Creative translation (sometimes referred to as transcreation) is a specialist language service for content and messages that lose their meaning through standard translation. Most commonly, this is used for translating marketing messages, copywriting and highly creative content, such as slogans and calls to action.
In this article, we explain what creative translation services are, how it all works and why you might need them if you’re working on projects including content that conveys a deeper meaning than literal definitions.
Creative translation refers to the practice of converting content from one language to another where direct or literal translation loses the intended meaning. This is most common where figurative language is used to convey a complicated meaning, add colour to expressions or evoke emotions from audiences.
To help illustrate how direct translation can lose the intended meaning in such content, let’s take a look at a quick definition of figurative language from online learning provider CFI:
“Figurative language refers to the use of words in a way that deviates from the conventional order and meaning in order to convey a complicated meaning, colorful writing, clarity, or evocative comparison. It uses an ordinary sentence to refer to something without directly stating it.”
As figurative language “deviates from the conventional order and meaning” of words and ideas, it makes sense that standard translation would often lose the intended meaning behind messaging that uses it.
Creative content intentionally plays with the traditional meaning of language to enhance its impact and this requires an equally creative approach to translation to ensure the intended meaning is captured in each target language.
Broadly speaking, two types of content require creative translation to varying degrees: content that is highly creative by nature (think novels, marketing campaigns, brand slogans, etc.) and content that includes intermittent pieces of creative language (think a politician using a metaphor in a speech or an interviewee using an old expression commonly used in their native language).
When it comes to content that is highly creative by nature, you’re going to need a comprehensive service for creative translation that conveys the intended meaning throughout the project.
For content that only includes the occasional use of creative messaging, such as a few instances of wordplay in a video game script, direct translation may be enough for the majority of your project – but you will still need to apply targeted creative translation to ensure the intended meaning of figurative language is captured.
If you are unsure whether your content may need creative translation, look out for the following use of figurative and creative devices:
- Idiomatic expressions
- Cultural references
- Historical references
- Clichés (you should generally avoid these, unless being intentionally ironic)
Copywriters, marketers and a bunch of other creatives intentionally use the figurative devices listed above (and many others) to increase the power of their message or provoke an emotional reaction.
If you are intentionally using these devices in your content, you should already have a good idea of whether you require creative translation services. Keep in mind, though, that it is surprisingly easy to use some of these devices unintentionally because they can be so ingrained in our culture, society and subconsciousness.
For example, adverts rely heavily on stereotyping, cultural references and generalisations (hopefully based on data). Something as simple as basing an ad around the nuclear family unit and Western attitudes to family life could lose all of its meaning in other cultures where the average family unit and attitudes are different.
If your content uses figurative language that deviates from conventional meaning, there is a good chance you need creative translation services. The proof will be in whether the intended meaning of your message is lost through standard translation – either because it doesn’t make sense, loses relevance or takes on an entirely unintended meaning.
In these situations, you will want to look into a translation service widely called transcreation in the language agency and industry.
The phrase “transcreation” derives from the combination of “translation” and “creative” where the intended meaning of your content is prioritised over direct translation. With transcreation, what happens is that copywriters are given the creative freedom to adapt your original message to ensure the intended meaning comes across in the most effective way while maintaining the brand image, tone and voice.
If you need a more creative translation service for your next content project, our experienced creative translation team can help you develop a strategy that gets your message across, as intended. Get in touch with us by filling out the form on our contact page to discuss more.