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Some clients may ask you to “transcreate” (or “adapt”) a text rather than simply translating it. But what is transcreation?

Transcreation basically means recreating a text for the target audience, in other words “translating” and “recreating” the text. Hence the term “transcreation”. Transcreation is used to make sure that the target text is the same as the source text in every aspect: the message it conveys, style, the images and emotions it evokes and its cultural background. You could say that transcreation is to translation what copywriting is to writing.

One could argue that any translation job is a transcreation job, since a good translation should always try to reflect all these aspects of the source text. This is of course true. But some types of texts require a higher level of transcreation than others. A technical text, for example, will usually not contain many emotions and cultural references and its linguistic style will usually not be very challenging. However, marketing and advertising copy, which is the type of copy to which the term transcreation is usually applied, does contain all these different aspects, making it difficult to create a direct translation. Translating these texts therefore requires a lot of creativity.

Required skills
In addition to creativity, a transcreator should also have an excellent knowledge of both the source language and the target language, a thorough knowledge of cultural backgrounds and be familiar with the product being advertised and be able to write about it enthusiastically. In addition, it certainly helps if the transcreator can handle stress and is flexible, since the advertising world is a fast-paced world and deadlines and source texts tend to change frequently.

Types of texts
Types of texts offered for transcreation vary from websites, brochures and TV and radio commercials aimed at end clients, to posters and flyers for resellers. They could be about any consumer product: digital cameras, airlines, food and drink, clothing and shoes, and financial products. Transcreators are often required to deliver two or three alternative translations, especially for taglines, and a back translation, to help the end client, who typically does not understand the target language, get an idea of what the translated text sounds like. Transcreators are also expected to provide cultural advice: they should tell the end client when a specific translation or image does not work for the target audience.

What makes transcreation difficult?
In addition to the difficulties posed by creating a target text containing all the aspects of the source text (message, style, images and emotions, cultural background), marketing and advertising copy often poses other difficulties for the transcreator as well. Taglines, for example, often contain puns or references to imagery used by the company. They tend to be incorporated in a logo or image, with limited space and a fixed layout for the text. In addition, they are often used for multiple target groups: not just consumers, but also resellers and stakeholders, which means the text should appeal to all of them.

Rates are always a hot issue among translators, especially low rates offered by clients. Some translators are tempted to accept these low rates or to lower their rates just to get work. However, there is no excuse to accept low rates.

“If my rates are too high, I won’t be able to find any clients”
If you raise your rates, there will always be clients who will find them too high and who won’t hire you. But do you really want to work for clients who underpay you for a job that requires specialised skills? There are plenty of clients out there who know what it takes to create a professional translation and who are prepared to pay a decent rate for quality. There are even clients who will not work with translators offering low rates, because they don’t trust “cheap translations”. If you offer quality translations, you will be able to find quality clients who are willing to pay for what you have to offer. It will take time and effort, but that’s all part of running a business.

“I only see job offers on the internet offering low rates”
There always have been, and always will be, clients who are only interested in making a quick profit and they won’t go away, not as long as there are translators who are prepared to work for these low rates. If you are serious about your business and you are able to offer quality translations, you don’t want to work with these clients. And you don’t have to, because there are plenty of serious clients out there who are willing to pay for quality. It just takes more effort to find them, or have them find you. Make sure you market yourself professionally, provide samples of your work and be active on the internet and/or in networks so clients can actually find you. You are in charge of your business, so you set your rates.

“I’ve only just started and am not very experienced yet”
Obviously, more experienced translators can ask higher rates than less experienced translators. Be careful, however, not to charge rates that are too low when you are just starting, because it will be very difficult to raise those rates to a decent level once you have gained some experience. If you start too low, you will most probably lose most of your current clients and you will have to find new clients, which means you will basically have to start all over again.

“A client asked me to lower my rate in exchange for a high volume of work”
Whether you are working on a 1500-word job or a 15,000-word job, the average number of words you translate per hour will remain roughly the same. So why should you be paid less for a big job? In addition, taking on a big job also means you will have to turn down other jobs and may lose (potential) clients. So why should you settle for less during the whole time you are working on this big job?

“I don’t need to earn that much, my partner earns enough to pay the bills”
Good for you, but that doesn’t mean that your work is worth less. Besides, there are plenty of translators who do have to earn a living translating. By underselling yourself and your work, you are damaging the profession’s reputation and you are ruining the market for others.

