Marketing Translation or Transcreation: Is There a Difference, and If So, What Is It?

Nowadays, the concept of transcreation is getting more and more widespread, and while translation professionals consider its existence to be a fact, its definition is still a little vague, while outsiders cannot necessarily guess the meaning of this term. This blog post is primarily addressed to them.

Why transcreation?

In the word transcreation, it is easy to recognize the same trans- prefix that is present in “translation”, as well as the word creation. This term was artificially created by our profession in order to differentiate it from “ordinary” translation. The main difference between them is that transcreation is not only translation; it is a real creation process in the target language, which results in a different, or perhaps disparate target text (we do not call it translated text on purpose). The aim of transcreation is to have a text that sounds, in every aspect – linguistically, culturally, etc. – as if it was written originally in the target language. One might argue that really good “normal” translations are also like that – but lately, especially with the spread of computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, translating sentence-by-sentence has become a common and accepted method. It might sound common place that “we must translate ideas and not words”, but in some subjects, where routine-based but extremely precise translation is needed (e.g. for medical reports), word-by-word translation is often used, and has a well-founded right to exist. Transcreation always aims at capturing the idea, the message behind the text. That is why a given sentence does not always match the sentence in the target text; moreover, it is possible that some sentences are omitted or added on purpose. In extreme cases, the target text can even say something completely different than the source. This cannot happen in “ordinary” translation.

When is transcreation needed?

Transcreation is primarily used to replace the precise translation of marketing texts and other creative, culturally embedded text types, as the main objective of marketing is to help sales, and selling must be backed by natural-sounding texts with high readability. They also need to bring the same emotional effect to the reader as the original text did to its native readers. However, some languages are more concise than others, or accentuate other aspects of the same message. Moreover, in the case of printed or high-visibility online material one must pay attention to the space required, the formatting and the layout. The choice of fonts, of words, or the complexity and style of the sentences can all be of importance to the reader. These linguistic and cultural subtleties are only known and properly used by native speakers of the target language, so one of the principles of transcreation is that it should only be done by natives, without exception. (This rule is theoretically true of translation as well, but in the case of some narrow or very special subjects or rare language combinations, the industry is forced to make exceptions).

How much does transcreation cost?

The question “what is the price of the translation” is quite frequent (and sometimes overemphasized) in our industry. While translation prices are usually defined based on the word count (or in some rare cases, on the character count) by most language service providers, transcreation cannot be simply reduced to the volume of the text. The reason is, as mentioned earlier, the possibility of complete sentences being omitted or added, depending on the cultural necessities of the target country. Thus, transcreation is typically priced at an hourly rate, based on the actual hours spent by the translator (transcreator). Of course, the prices vary highly depending on the language combination, just as for normal translation.

Machine translation, human translation and transcreation

As a final note, it is worth mentioning that neural machine translation, as we wrote in one of our earlier blog posts, is producing better and better (easily post-editable) results in many language pairs and fields of expertise. Maybe this is one of the reasons behind the adoption of the concept of transcreation: a job type that emphasizes the human factor in translation. There is no better way to avoid misunderstandings than by introducing a new term: while machine translation and human translation are both called translation, there is no such thing as “machine transcreation”.

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