The main difference between translation and transcreation is that creativity and a transcreator’s liberty to reinterpret the source text is at the core of transcreation. While both involve transferring content from one language to another, translation focuses more on word- and sentence-level accuracy, whereas transcreation seeks to reproduce the aim and effect of the original message in a new way deemed completely natural in the target language and culture.
The two services are on a spectrum since all types of translation require creativity to varying degrees. Indeed, the middle ground between ‘straight translation’ and transcreation is creative translation. This allows a little more creative freedom to rework specific ideas, but not full artistic license to completely remodel the original content as with transcreation.
Transcreation — a growing market as found by Slator’s 2021 Transcreation and Multilingual Content Origination Report — may be considered closer to multilingual copywriting. Like copywriting, the product is completely new, fully localized copy that is only based on the seed idea of the source content. In comparison, translators try to stay as close to the original as possible.
Most translators have an academic qualification and/or professional accreditation, high levels of source and target language fluency, and most will have a specialism, e.g., medical translation.
A transcreator tends to be a “copywriter who will focus on their mother tongue and has good command of one or two foreign languages,” as explained by Laura Fernandez, CEO of Corporate Solutions at Supertext. You have to be creative and hold a deep understanding of your target culture. Many also have prior knowledge of marketing.
Scope and Examples
There are a range of translation types, but the work of translation is limited to the text (words, characters, numbers, etc.), ensuring all original content is conveyed but no new meaning is introduced. Translators must look at the meaning behind the words to produce a natural-sounding text with the same impact as the original. Even legal texts will need subtle creativity to enable readability and clarity.
Conversely, transcreation solely applies to creative circumstances, specifically to copy intended to trigger a particular emotion or action. This includes reworking brand names and slogans as well as visual aspects: layout, formatting, typography, images, emojis, and colors. Transcreation providers may offer advice on how content looks, feels, and would resonate with the target audience.
Tanya Bogin, Managing Director at Craft London, highlighted her company’s work with Gulfstream to name their planes on SlatorPod. Different combinations of letters and numbers have different meanings, implications, and superstitions in each marketplace.
Another example of transcreation is Haribo’s strapline; each language version is based on the same core idea but adapted to the language and rhyme. In German, the back translation reads, “Haribo makes children happy and adults too.” And the French is, “Haribo, life is beautiful for grown-ups and children.” Compared with the English: “Kids and grown-ups love it so; the happy world of Haribo.”
Translation begins as soon as the source text has been received, perhaps with a glossary, style guide, and short note on the purpose and intended audience. In comparison, transcreators expect a full brief — “the cornerstone of transcreation,” according to Founder of Transcreation Experts, Nina Sattler-Hovdar. The brief should detail the creative concept, key elements, client requirements, purpose, and audience.
Time and Cost Considerations
Translation is generally less time consuming than transcreation (on a per-word basis). Transcreation tends to require more extensive background research before putting pen to paper, e.g., on the brand, the target market, and the product/service.
Translators usually charge per word; transcreation is typically billed by the hour or on a project-by-project basis.