Transcreation: What It Is and How to Use It

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Transcreation: What It Is and How to Use It

Translation as a creative process is a concept rarely mentioned these days. When discussing translation, people usually tend to only think about literal translation, which is based on the mere transfer of words from one language into another.

Due to this simplistic approach, in recent years, the term “transcreation” has gained popularity to mean a comprehensive notion that provides a better description for what translators actually do on a daily basis. So, what is transcreation all about?

Searching for Definitions

The processes and skills involved in translation have been thoroughly researched. In time, different authors have provided a pool of definitions. Among others, transcreation is described, for example, as a “complex, dichotomous and cumulative process that involves a set of activities which draw upon other disciplines, mainly those related to language, writing, linguistics and culture.”

Other approaches consider transcreation as a process of interlinguistic communication, where not only two languages interact, but also two cultures. The linguist Roman Jakobson distinguished 3 types of translation: intralingual translation, or rewording (an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs in the same language); interlingual translation, or translation proper (an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language); and intersemiotic translation, or transmutation (an interpretation of verbal signs by means of nonverbal sign systems).

Over the last ten years, the market for language services has doubled in size, reaching 49.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.
Source: Statista

Regardless of the numerous academic works that have been produced on the subject, the truth is that even translators have highlighted the creative side of their daily work. “Translation is an art, and it takes me just as long to translate a poem as it takes for me to write an original one in English. I have to work hard to research the poet, the time they lived in, and the literary forms they were prone to, then find creative ways to convey the spirit of their work in English,” says Yilin Wang.

Such creativity and profound knowledge of the languages and cultures are an essential part of any translation. And this is when transcreation comes into play, as a form of linguistic alchemy.

The Key to Smash Down Barriers

As many authors note, the term “transcreation” highlights the nature of translation as an inventive, resourceful, human-centered activity that seeks to eliminate barriers that may block the understanding between languages, cultures, communities, and individuals of all capabilities.

In that sense, this is made especially evident in the marketing communications world, where the message is intended to reach broader and more diverse audiences while remaining extremely customized. It is creativity which enables professionals to deliver multilingual messages for the different audiences from dozens of countries without losing the essence of the original message.

Transcreation requires four fundamental elements:
– Adapting content in a creative way.
– Hand picking each term and discarding others to prioritize the intended effect and impact.
– A deep customization of the content, in order to attract diverse audiences.
– Added value by the translator, since this is more than a simple word-by-word translation.

For these reasons, a deep understanding of the target languages’ cultural aspects, idioms, history and so many other elements is key. For example, Tanya Bongin, Managing Director of Craft London, refers to the steps followed by a Chinese translator in order to twitch the words and meanings just a bit, discarding bits and pieces of the original English content, to elicit a laugh from Chinese audiences. She also says that transcreation is a sort of “magic sauce”, since it requires some copywriting and a bunch of expertise added to the mix.

A striking 55% of global consumers prefer to shop on websites that offer product details in their native language.
Source: MarketSplash

This being said, the best way to define translators today is to conceive them as creators: “The role of translators as creative experts is more essential than ever with branding and marketing content. A freer, more creative approach (transcreation) is called for. Translators must aim to make the original message’s underlying idea land the same emotional punch on the target market,” linguist Anna Wyndham says.

This concept can be equated to that of intersemiotic translation in the Jakobsonian sense we mentioned earlier. Furthermore, with an ever-increasing demand, transcreation is becoming a linguistic tool essential to the globalization of messages.

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