Over the years, I have been approached by academics telling me that what I present as transcreation is really nothing else than what they teach as translation.
However, I consider it a big mistake to tack the translation label onto every type of work that in some way includes a source and a target-language text. Which is basically what these academics are doing.
“What’s the problem?”
The problem is that the amount of time — as well as the processes and the skills — needed to turn around different types of “translations” differ widely. Admittedly, if you work as an in-house linguist and don’t have to justify the time you need to come up with adequate target-language versions for every job you do, you may not have that much of a problem. But in-house positions are few and far between. Many linguists work on a freelance basis. They need to understand and guide their clients, be a consultant and problem-solver, offer solutions, and explain the time and cost investment— something most don’t learn in universities.
“If advertising is your specialty, why does it take you so long?”
So once students leave the protected world of their lecture halls and actually need to make a living in what is a highly competitive market, it does matter how well they understand the business world, define their services, and explain their pricing policies. If a seven-word advertising headline takes the same amount of time to “translate” as a 1,000-word financial report, most clients will be confused. “I only need that short headline translated, you see? If you specialize in advertising, how come you need so long for just seven words?” they wonder. Widespread misconceptions of what it takes to properly handle foreign-language texts that have a major impact on a brand’s or company’s reputation — and sales — were the main reason why I began my educational talks about transcreation many years ago.
Of course, learning the foundations of translation and acquiring the skills to do it well are important and necessary, and universities generally do a great job in training their translation students from a theoretical viewpoint, sometimes even in specialty fields like law, engineering, and others. But most of that is in theory — useful if you want to stay in academia, perhaps, but by far not enough when you work in the real world.
“I’m good with words, surely that makes me a good transcreator?”
Especially when it comes to transcreation — that combination of translation and copywriting expertise for texts that have a major impact on a brand’s or company’s reputation and sales — most graduates seem lost. They lack not only the marketing background, but also the necessary skills in client communication. Several students writing their theses have contacted me to get my opinion on what place, if any, transcreation has in the scientific discourse of “translation sciences.” When I explain to them that most clients don’t care what kind of scientifically evidenced theories you use, as long as the final texts meet their needs and expectations, those students are surprised and often disappointed. They would rather prove or disprove a theory than dealing with practicalities. Yet real-world business skills are paramount. As a freelance linguist, especially as a transcreator, being great with words is simply not enough. The future belongs to those who are also able to communicate expertly with clients, ask all the right questions, assemble a brief, interpret a brief, explain the processes and elements involved, and adequately present their choices. Yet such skills are rarely imparted.
The lack of transcreation expertise and the related entrepreneurial skills are apparent in all of my workshops. Even experienced graduate translators often struggle with this. Transcreation, and the required business expertise it entails, appears to have had no place in the academic curriculum so far.
“Should current translation teaching change?”
Maybe that will change. I am optimistic, since I have met scholars who have integrated my insights into their teaching. And quite a few have encouraged me to write my second book on transcreation in English. (This is the result.)
So, while I am relieved to see an increasing interest in transcreation across the board, I am still worried about what appears to be a polarized academic world.
What’s your experience? Do you think that client communication skills should be integrated into the academic curriculum of future linguists?