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The difference between translation and transcreation

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Definition of Translations in a dictionary
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "Translation" as the "rendering from one language into another", amongst other definitions. Looking for "Transcreation" in one of these classic dictionaries would be futile. This term is relatively new and it's usually discussed in business and marketing contexts.

When it comes to language, there are two terms that often get thrown around in the same breath: translation and transcreation. But what is the difference between translation and transcreation?

Translation and transcreation are two distinct approaches to adapting content from one language to another. While both involve the process of rewriting, they serve different purposes and require different skills.

What is Translation?

Let's start with translations. Translation is all about conveying an exact meaning from one source language to another target language, without changing or adapting any of the original content. Put simply, you are taking the exact same words and moving them around a bit so they can be understood by someone who doesn't speak the source language.

What is Transcreation?

Transcreation is a much more in-depth process that involves adapting and revising the source text for a specific target market, culture, or demographic group. It is both creative and strategic; it is about expressing the original meaning in a way that resonates with a completely different audience. Often this involves making changes to style, syntax, tone, and even changing some of the words themselves.

What's the difference between translation and transcreation?

Translation involves the straightforward process of converting written content from one language into another. The focus is on accuracy and clarity, preserving the meaning and structure of the original text as closely as possible. The translator’s goal is to convey the information as accurately and completely as possible, without changing the tone, style or intent of the original message.

Transcreation, on the other hand, involves more than just translating the words. It is a creative process that involves rewriting the original text to adapt it to the target audience, culture or market. Transcreation involves a deeper understanding of the cultural nuances and references of the target language and audience. Transcreation requires the interpreter or translator to be highly skilled in both the source and target languages, as well as possessing a keen sense of marketing and copywriting.

Precision & Accuracy Vs. Creativity & Adaptation

The goal of transcreation is to create content that resonates with the target audience, and that is culturally appropriate, engaging and effective in achieving the desired marketing or branding objectives. A good "transcreator" is not only proficient in both the source and target language, but should also be creative and have additional context related to the target audience, which is why a professional human translator who's also a native person who lives in the place as the target audience is preferred. If you're unsure of what's best for your needs, you might want to consult a translation agency for guidance.

While translation focuses on linguistic accuracy and precision, transcreation is more about cultural adaptation and creativity. Transcreation often involves rewriting the text completely, incorporating new ideas, cultural references, and other creative elements that are designed to connect with the target audience. The result is a message that is adapted to the specific needs and preferences of the target market, and that is more likely to be successful in achieving the desired goals.

Which is better?

If you are looking for faithful reproduction of your source text, then a translation is definitely the way to go. But if you're looking for a more creative translation solution that speaks to your target audience, then transcreation is probably the better option.

In either case, it's important to find someone who has both linguistic and cultural expertise in order to ensure that your message resonates with the right people. So if you're trying to bridge the communication gap between two cultures, take the time to find someone who can help you do it in an effective and meaningful way.

Understanding your Needs

Our recommendation is to first understand your needs and goals. You might want to explore the typical industries in translation and see what's the best approach for each one of them. This, along with your specific context will help you figure out what's best for your particular needs.

For instance, translation is often used for legal, medical, technical or other highly specialized documents where precision and clarity are essential and a "word for word" approach is more desirable. While both approaches are important for successful communication across languages, transcreation is more appropriate for marketing material, branding, and other creative content that requires cultural adaptation and creativity. Transcreation and proper localisation can help multi-language websites increase their chances to rank in different languages. According to Google's John Mueller, quality translations can negatively impact the whole website's search engine optimization (SEO):

"A very low quality translation that’s also indexed and that’s also very visible in search, then that can definitely pull down the good quality translation as well or the good quality original content that you also have."

The evolution of the translation industry proves that technology advances to adapt to more specific needs. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Assisted Translations and Neural Machine Translations (NMT) are some of the concepts that have been introduced recently and can potentially change the industry landscape in the future. However, machine translation is certainly not advanced enough to produce high-quality transcreations, as we discussed in this article. At least for the time being.

At the end of the day, translation and transcreation each have their own set of benefits, so make sure you choose the right approach for your project. With a little bit of research and insight into your target market, you can make sure your message comes across loud and clear.

Happy translating (or transcreating)!

Other Sources

  1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

  2. Hult, Francis M., and Chia-Ying Liao. "Transcreation: Translation by another name." Metaphor and Symbol 26.4 (2011): 287-306.

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