The seven principles of transcreation

1. Translate creatively – not literally

When a company wants a translation that can speak to a different culture and doesn’t follow the original verbatim, then it needs a transcreation. This buzzword is an amalgamation of the words ‘translation’ and ‘creation’. In the past, this service was called adaptation. Creative translation is a complex balancing act with many challenges. The translation has to convey the original message in another language, but without sticking too closely to the source text. That message has to win over the new target audience, with all its cultural quirks, while maintaining the necessary distance from the original. That calls for maximum creativity – while the original author had a lot of freedom, the ‘creative translator’ faces numerous constraints. They have to produce a text that maintains the emotional content but also reflects the stylistic intricacies of the target language. That takes a lot of work and time.

2. Demands the best in the business

Ignoring cultural differences can make an image campaign fall flat in international markets. Companies face an apparently intractable problem – the brand is supposed to achieve global recognition but also has to appeal to local audiences. In those situations, translation takes more than just skill. Only the best in the business can produce successful transcreations. Suitable language experts have to meet a long list of requirements: they need an excellent command of both the source and target language (their native language), along with intercultural sensitivity, creative writing skills, marketing knowledge, the ability to understand customer briefings, and extensive industry experience.

3. Emotion is essential

Facts alone don’t need transcreation. Technical text, product lists and financial statements don’t rely on emotions, making a sober professional translation the appropriate approach. That is not true of slogans, image brochures or social media posts – the content that defines your brand and image. Literal translations simply won’t work, they require transcreation. The brand is supposed to sell, so it has to play with our emotions. Image texts shape the brand message using imagery, nuance and stylistic subtleties. A translator has to engage with the text to ensure that the brand message has the same impact on the target group as it does in its home market.

4. Always stylish!

The transcreation must retain the style and tone of the original. That means leveraging the full breadth of the target language – including appropriate wordplay, phrases, imagery, sayings, idioms, metaphors and dialects. That keeps the message alive in the translation by triggering the same associations as the original text. And that’s why transcreation is considered a superior form of translation.

5. The limits of creativity

While transcreation calls for creativity, there are limits to the translator’s freedom. The briefing describes the target group and explains the effect the text should have on it. Many companies also have defined corporate language and style guides. Their terminology and keywords must be respected, and units of measurement, dates and address formats must be adapted to local norms and guidelines.

6. Infidelity is a virtue

Transcreation does not aim at fidelity to the original. The goal is not to communicate facts but instead to convey messages, ideas and feelings. That means picking apart the original text to explore its assumptions and values. In other words: what is its cultural baggage? Transcreation results in text that accurately conveys your message while using different expressions, imagery and hot buttons. The text isn’t new, but it’s different. Transcreation exists in the middle ground between translation and copywriting. When the changes in the adapted version go unnoticed, then it’s a success.

7. Many paths lead to the target group

Transcreation helps companies speak the same language as their customers. And that’s something they should strive for across all media channels – from a slogan's message, to image brochures and employee magazines, or websites and social media posts, as well as a whole range of other materials. Smartphones mean multi-channel communication follows us wherever we go, day and night.

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