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What is transcreation? What is localisation? What type of translation do you need?

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Understand the differences between translation, localisation and transcreation so you can find the right professional for what you need.

Translation, localisation and transcreation explained
What language service do you actually need?

As a professional French translator, I’m often asked to explain the different types of services I can offer to clients looking to adapt their message to a different language. Whilst interpreting is quite simply defined as the translation of verbal communications, when it comes to the written word, there are several options which can make a big difference. For example, I offer my clients the choice between french translation, french localisation or french transcreation and whilst all three aim to make a text understandable in French, their purpose is quite different.


What is a translation?

A translation consists in replacing the words, sentences or paragraphs with their equivalent in the target language. Whilst a good translator will always aim to rephrase in a way that sounds natural and grammatically correct, the emphasis is on retaining the original meaning.

To give you an example, I’ve used a French sentence illustrating the role of the most reputable newspaper in France (Le Monde): « Le Monde est au journalisme ce que le café-croissant est au petit-déjeuner. Un indispensable culturel. »

A translation would simply convert the message into English: “Le Monde is to journalism what coffee and croissants are to breakfast. Culturally indispensable.” The message is understandable, even though it might retain a translated feel because of French references used in English.

What is a translation good for:

Technical documents, letters, straight forward web pages, product listings

What to look for in a translator:

Native knowledge of the target language, excellent command of source language, eye for detail, experience of the technical subject, translation qualifications

What is localisation?

In a localisation, the content is adapted to the target audience in order to convey information relevant to them and to appear local. Depending on the objectives of the copy, its meaning might slightly differ from the original, and local data such as currencies or geographical references may need to be adapted.

To reuse our example above, a french localisation specialist migth chose to adapt the message to a British scenario (“The Times is to journalism what bacon is to breakfast. Culturally irreplaceable.”) or to an American scenario (“The NY Times is to journalism what pancakes are to breakfast. Culturally indispensable.”). The message is much more local, but it doesn’t quite match the original text which referred to a different paper and to different breakfast essentials.

What is localisation good for:

Blog articles, SEO, press releases, web pages, anything that needs the content be adapted to the local audience but that isn’t necessarily creative.

What to look for in a localisation specialist:

Native knowledge of the target language and culture, excellent command of source language, marketing background, translation qualifications

What is a transcreation?

The best definition of transcreation is the art of re-writing content in a way that is engaging and meaningful to a foreign audience. A transcreation writer will not only take into account cultural, historical and linguistic references, they will also need to understand other elements of the source text such as its objectives and tone of voice. It takes a lot effort and time to produce a good transcreation which is why they tend to be more expensive, but it is the only way to produce a foreign version of creative copy that sounds not only natural, but also conveys your vision and meets the copy's SEO objectives (potentially based on keyworks defined for a specific region). Depending on the brief, it may also include a level of localisation.

Going back to our French example, a transcreation would aim to convey the original message, rewritten in a way that is more suited to a British audience: “Le Monde is an irreplaceable piece of French culture ; without it, the French press would be like a French breakfast without its coffee and croissants.” The message is the same as the original, but the text was restructured using English syntax and to integrate French references easily recognizable by a British audience. The result flows better and while it may look and sound quite different from the source text, it is more faithful to the original objectives.

What is transcreation good for:

News or blog articles, books and novels, promotional and creative texts such as web or advertising copy, any SEO copy (this might also involve SEO research specific to the local market) and generally most client facing documents

Why choose a transcreation?

As markets grow increasingly competitive, your international marketing material can no longer afford to sound foreign and the linguist's job is a lot more complex than it used to be: a transcreation specialist has to become the translator, the copywriter and the market researcher all at once, in order to recreate complete campaigns and to incorporate a different language and culture along the way.

So, don't ask just anyone to translate your marketing material.

What to look for in a transcreation specialist?

Transcreation is a specialist job akin to that of a multilingual copywriter. Look for:

  • A marketing background: to effectively recreate your marketing mix in a different language, your translator must first understand your English efforts. Make sure they have the marketing skills and experience to grasp concepts such as tone of voice, colloquialisms, market research, keyword integration...

  • A prior knowledge of the subject or industry: it can take years to get a feel for a field and for the way people talk and write about it, and it can be very difficult – not to mention time-consuming – to research and adopt a writing style appropriate to your sector and target audience. Ideally, find somebody who already knows what your business is about and save yourself the chargeable hours.

  • The right qualifications: a transcreation specialist is an excellent translator with additionnal copy writing skills. Qualifications are a good place to start. Read my article on what to look for in a translator for more detail.

Hopefully you now feel better equiped to go and select a language provider and brief them on what your business is looking for. And if France is one of your target markets, don't hesitate to contact me for a chat or a quote.

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