What is Transcreation? Differences Between Translation and Transcreation

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Written by: pTranslate Contributors


When working with foreign clients, there can be language barriers that prevent mutual understanding and smooth communication. In many cases, a translator or a transcreator has to come in to help both parties bridge the language gap. A translator and a transcreator basically do the same job: adapting one language to another. However, there are vast differences between them, which can sometimes cause a bit of confusion to those that aren’t familiar with the terms in the language industry.

In this article, we will explore the differences between translation and interpretation, so that you, as a client or freelancer, can have an easier time distinguishing the two services.

translation vs transcreation

1. What Is Transcreation?

Transcreation is the combination of “translation” and “creation”. The transcreator translates the text from the source language to the target language, but not by replacing word-for-word, but by creating an entirely new message that resonates with the target audience in that culture.

In other words, transcreation takes translation to a new level. The goal of translation is to adapt the content from one language to another, while the goal of transcreation is to adapt the content accurately while also maintaining the original intent, tone, style, and even personality in the source material.

2. Differences between Translation and Transcreation

It is easy to see that transcreation requires much higher skill than translation.

When doing translation, the translator only needs to know the meaning of the text, then express it in the target language, so that the reader can understand what it means. The translator usually doesn’t stray too far from the original message. In fact, it is required to keep your translated version intact from any of your objective opinions. Translators have to make sure that the translated version mirrors the original version as closely as possible. This is known as direct, or literal translation.

In some cases, the translator can incorporate some level of creativity into the translation. This is usually done at the request of the clients. There is greater freedom, but in general, the translator still needs to respect the original version. The translator should not make drastic changes to the source material.

Transcreation, on the other hand, allows a lot more room for creativity.

Even the most creative translation projects are still nowhere near the level of creativity required for transcreation. The translator can be flexible. They can paraphrase, or find new ways to express the content, sometimes they can go as far as to change the content completely, as long as the ultimate goal of transcreation is achieved: keeping the tone, intent, style, and personality of the original document intact.

The transcreator doesn’t need to strictly follow the source material. They only use the source material as a reference. Their job is to create an entirely new copy of it in the target language, while still maintaining its essence. Usually, transcreators are given a creative brief so that they can have a direction to follow when they transcreate the document. In a way, transcreating shares a lot of similarities with copywriting.

Based on the definitions above, we can know which types of document need “Translation” and which ones need “Transcreation”.

Legal papers, Financial Reports, Business Reports, Proposals, Patents, or other high-importance documents require Translation because these documents contain critical information that must not be altered.

Advertising content, Marketing materials, Literary Writing, Travel and Tourism documents, and any other literary, or culture-rich documents require Transcreation, because these documents are culturally-sensitive, and need to be rewritten to fit the needs of a specific set of audience.

3. Transcreation in Literature

Transcreation was first developed in the field of Literary Translation. Literary Translation is a demanding niche in the translation industry. When translating a piece of literary writing, the word-for-word translation approach might not work so well. It can be difficult to convey the same “emotions” to readers from other cultures. The challenge that all literary translators face is that they have to constantly think of ways to “re-express” the sentences to make sure that no meaning is lost in translation.

There is a fine line between Literary Translation and Transcreation. Both concepts refer to the creative pursuit of adapting writings from one language to another. However, Literary Translation should be seen more as “creative translation”, which allows for less flexibility than true Transcreation, yet we should acknowledge that there is a small amount of transcreation required in any Literary Translation project.

In other words, the literary translator must balance staying faithful to the original work with creating something unique, distinctive, and relatable to the reader. Literary translators must know when to translate, and when to transcreate.

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For example, when translating “The Godfather” – the most famous work of Mario Puzo – the translator must select from their vocabulary only the most suitable words that can convey the mafia theme in the target language. The perfect translator for “The Godfather” must know the slang words popular among gangsters and organized criminals in the target language and make those changes anywhere necessary. They should still keep the original theme of the Italian mafia while making it approachable to non-native readers.

If the transcreator can’t keep the voice of the writer intact, the readers won’t be able to enjoy the piece of literature to its fullest.

4. Transcreation in Movies

Movies evoke a wide range of emotions, so it is extremely difficult to capture and express all of those emotions and messages the creators intended to convey to the audience in the subtitling and translation.

Sometimes, televisual content adaptation goes beyond keeping the message intact. We also have to take into account a lot of cultural aspects. What may seem appropriate and non-offensive in one culture can turn out to be offensive in another. In order to achieve the highest level of cultural sensitivity in the adaptation, transcreators must make drastic changes to the content.

A famous example of televisual content and movie transcreation is Doraemon – a famous movie about a robot cat from the 22nd century. Doraemon is very popular and well-liked in many East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, but isn’t so much in Western countries due to the vast difference in culture. Transcreators of Doraemon have made many attempts to bridge this culture gap, including:

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  • Changing Nobita to Noby
  • Changing Japanese words to English words on Nobita’s test
  • Add the alphabetical grading system of the West on Nobita’s test
transcreation vs translation
  • Jaian, or Giant, is changed to “Big G”. Big G is a much more familiar nickname in the West.
  • In some episodes, chopsticks are changed to forks.
  • Japanese Yen notes converted to US dollar bill.

