Transcreation: Taking Translation One Step Farther

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in these early days of becoming a global society, it’s that we don’t always speak the same language. This is true both literally and figuratively. Language is only one aspect of what makes each culture unique and beautiful. Culture is a complex web made up of many threads like collectively held ideas, beliefs, and taboos, as well as verbal, nonverbal, and written communication. It can be challenging to take a message that is relevant and moving in one culture and translate it into another.

Translation isn’t always a matter of substituting one language for another. Dictionary definitions and classroom-style word substitutions won’t always do the job. Often, translating is more about recreating and retargeting a message from one culture to another and less about exchanging one language for another.

Transcreation is a highly creative process that takes a message from the source language and recreates it to fit another culture.

When a message requires this level of repackaging, you can’t just translate it. You must transcreate it. Transcreation seeks to transcend the boundaries of not only language but also culture, while keeping the original intent of the message the same.

Transcreation is often required for marketing and advertising efforts outside of a company’s home culture. Creating an emotional response or a “gut reaction” is the goal of this type of message. The tone, context, and style are just as important as the words.

A great deal of time is taken to craft the text of an advertising campaign. Writers debate the finest points of language to craft a message that evokes a very specific feeling. Simple translation, the exchange of a word in one language for its counterpart in another, may not have the power to create that same feeling. It may even create the opposite reaction.

Some examples of transcreation have also stemmed from the video gaming and comic book industries. Gamers weren’t satisfied with direct, word-by-word translations in gaming dialog or graphics. Many games are reimagined for export to other countries. In the world of comic books, the same trend is emerging. Consider the new incarnation of Spider-Man that has been developed for export to India. The text wasn’t translated; the entire character was transcreated. Indian-born Pavitr Prabhakar fights in front of the Taj Mahal, rather than the American Peter Parker battling villains in Times Square.

Transcreation is a highly creative process that takes a message from the source language and recreates it to fit another culture. This process takes skill and artistry as well as a very thorough understanding of both cultures. It’s not an easy job, even for qualified professionals.

If your business is joining the global community, think in terms of culture instead of language when seeking translation services. Make sure your message is seen on the global stage in the light you intended.

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