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.
That may well be so. But then they are basically tacking the translation label onto every type of work that comes with some kind of source text and target text.
And that’s a big mistake.
“What’s the problem?”
The problem is that the the processes, the skills, and the time and cost investment needed to turn around different types of “translations” differ widely. Judging from the questions asked at the trainings that I am running for both freelancers and in-house teams, transcreation is still often viewed as something done as an afterthought and separate from strategic marketing functions.
Yet it is paramount that all parties involved understand what kind of inputs are required from each of them.
This means that both freelancers and in-house teams need to understand and guide their (external and internal) clients. They need to be consultants and problem-solvers, ask strategic questions, offer possible solutions, and explain the time and cost investment— something most don’t learn in universities.
“If marketing is your specialty, why does it take you so long to translate this piece?”
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 image — 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 are meant to engage, inspire, and motivate, and have a major impact on a brand’s image 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 clients generally don’t care what kind of scientifically evidenced theories are used, as long as the final texts meet their needs and expectations, students are surprised and often disappointed. They would rather prove or disprove a theory than dealing with practicalities.
I sympathize, I really do. I’ve been there myself. Yet like it or not, 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 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 little to 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.). And I have recently been asked to give lectures at various universities.
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?