Translation and Transcreation – What Your Business Needs to Know

As of 2016, there were over 7.4 billion people in the world speaking nearly seven thousand living languages. If you’re a business doing business globally or even thinking about it, that’s a massive audience of potential customers!

Obviously, you won’t be able to speak to each one of those seven plus billion people in their native tongue, but with a little bit of research, you’ll probably find that there is an ideal new target market that doesn’t speak your primary language. A San Francisco company can effectively sell products to Japan. A Chicago based website may have a vital market segment thriving in Germany. But how do you find them and more importantly, how do you connect with them in a meaningful way?

There are a multitude of nuanced finer points when it comes to identifying your best international audience and taking your business global.  But when you’ve put in the time and research, diligently chosen a new market, the best product for that market and ensured that consumers there have responded well to similar products or services in your space, what’s next?

You’ve probably spent years defining and establishing your brand in your home country. If you’ve experienced business success, it’s probably because our customers have found genuine value in your unique selling proposition (USP).  But how does that success translate globally?

Get it, translate? See what I did there?

What is Transcreation exactly?

The simple starting point is that the content you have lovingly and carefully cultivated for your business in your language needs to be translated into the language of your new target audience.

But not just translated. But transcreated. So what’s the difference?

In the strictest dictionary terms:

Translation – Is the process of translating content from one language into another.

Transcreation – Is the process of adapting a message from one language to another.

Granted, Wikipedia tells us transcreation is the brainchild of marketers. But in a world where every other nation and its people are no more than a few clicks away, it was essential for this new variation of translation to be born.

A Golden Example of Transcreation

Translation as a practice can tend to be very literal while transcreation requires a greater degree of creativity. This involves everything from website copy to print collateral and even product packaging. Consider the example of McDonald’s succinct, catchy phrase “I’m Lovin’ It.”

For one thing it’s very American to lose the “g” in a present participle. It’s a casual convention that we accept. However, this doesn’t necessarily apply as well to other languages, where that colloquialism is not as common or feasible at all.

Looking at a translation of this slogan from English to French it becomes “J’aime ça” or “I like this”.  But a transcreated version that you’re more likely to see in France is “c’est tout ce que j’aime” which, translate into English as “It’s all I love.” Not quite the laid back American interpretation, but still a much stronger sentiment than the literal “I like this.”

There may not be a perfect way to interpret the meaning behind a message across languages. The challenge of translation is the transcreation of the intent by making informed choices based on the structural and cultural implications of the target language.

Additional Considerations of Nuance

When it comes to the intent of a message, the biggest challenge is finding ways to make transcreated content memorable, evocative and appropriate.  That last one is a big deal, especially when it comes to languages that have distinctions between male and female or formal and casual in word use. An effective translation must take these finer points into account and make adjustments where necessary to ensure that a message strikes the appropriate, professional tone.

This applies to taglines, text and even colors and imagery. For example, in China the color yellow can be associated with pornography. So, if you are expanding into a Chinese market with a pervasively yellow website color scheme, you may want to consider a change. Similarly, while green is a color associated with health and prosperity in China, a green <em>hat</em> can be an indicator of infidelity.

All of these minor distinctions must be a part of the globalization equation for a business. If your goal is to strike the same resonant emotional chords abroad that have been effective at home, all of these details matter.

Whether you are thinking of doing business in another nation, or even with another segment of foreign language speakers domestically, translation is the baseline, but transcreation should be the goal. The interpretation of meaning rather than literal language is what will help your business make  more successful connections with new audiences.


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