts it for a new audience in another language creatively adding, removing, or changing content as needed.
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In a word, translation focuses on relaying the meaning of the original text accurately while transcreation involves creativity and more freedom for the “transcreator” to adapt the message for the audience and intended use.

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Know Your Definitions: Translation Vs. Transcreation

First of all, it’s important to understand that translation and transcreation are NOT the same.

Translation comes from the Latin word  translate, which means “carry across.”

What you’re trying to do is carry your message across through the language barrier and transform it into another language that’s understood by your target audience without losing the original meaning.

The goal is to communicate meaning from one language (the source) to another language (the target) while preserving the original tone and intent of a message.

But sometimes the goal of your content is not so much to communicate some technical message in a precise way. Sometimes the goal is to cause people to do something, such as to buy something or to subscribe to something. The effect is more important than the meaning.

However, if due to cultural differences, a direct translation does not resonate with your audience, they won’t read your translation. That’s when transcreation can make the difference in getting your content read and in getting your audience to take the steps you want them to.

Transcreation or creative translation as it’s sometimes called, combines translation and copywriting. It introduces a brand’s essence into the marketing message but in a different language. It does everything that translation does, but it goes way beyond it.

It might include new information that the original lacks, or it might include new sections or omit sections depending on the culture and situation of the target audience. There is no requirement to strictly follow the sentence-by-sentence meaning of the original. Instead, it is a new creation built on the basis of the original.

It’s About Your Investment and Intent

As a client deciding on translation vs. transcreation, you’re about to invest your hard-earned money into this project. This means it’s important for you to have a clear picture of exactly what you’ll be spending it on and how this investment will help bring you closer to your goals.

So, let’s break it down.

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When considering whether to choose translation vs. transcreation, it’s important to consider the purpose of the project.

There are 7 key differences between transcreation and translation that you need to know.

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7 Differences Between Translation and Transcreation

1. A transcreator behaves like a copywriter

Transcreation keeps your brand’s message alive by positioning it at the cusp of the reader’s attention. It entices the readers/viewers to engage and respond while inspiring them to take the desired action.

Transcreation is always tailored to a specific audience. The message aims to evoke the same emotional response that it triggered in the reader in the source language, and inject this into the target language. This includes preserving any witty remarks, humor, concepts and idioms in the original text, while making sure that the message is neither diluted nor lost in translation.

If your aim is to sell to overseas markets and your marketing efforts also involve creating taglines or slogans, basically, highly branded marketing material that involves capturing and recreating emotions in the target language, then it’s more than likely that you will need transcreation.

The process of transcreation when done correctly, results in copy and visuals that actually help convert to sales. Yes, this is the bottom line!

With translation, on the other hand, effort is taken to relay the original message faithfully in a new language. That doesn’t mean you translate word-for-word, but you do stick to the original meaning.

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2. Creative Brief

If yours is a transcreation project, you’ll most likely have to provide your transcreation specialist with a brief.

A creative brief is a document used by creative professionals that serves as a guide to help them produce targeted material such as marketing copy, advertising copy and  visuals, just to name a few more. They will need information about the target market’s culture, purchasing behaviors, legal environment, etc.

The amount of information that’s requested can be bothersome, but it helps produce better quality results.

A translator doesn’t just create new content and adapt at will, so a creative brief is not really required. Rather a style guide, company glossary/termbase, and a translation memory are helpful.

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3. Accuracy & Precision

Accuracy & precision don’t encompass the full range of goals of a transcreation project.

If your project requires a high level of precision in rendering text from one language to another, you are looking at a translation project. This is the case with specialized areas such as legal, medical, and engineering translation, where accuracy and precision are clearly the main focus.

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Translation, not transcreation, is required for technical applications since translation focuses on relaying the meaning of the original text in an accurate and readable way.

This is an important consideration that needs to be carefully discussed with your language professional before you begin.

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4. Time & Cost

You’ll need to factor in time and cost when negotiating delivery times and payables. As a general rule, language professionals are trained to work well under pressure, but transcreation requires a level of language finesse that often requires more time.

It’s important to recognize this and resist the temptation to impose unrealistic deadlines. This applies to both but more so with trancreation.

Apart from being a qualified, professional translator, a transcreator is also a trained copywriter. This means that you can expect their rates to be similar to that of a specialist translator or often even higher. So, while prices are not necessarily exorbitant (though they can be), don’t expect to pay peanuts for transcreation.

Note that this pricing reality also applies to translation, though to a lesser degree. Quality translation is also not cheap.

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5. SEO skills

As with a lot of sales copy, the transcreator is often required to be savvy when it comes to effective use of SEO.

A standard translation does not generally require knowledge of SEO practices. The exception here is SEO translation which in fact is very much geared towards optimizing for search engines. But this is a special area of translation.

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6. Knowledge is power

Knowing the key differences between transcreation and translation means you’ll be able to discuss your project needs and desired outcomes meaningfully with your language specialist.

Knowing which is which could help you save money.

Why pay more for transcreation when a straightforward translation will suffice?

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7. Creative Freedom

The transcreation specialist stays true to the original text, but only as long as it works. In other words, oftentimes the process of translation alone just won’t work unless some type of creativity is introduced into the word mix in order to maintain the emotions, tone and style of the original text.

In this case, the transcreation specialist has creative license to incorporate elements of copywriting as he sees fit.

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Transcreation allows for more freedom and creativity.

A translator on the other hand, must first and foremost stay true to the original text. For example, emotions don’t come into play in a medical translation. What’s needed is an extremely accurate rendering of the facts as they appear in the source text.

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Translation or Localization—A Summary

A quick summary to help guide you on which to use and when:

  • Squeezed for time and on a tight budget where accuracy is critical: translation
  • Marketing-related material that captures emotions in the original text: transcreation
  • Text that’s more factual in nature with little creative input required: translation
  • Your goal is to penetrate foreign markets: transcreation
  • Sales pages that include copywriting and a CTA (call-to-action): transcreation

So if you want your translated message to cause people to do something, if the effectiveness of your text depends on it resonating with the audience, then consider transforming your text with transcreation.

Still not sure whether you should choose translation vs. transcreation? Let’s talk! At IVANNOVATION Language Management, we offer you a wide range of language services including translation, transcreation, localization, and interpretation.

About the author: Edith Nkwocha: I’m a freelance writer & transcreation specialist. You can find me at the crossroads of passion and creativity. When I’m not writing, I’m either designing something or working on my pitches and honing my skills as an editor.

(Updated 9/24/2020: Section added by IVANNOVATION)

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