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What is transcreation and how is it different from translation?

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We’re guessing you probably found this article through a search engine, while doing some research on transcreation. The question “what is transcreation?” is going to be asked – or googled – at some point by each and every person who works with content marketing. Or at least is dealing with some sort of content project that has more than one language attached to it.

So, let’s get the definition out of the way: transcreation basically means to culturally adapt content from one language to another while maintaining very important things like tone, intent and context.

No translators were hurt during the production of this article (the transcreation vs. translation part)

You might ask from the previous paragraph – wait, isn’t that what translation does, or is supposed to do? The answer is no – transcreation is a step further than translation.

Translations are never 100% exact – they might change from translator to translator, might sometimes be too technical, and… well, different to what the original content meant.

Related: Learn more about transcreation services

More often than not, that yields funny results and the translation goofs we’ve heard of (and laughed about) so many times. One important thing about transcreation is that it implies more changes than a simple translation – there’s more “artistic freedom”, shall we say, than in a thoroughly accurate translation.

Transcreation, as the name suggests, employs creativity in the translation process. The intent is kept – wherever possible – but the content is recreated, adapted, reworked to be as genuine and culturally relevant as possible in the target language. Because resonating with the target audience is crucial.

So feel free to assimilate the concept as this: transcreation = translation + creation. It’s pretty straightforward, and correct in any case.

But I just hired a translator for my project! Do I actually need transcreation instead? Help!

Usually transcreation projects happen within the marketing universe. But it’s actually broader than that. If you work on any kind of project that needs content to be meaningfully adapted from one language to another, then yes, you’re a candidate for using transcreation.

It could be a content marketing campaign that requires some sort of special localization (that’s a topic for another article, by the way).

Or maybe you’re simply working on a presentation that will be shown to an international audience. Or you need to check a keynote speech for any… how to put it… “lost in translation” issues. Anyway, here’s a quick list of some things that transcreation handles:

  • Humor: some terms need to be adapted – or reworked – to remain funny in the target language.
  • Idioms: these sometimes very specific expressions desperately need transcreation revamps to still make any sense.
  • Sensitive words: some literal translations end up with bad results because their precise translation has sensitive connotations to the target audience.
  • Slang: words and expressions that are specific to a particular country, region, state, city… and sometimes make no sense at all when translated. Transcreation needed.
  • Bad taste: this one speaks for itself. Some things might just not be appropriate when accurately translated. They’re better off transcreated.

These are some examples, but there are more. Think of puns, wordplays, sports expressions, folk rhymes, etc. The list goes on and on.

“What is transcreation?” Check. Transcreation vs. translation, check.
The “do I need this” part, check. Anything else I need to know?

Well, some quick tips never hurt, right? Here’s some further interesting information to consider about transcreation. Take this as the “read instructions before use” part.

  • Native-speaking transcreators: yep – as in other content services, it’s always best to hire people who speak the target language at a native level. Sure, it’s not an inflexible rule, but it’s always a good idea.
  • Experience is also good… right? Just like any other service, it’s a good thing to count on experience. Not only in transcreation services overall, but also with other content services, like copywriting. That’s a big plus.
  • Apply some context: as with any other content initiative, a good understanding of where this project fits in is needed. Is it part of a bigger content strategy or just a standalone thing? Are there important audience insights to be considered? Actually, who exactly is the target audience? Are there any goals associated with it? What is the meaning of life? (No, forget the last one. Just a bit of humor!)

So, there’s that: it’s a big world with many languages in it, and sometimes translation alone is not enough.

Actually, allow me to rephrase – it’s a small world. And it’s only becoming smaller, with more integrated markets, international products, global campaigns, etc.

Which places even more importance on content that makes sense anywhere in the world – content that has the same desired effect regardless of the language. With adequate tone, style, idioms, expressions. Transcreated content, that is.

Gonzalo Suárez
Gonzalo Suárez
Co-founder and COO @ Key Content
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