Insights May 29, 2020

Source what now? A transcreation agency glossary for beginners

Living Word
By Living Word

So you have to talk to these transcreation guys. You’ve noticed already that they love words and language – no surprise there, for they are a bunch of fervid linguists – but there is some basic lingo that needs to be acquired. The good news? It is disarmingly simple.

Source/target: In plain English, ‘source’ is what you translate from, while ‘target’ is the language(s) you translate into. These terms are not here just to confuse the punter: they are more precise than ‘the original text’ or ‘English’ – English is often the target.

Word count: A term that does exactly what it says on the tin: it is the total number of words to translate, typically counted in the source. This metric works well for translation, but it loses most of its relevance when it comes to pure transcreation.

Machine Translation (MT) or MTPE: Machine translation is an online service that can be free or near-free to use. It can help in very specific contexts and usually ‘gives the gist’. Often, these machine translations are post-edited (PE) by a human. A word of warning, though: using MT alone for your communications materials is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Translator: It seems obvious, but these different roles do need to be clarified and singled out. Translators translate the words. They don’t take sides; they might think that the message you’ve patiently crafted won’t fly in the target language, but their job is to convey your idea as neutrally as possible.

Transcreator: By comparison, a transcreator takes on somewhat of a balancing act. This linguist will analyse the core meaning of your copy, but also look at the style, tone and intent. An example? BMW’s tagline has been ‘Freude am Fahren’ (‘Pleasure in driving’) since 1969. The transcreation into English, however, is ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ – clearly not a word-for-word translation, but 100% on target.

Copywriter: A copywriter writes original material based on a brief. Most transcreators are also seasoned copywriters.

Localisation: This is the step before transcreation – a form of translation that takes into account the local usage (e.g. converting weight and measures into metrics, using Canadian French rather than French French, and so on). Think we misspelled ‘localisation’? Well that’s a good example: ‘localization’ is the American spelling, something that will of course be tweaked as required during the localisation stage.

Tone and intent: You could say this is what’s left when you have stripped away the sheer meaning of the words. Do you want to sound friendly? Knowledgeable? Rousing? Is the aim to raise the profile of your brand in a country? Or is there a clear call to action?

Brand dilution: Brands are precious, and a lot of time is spent trying to preserve their integrity. Brand dilution happens when the copy in a foreign language is creative to the point where it is no longer aligned with the brand values and guidelines. This is why transcreation is a fine balancing act – and one of the reasons why we need a clear brief.

A few words about transcreation briefs

Some of the things you know about your brand probably seem obvious to you, but it is your job, when putting together a transcreation brief, to make them clear to your transcreators too. Here are some pointers to help you succeed in writing your brief.

  1. What is the objective? Spell it out.
  2. Paint a picture of your target audience.
  3. Define the tone of communication you want to use. For Italy, do we use the ubiquitous term of address, ‘Tu’, or do we go for the more formal ‘Lei’?
  4. How much leeway can you give? Does your message need to be strictly aligned internationally, or are you happy with a ‘let’s adapt it to the target market until it bleeds’ approach?
  5. Do you have branded terms that need to stay? Any taboo words or subjects?
  6. Are there length restrictions or other formatting issues that need to be taken into account?

It hopefully goes without saying that your contact at a professional transcreation agency will guide you through this process and flag any issues or missing bits – but you can save yourself both time and sanity by keeping the above in mind from the get-go.