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Transcreation 101: our definition and the basics

What makes a transcreation so special? How does it differ from a standard translation? Kristy Sakai, CEO of Supertext USA, explains what it takes to be a super transcreator.

“Good transcreators are the unicorns of the language industry: they’re really hard to find.” And Kristy Sakai knows why: transcreation requires translators who can also write copy. Or writers with a perfect understanding of the target culture and market. She discussed what this looks like in practice and why transcreation is such an important skill in her keynote speech at the 2019 Freelancer Convention in Berlin.

An extra dose of marketing knowledge

Transcreation is one of the translation industry’s biggest buzzwords. Creative translations of slogans, claims and entire marketing campaigns are more sought-after than ever before – particularly when it comes to localizing texts as part of a company’s globalization. Titles, names, wordplay and idioms need to appeal to the customer’s emotions and sound like they were originally created with the new market in mind.

It takes a marketing team at least half a day – and often much longer – to come up with a slogan for a new product. Transcreating it into another language takes about the same amount of time, and means staying true to the style, tone and message without translating literally. In many ways, it’s more about marketing than it is translation.

From talented translator to super transcreator

Translators translate into their native language, use appropriate technological tools and have a passion for foreign languages. Copywriters write, filling empty pages with carefully-chosen words, telling stories and selling ideas. And transcreators? They do both. They understand markets and marketing goals, are outstanding writers in their native language and also speak a second (or third, or fourth…) language. That’s what makes them a rare breed.

A transcreator needs to think outside the box (without using tired idioms like “think outside the box”), and get inside customers’ heads. Their focus is on creation, but they also need to know when not to transcreate. Transcreation is a process; an exchange of ideas; a collaboration between the customer and the linguist(s). And it’s also a bit like a pitch: once they’re finished, the transcreator needs to be able to sell their text to the client. Can they explain why they chose these exact words? Or why a direct translation (or no translation at all) might actually be the better option in this case?

McDonald’s slogan “I’m lovin’ it”, for example, can easily be translated directly into many languages – or even left in English. By contrast, the company changes the names of its products to suit each market.

Can you learn transcreation?

A straightforward answer: it’s complicated. The “creation” part is closer to copywriting than translation. And copywriting requires innate talent – to a certain extent. But as with everything, practice makes perfect. The only limit on what a transcreator can do with a source text is their own linguistic abilities. The most important skill for a transcreator is therefore a perfect command of their own native language. And you can achieve that by reading, reading, reading – or listening, listening, listening, if you prefer audiobooks to print. You can find all our recommendations here.

When taking on a transcreation project, asking the right questions is key:

  • Who is the target audience of the text?
  • What is the aim of the text (clicks, subscribers, brand recognition, direct sales…)?
  • Where and in what context will the text be published?
  • Are there any time or structural constraints?
  • Are there any guidelines that need to be taken into account?

Why is knowledge of your target culture so vital? Because a German-speaking customer might prefer hard facts to emotional appeals. Because in Chinese, changing the order of the words is enough to change the meaning of a slogan. And because in French, a call to action should be written in the first person, not the second. All factors that need to be taken into account during a transcreation.

To sum up: transcreation is creative, challenging and gives you an opportunity to explore language and culture – and your own skills. It brings words to life. And it’s also a lot of fun.

Video via Supertext

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Want to learn how it works?

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    – What factors contribute to the success of a transcreation
    – When you need one
    – Specific examples and use cases
    – Tips and strategies for finding a provider


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2 Kommentare zu “Transcreation 101: our definition and the basics”

  • Igor Krasontovitsch am 11. February 2020 10:40 Uhr

    It’s interseting, but unfortunately most of texts an the screen are so blurred, that you can’t read it on your PC monitor.

  • Angela Mariani am 11. February 2020 14:52 Uhr

    Hey Igor

    Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately the light conditions weren’t ideal for recording. If you’re interested in learning more about transcreation, please don’t hesitate to contact Kristy Sakai (kristy@supertext.com) directly or just come say hi to us at one of our hubs.

    Super regards

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