Transcreation is when translation expertise and copywriting expertise come together in one expert process.
THE ABOVE is my definition of transcreation. The one that I set out with over two decades ago and first presented to a larger audience in 2006. And it’s the one that I continue to uphold.
It is also a definition that seems to have caught on. But even so, transcreation is often misunderstood.
People think of it as a service where you have someone translate a text and then add a copywriter on top to make it “sound nicer” or “embellish” it.
That’s not what transcreation is about.
First of all because copywriting isn’t about embellishing. It’s about driving home messages in a persuasive, inspirational, motivational way.
Secondly, transcreation is not about adding copywriting on top of a translation. Transcreation is a holistic process that spans an entire continuum.
The Trans-Creation Continuum
The Trans-Creation Continuum is a concept I have developed over time and that many of you have come to know in more detail in my workshops and webinars, with all the consequences it has for inputs, processes, time, cost, deliverables, and not least: job satisfaction.
Here is an illustration of what the Transcreation Continuum is about:
As you can see, the transcreation continuum stretches between two poles: from translation in its purest form (starting on the left) to copy creation completely from scratch (on the right).
Explaining all the consequences and details in a blog post isn’t possible, but to give you a rough idea:
Going from left (translation) to right (copy creation) …
- The source text becomes less and less relevant until you reach a point where you may not have any source text at all, or are given one simply as a non-binding example.
- The type of communication goal changes from informative (yellow) to persuasive (blue) to motivational (green).
- The AIDA formula, which is about crafting a text in a way to create Attention, then Interest, then Desire, then Action (of whatever kind, from subscribing to a newsletter to placing an order), becomes more and more relevant the further you move toward the right end of the continuum — the motivational type of texts.
What you also see here is that VOLUMES on the informative end are usually high, which is why Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Translation (MT) technologies will focus on this segment, for the very simple reason that it makes more business sense (automation drives margins!), and because there is a lot more data produced and available that can be harvested and input into the MT engines. Thus the informative translation end is where AI and MT will increasingly be used, with of course high-end post-editing services.
Whereas on the motivational copy creation end it‘s all about the IMPACT of the text and the uniqueness of messages, you want to stand out and not sound like everyone else, and so that is all about human brain work. Also, machines cannot enter into the much-needed conversations with stakeholders and text creators, they can only process the source text and maybe glossaries, but not all the other additional information, the cultural context, the brief about what you want to achieve.
A patient’s medical record requires a competent translation by a professional translator specializing in that medical field, with all the details in place (yellow column on the left in the above illustration). The translator needs expert knowledge but will not — and should not! — rewrite anything on the grounds that “it would sound more persuasive”. Translation management systems, including MT systems, will usually be helpful and speed up the process.
A press release about a hot new M&A, or a new product offering, often requires a mix of translation and some minor (or even major) adaptation — sometimes rewriting maybe just one or two sentences, other times rewriting (condensing or expanding) entire paragraphs, depending on the target audience (all in consultation with the client and based on a brief). It will be somewhere in the bluish middle of the transcreation continuum, but could also land completely on the left end (translation) or tending to the one on the right (copy creation from scratch). Translation management systems, including MT systems, can be helpful, but may delay the process or dilute messages more than they help.
A corporate ad may have to be reinvented more or less completely because no amount of adaptation would be catchy enough (right end of the continuum). Other times it may be possible to recreate an ad in another language and for a another target market in a way that’s very close to the source text. The transcreator will usually provide several versions for the client to choose from. Translation management systems are hardly of any use at all.
Or let’s take the example of a hotel that wants its website “translated”.
The landing page may have to be rewritten to varying degrees to be catchy and make the visitor want to learn more about the hotel, go to the room pages or check out prices. This requires more of a copywriting approach, taking into account both the source copy and the client’s brief. Several versions, especially of headlines, will usually be developed and discussed. So, greenish.
The room pages will usually be translated with maybe some minor rewriting, if at all. Yellow-bluish.
The T&C and pricing pages will be translated, no brief required. Yellow.
The point is that the transcreator will be able to assess and advise the hotel client about how to proceed. The professional transcreator will recommend and execute a package that spans from translation where needed and adaptive rewriting where that is needed.
Having the eye and experience to see what needs to be done for every single headline, subline, paragraph and page, is what makes transcreators and their services so valuable.
My definition of a transcreator is therefore:
A transcreator is someone who delivers on the entire Transcreation Continuum, from strictly-to-the-source translations on one side to crafting completely new texts on the other end, with varying degrees of adaptation in between.
In other words:
A transcreator is someone who knows when to translate and when to create new copy, all based on a source text and briefing conversations with their client.
And based on all the evidence I have seen over the years even from experienced translators, that is not something that “every competent translator” knows how to do. The main reason for that is that this kind of expertise isn’t usually part of the academic translation curriculum, so additional training (such as, for example, this course) is needed.
This blog post is a condensed presentation of the Transcreation Continuum. The illustration is shown for basic orientation only.
If you are a translator and would like to learn more about the Transcreation Continuum and how learning more about transcreation could benefit your career, click here to read about the highly acclaimed and only business book on transcreation in the market, or check out this recent podcast or my course on proz.
If you are a client and feel like this is exactly the service you are looking for, I would be happy to discuss your needs with you — no strings attached. Contact