“Translation is not a matter of words only; it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” This quote, from Anthony Burgess, expresses the intention behind a specific form of business translation service: transcreation. The word transcreation is a portmanteau that melds together two smaller words: translation and creation. Sometimes translators will be asked toadapt, rather than transcreate, a document. Regardless of which of these synonyms is used, much more than just a word-for-word translation is required. Business translation services that offer transcreation must add creativity and an appreciation for nuance to the already challenging job of translation.
In the same way that copywriters must write in the client’s preferred voice, transcreation requires the business translation service to convey not only word-for-word meaning of a text, but also its tone, style, imagery, associations and emotional resonance – to put it plainly, the cultural subtext. You only need one experience with a literal computer translation program to understand why translation that doesn’t “write between the lines” is ineffective, especially in creative endeavors such as marketing. Transcreation is especially useful when a document is meant to convince an audience to buy into a certain concept.
Technical texts, such as user’s manuals and engineering tomes, are less likely to demand transcreation than, say, advertising copy. That’s because such scientific documents contain little emotional meaning. A faithful translation would work well in such instances. In contrast, good marketing materials appeal not only to the consumer’s rational mind, but also to his or her emotions. Transcreation is required to ensure the translated document also expresses emotional messages and stirs the intended emotional response.
If you are hiring a business translation service to perform transcreation, here are a few things to look for:
- Ask for two or three alternative translations, especially for key elements such as taglines.
- Request a back translation so you understand what the new copy actually says, as well as why it works for the target culture.
- Because transcreation is such a creative endeavor, many business translation services use a team of specialists rather than relying on the brainpower of just one transcreationist.
Finally, business translation services that provide transcreation should serve as cultural experts. Clients should definitely receive a warning, for instance, when a certain approach or emotional appeal will be received differently in the target culture.