23rd October, 2017

Talk from the Top: Transcreation versus translation | The Giles Agency

This post is the second in our ‘Talk from the Top’ series, in which our Director, Freya, shares her insights on a range of topics at the heart of marketing and communications. Over to Freya…

Talk from the Top: Transcreation versus translation

One of our key services here at The Giles Agency is translation. Our skilled translation and editing teams work together closely to polish and perfect every project we take on, from 100-word eDMs to 100-page annual reports.

While every project is unique, we do face some of the same challenges with every piece—one crucial example being how best to stay faithful to the original text while ensuring it reads smoothly and resonates with the target reader. These two core aims often conflict and finding a balance is a real skill.

The ability to speak two languages does not a translator make!

A good translator must be knowledgeable, possess cultural sensitivity, a natural gift for language and a keen eye for detail.

Direct translation: the dangers of word-for-word

Literal, word-for-word translations abound and almost always sound clunky, odd, and only serve to confuse rather than communicate.

While individual words can often be literally translated while preserving meaning, whole sentences and passages require quite a defter and more flexible touch to achieve the same result. It’s worth remembering that the core purpose of any and all communications is to convey something specific, whether it be an emotion, a piece of information, or a general concept—and function trumps form.

A little more flexibility in translation also allows for localisation: the act of altering a piece of content for a particular region or target market. The preferred marketing norms in Hong Kong are very different to those in the US, for example, and taking these into account in your marketing and communications can make a huge difference to your success.

Avoiding verbatim translation is especially crucial when attempting to convey humour via puns or wordplay—a literal translation of a cultural idiom is likely to be completely meaningless (at best) or even offensive (at worst).

Meaning isn’t everything

Good translation is not simply a matter of meaning, but of finding a balance between meaning and style, and creating a natural tone and flow.

It’s often more accurate to use wording that is different, but that still has the same meaning but also the same tone, mood, style, or context as the original.

Such changes can understandably cause anxiety or wariness, as the form of the source content is being altered—sometimes quite significantly—but the overall outcome is inevitably worth it.

Why transcreation matters

At Giles, we use a technique often referred to as transcreation.

Essentially, the translator reads and understands a piece and then rewrites it in the target language. Viewing it as a rewrite rather than a translation frees the translator and allows them to produce something much more natural and compelling.

This depends on having a good translating team, and a good relationship with your client. If they trust you to take a more flexible approach to the project, and you trust your team to execute it accurately and faithfully, transcreation can be a wonderful technique to use—and it’s undoubtedly what I’d recommend to any translator or editor.

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