Do you need creativity in translation?
24 Apr

Do you need creativity in translation?

Posted by : Circa Trainer


Do you need creativity in translation?

Most people think that translation is about words going in one ear and out the other—and that nothing else happens in between. That no words get processed and dissected, that no paragraphs have to be parsed for their true meaning, that no term bases are consulted, that no corpus are used. In short, some people think translation is a rote activity. If that were truly the case, then machine translation should, technically, be taking over the world—but they’re not. They’re doing it slowly, but not surely.

Contrary to popular belief, translating a language does not mean taking the first language and then finding one to one equivalence for each word in the second language. Far from being mechanical, translation is a dynamic and artistic skill. And all areas of writing require creativity.

Enter transcreation. A nebulous term used to describe the translation of “creative” texts, such as marketing material or texts of the literary world. But is it generally true that there’s no room for creativity and artistic endeavours in other types of translation tasks?


First off, what exactly is transcreation?

Transcreation involves preserving the look, feel, and objectives of the original text. The main goal of transcreation is to make it seem as if the translated version is an original version produced in the market that the company is targeting. Purushottama Lal (affectionately known as P.Lal) was the first to use the term “transcreation”. He was an Indian translator who translated Sanskrit plays into English. He employed the technique of domestication (where a text is translated and adapted in a way to make it seem as if it was written by a native speaker in the target market’s country), and purposely chose not to preserve the archaic script of the plays by translating it into a more contemporary English style to make it accessible for a larger readership.


What types of text usually goes through transcreation? What does it accomplish?

Texts that usually undergo transcreation are marketing texts, such as slogans, product names, ads, taglines, and other promotional material. But it’s more than translating words and syntax. In transcreation, the goal is to figure out how the company’s message could be expressed and processed in the target language; how to get the same reaction from each new target audience in their native language. Properly transcreating material is crucial to a company’s success because different target audience will have different perceptions and interpretations to certain phrases, and this will affect the company’s overall image.

A translator working with marketing material ideally possesses certain skills, such as being able to preserve the style and essence of the material as much as possible. These are translators who do not translate robotically, but accomplish their tasks with linguistic dexterity.

An effective transcreator will bring their knowledge of the target culture to the table. They will know which phrases will resonate best with the audience, captivate their attention, and earn their trust. In turn, this ensures a successful marketing campaign and an increase in sales volume. Though the opposite is also possible. Some transcreators will treat translating slogans as a word-for-word task and completely miss the mark with their work. This could end up costing the company business, or worse, get them entangled in legal issues. Words are potent. When done right, it can persuade and drive business. When done badly, it could bring down a business empire.


What’s the difference between transcreation and translation? Is there one?

Translation is generally accepted as rendering the meaning and sense of a text from one language to another. Transcreation primarily involves keeping a product intact but completely overhauling its image and design to suit the local audience’s preferences and customs. It could include tailoring a website’s colours and layout to the target culture’s browsing habits. It could also mean adopting literary techniques in slogans favoured upon by the target market such as rhyming schemes or alliteration. In other words, transcreation means being able to make the product seem as domestic as possible.

Translation could involve restructuring a text by moving paragraphs around or even enhancing the text by employing translation strategies that allow the translator to bring out the meaning of the message in an even clearer way. Maybe there are some elements of the source text such as place names, animal or plant names, or expressions that do not exist in the target culture? How should the translator handle these obstacles? The competent translator will have learned techniques that will allow them figure out ways to render the expression as close as possible in the target culture’s language. However, not every translation obstacle can be solved with tried and true techniques, and the translator’s creativity is used to its full potential when there are no ready-made solutions.


So, it’s not only “creative” texts that require creativity?

Creativity comes in various forms. Sometimes a text needs to be reformatted to be easier to read, sometimes it needs to be adapted to the local culture because certain places, expressions, and even concepts might not exist in the target language. Something to keep in mind is that a text that is translated doesn’t necessarily mean it went through transcreation, while a transcreated text, a lot of the times, transcends translation. They’re very much interrelated and each require its own dosage of creativity and artistic flare.

But the end goal is the same: to effectively say what needs to be said in the audience’s native language, because in the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
And that is the main point of transcreation and translation: to instantly forge an emotional connection.


Bussman, Kathrin. Using the Power of Collaboration to Go Global w/ Tanya Sapty. 28 Mar. 2018.
Habib, Shahnaz. “P Lal Obituary.” The Guardian, 5 Dec. 2010.
Hellmann, Greg. The Art of Transcreation. Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.
Munday, Jeremy. Introducing Translation Studies. 4th ed., Routledge, 2016.
“Transcreation vs Translation: What’s The Difference Anyway?” Day Translations Blog, 22 Mar. 2017,

Leave a Reply