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Language isn’t the only barrier to communication between cultures — how people perceive words and images can obscure the message. A deep understanding of the nuances of the target culture is needed to successfully transmit ideas across borders.
Carrying a concept from one language to another in a way that retains the original message requires more than fluency in the language. Translating with the intention of maintaining cultural relevance calls for a more strategic and creative solution, specifically: transcreation.
Both translation and transcreation are part of the localization process — adapting a message from a source culture for a target culture.
Translation takes the direct approach, finding the equivalent word or phrase in the language of the target culture. While translation might take idioms and vernacular into account to a certain extent, faithfulness to the text is a core value. In contrast, transcreation will make modifications where necessary to ensure the message resonates with the target culture emotionally as well as intellectually, even if that means radically altering the source content.
With transcreation, elements of the message beyond the text often have to be assessed as well, including the imagery attached to a particular campaign. Transcreation can even be applied when there’s no need for linguistic translation but where there might be significant cultural differences– from American culture to the UK, for example.
Transcreation is central to marketing and advertising enterprises that are extending their reach linguistically and culturally. Marketing campaigns are often based on wordplay, humor and visual associations that confound the target culture when translated directly.
The foundation of a campaign can be drastically undermined when the target culture is confused by the message or an association doesn’t hit the mark. Not every culture understands that “elephants never forget,” for example. The meaning of “once in a blue moon” is expressed in Italian as “as often as the pope dies,” which isn’t likely to be appealing in an advertisement.
A well-known example of responsive transcreation is McDonald’s slogan “I’m lovin’ it”, which was adjusted to “I just like it” for China, an expression more in keeping with the vernacular and cultural feeling.
Advertising isn’t the only industry that benefits from transcreation. Any time that it’s necessary to relay culturally specific information, transcreating the message helps it feel local and reach the target audience. For example, education materials should be transcreated so that themes, images, and content are culturally relevant and impactful for the target audience.
Following recommendations that health education materials should be culturally relevant for Hispanic audiences, the Cancer 101 curriculum to train Master of Public Health (MPH) students was modified to make the materials more appropriate for the social context of Puerto Rico.
When USA.gov wanted its feature “Discover Six of the Government’s Best Mobile Apps” to reach a Hispanic audience, through the transcreation process it was discovered only four apps were available in Spanish, though the Hispanic community uses smartphones to access information. The piece was renamed to “Discover what’s available from the Government using your smartphone,” highlighting resources that meet the interests of the target community: food safety, consumer protection and health issues.
Regulatory information also needs to be transcreated in certain circumstances, such as where information is different from one country to the next — warranties, for example.
The consequences of not transcreating can be a major setback for a global strategy, leading to costly damage control and stalling progress. A company that doesn’t prepare its message for the target culture takes a substantial risk of being misunderstood as well as incurring expenses for misfired campaigns.
At Dynamic Language, we work with clients to craft global messages that are culturally appropriate and effective, ensuring that the medium and the message connect with the target culture.
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