There are tons of little details changed in both the manga and the anime. Sometimes the changes might seem unnecessary, or even a violation of the original’s work, but it was all intended to bring the movie closer to its target market.

5. Transcreation in Advertising and Marketing

Advertising and Marketing is where transcreation is most valued. 

Different languages mean different culture, and different culture means different messages required. International brands want to keep their brand image and brand personality the same across all markets, but they can’t use the same phrase all around the world. Some phrases, when translated too literally and direct, can bring an awkward connotation.  

When working with Advertising and Marketing content, the transcreator must take into account:

  • Cultural context
  • Socio-historical context
  • Brand Image
  • Brand Voice
  • Target Audience

Because all of these aspects aren’t easily transferred in the translation process, businesses need to take one step further by going for a transcreation. Advertising and Marketing transcreator examines the core messages of the source material and use that as the foundation for their transcreation process. After that, they will select the most critical parts of the message, find suitable and relevant expressions in the target language, and create a brand new copy intended for customers using that language.

A famous example of Marketing transcreation comes from Coca-Cola. 

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Coca Cola wants to keep the pronunciation of their brand name when they enter the Chinese market in 1927, so they choose “蝌蚪啃蜡”, which is pronounced quite similarly to “Coca Cola”.

However, that Chinese phrase literally means “tadpole gnaws wax”.

Of course, nobody wants to buy a drink from a brand with such a ridiculous name. However, when Coca-Cola later changed their name to “可口可乐”, which means “tasteful, enjoyable”, their sales soared.

This shows how sometimes it’s better to sacrifice the original message and create a completely new one that’s more suitable for its new market.

iPod’s slogan transcreation is also interesting to look at.

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The iPod’s original message is ‘Small talk’. The core message is how much a ‘small’ device can allow people to talk with each other anytime, anywhere. Also, ‘small talk’ is an idiomatic expression referring to conversational, daily conversations between friends and acquaintances.

In Latin America, the slogan becomes “Mira quién habla”, which means “Look who’s talking”. The slogan is completely different from the original message in both its linguistic aspects and its intended message, but the phrase is commonly used in the region.

In Spain, the slogan becomes “Ya sabe hablar”, which means “Already knows how to talk”. This is a phrase that Spanish parents commonly used to express their pride in their child’s first words.

Thanks to good transcreation, international companies are able to tap into other cultures and explore new markets.

6. Video Game and Application Transcreation

The video game industry is booming, and gamers worldwide are eager to experience games from countries around the world.

It is when transcreation comes into play.

Although transcreation and localization are fairly similar to each other, they actually aren’t. Transcreation is all about changing the content of the game itself to a certain degree to make it more appealing to foreign audiences. This brings higher customer experience, which ultimately leads to improved profits.

7. Step to Perform Transcreation

7.1. Creative Brief For Transcreation

The first step of transcreation is preparing a creative brief. With translation, the client only needs to provide the source material and a few simple lines of instruction for the project. With transcreation, the client has to add a creative brief, in which main creative ideas and the direction for the creative process are outlined.

7.2. Cultural Analysis

Most of the time the creative brief is not enough to provide the framework for the transcreator to start working. The transcreator usually has to perform a thorough process of cultural analysis, in which they analyze the intended audience they will transcreate for.

There are no clear-cut rules for this process. Different projects require different approaches to this analysis. It is fairly similar to market research. They have to “know” the audience: who they are, what they need, what they want, and how to capture exactly what they need and want.

7.3. Brainstorming

As transcreation is a creative pursuit in itself, the transcreator must take some time to think up interesting ideas before transcreating. That’s why we say the job of a transcreator is fairly similar to a copywriter: both have to think up creative ideas based on a given direction. In fact, many transcreators have had years of experience as a copywriter. They can blend their linguistic competence with their creativity to bring the best transcreation service to their clients.

Brainstorming can last from a few minutes to a few days. Good ideas come when they’re least expected. It’s an interesting phase of transcreation, but can be really frustrating.

7.4. Transcreation

Once everything’s prepared, the transcreator will get down to work. This is the culmination of all of the effort they put into in the previous steps. However, some transcreators prefer getting right down to work and coming up with ideas along the way. No matter what approach they take, they all go through transcreation as if they are recreating the source material itself.


Translation and Transcreation all belong to the Translation industry, yet they have vast differences. If one wants to perform Translation or Interpretation, they need to have relevant skills, talents, years of practice, and sometimes a “gift” for language, before they can be qualified as a professional. 

Do you have any questions or opinions on Translation and Transcreation? Feel free to ask in the comments!

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