What are the benefits of joining a professional association for translators and interpreters?
The benefits of membership of a professional association depend of course on what the association in question has to offer, but most associations offer the following benefits:

  • Representation and promotion of interests of translators and interpreters
    Many professional associations take part in discussions about the translation and interpreting profession and are involved whenever new rules and regulations affecting the profession are being developed.
  • Information about new developments in the business
    Most associations publish their own newsletter or bulletin with information about whatever is of interest to their members: new rules and regulations, information about and reviews of software and books, articles on how to market your services, interviews with fellow translators, etc.
  • Continuing education
    Professional associations often organise workshops and/or conferences on subjects which are important for their members, allowing them to improve their language and business skills and to keep up to date with the latest developments in the business.
  • Networking with other translators and interpreters
    Membership of a professional association gives you an opportunity to meet fellow translators and interpreters, either at meetings of local chapters or at workshops or conferences organised by the association.
  • Professional services
    Many professional associations offer professional services such as model terms of business, professional insurance, debt collection services and legal advice for free or at a discount and specifically tailored to the translation profession.
  • Searchable member directory
    Professional associations often have a searchable database of their members, which potential clients can use to find a service provider.
    [Thank you Céline Graciet for adding this one]

Can anyone become a member of a professional association?
No, all professional associations have minimum requirements for membership. Some offer different types of membership. For some associations/memberships, sending in copies of credentials and references will suffice, while others require passing an exam or work assessment.

Which professional association should I become a member of?
It is always useful to become a member of a professional association in the country you live and work in, so you can visit their meetings and use any professional services they offer. In addition, it might be useful to join an association in a country of your working language(s), to be able to keep up to date with developments in that country/language and to meet other translators working in the same language.

Where can I find a list of professional associations?
The website of the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs/International Federation of Translators and Interpreters (FIT), the international umbrella organisation of associations of translators, interpreters and terminologists, contains a list of FIT members all over the world.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about translation, most of which basically imply that translation can’t be that difficult and that anyone can translate. Here are some of them, with my response to them.

“I speak a foreign language, so that makes me a translator”
Just because you speak a foreign language, even if you speak it fluently, doesn’t mean you are a good translator. Spoken language is very different from written language, so just because you are able to have a conversation in a certain language, doesn’t mean you are able to write in that language.

“I was raised bilingually, so that makes me a translator”
Being raised bilingually doesn’t automatically make you a translator. There is more to translating than just knowing two languages: you should also be able to translate, ie. convert one language into another in such a way that the translation reads like an original text. There is a difference between being able to understand and use two languages, and being able to translate between them.

“Modern translation tools are so advanced, they can easily replace human translators”
The translation tools currently available are only able to translate a sentence word for word. Since they cannot understand context, they cannot distinguish between different meanings of the same word. In addition, they simply copy the word order of the source language, which often leads to awkward, even unintelligible sentences in the target language, which the translation tool is unable to rewrite. Translation tools can be useful to find out what a text in another language is (roughly) about, but they are as yet unable to create a good, reliable translation.

“I have a text of around 2500 words. Can you get the translation back to me in an hour?”
Most people can’t even type 2500 words in one hour, so translating 2500 words in one hour is out of the question. How many words a professional translator can translate in one hour depends on different factors, such as the type of text (a creative marketing text takes longer to translate than a straightforward manual) and the level of technicality (a text on a highly technical subject with a lot of specific terminology takes longer to translate than a general text without any specific terminology). On average, a professional translator can translate around 250 to 350 words per hour, so it would take 7 to 10 hours to translate a 2500-word text.

“We don’t need to translate our website and marketing materials, all our customers can read English”
Even though these days a lot of people do read English, they often aren’t comfortable enough with the English language to understand all the details and subtleties of the language. As a result, they will be reluctant to buy a product or service which is not offered in their own language. Research shows that even people who speak English confidently still prefer products in their own language.

“We offer advanced dictionary and search tools which will help you create your own translations”
Good (online) dictionary and search tools are extremely useful for translators, because they can save a lot of time in looking up terminology or background information. However, even though correct terminology and a good understanding of the subject matter is very important, it is not enough to create a good translation: you also need excellent translation, language and writing skills to be able to produce a good, correct and readable translation.

“Translation can’t be that difficult, there’s only one possible translation for every text”
Language isn’t an exact science: there never is just one correct answer. Ideas can be phrased in many different ways. Ask ten translators to translate the same sentence and chances are you will get ten different translations which are all correct. Some translations may be more appropriate for the context and the intended target audience than others, which is why it is important to hire a translator who is familiar with the context and target audience.

“What do they teach you at a translation course, do you have to learn all the dictionaries by heart?”
Even if it would be possible to learn all the dictionaries by heart, it’s not very useful for translation, apart maybe from the fact that it will save time because you never have to look up a word again. But knowing the translation of every single word in a specific language doesn’t make you a translator, because translating is more than just translating individual words, it involves translating concepts and images rather than words. This requires a thorough knowledge of the source and target language and of the cultural backgrounds of both languages. And this can only be achieved through talent, training and lots and lots of practice.

Jargon – the practice of never calling a spade a spade when you might instead call it a manual earth-restructuring implement.

Bill Bryson in Mother Tongue

What’s another word for Thesaurus?

Steven Wright

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.

Samuel Johnson

Language is the dress of thought.

Samuel Johnson

He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Kunst and Alterthum

A different language is a different vision of life.

Federico Fellini

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell

To know another’s language and not his culture is a very good way to make a fluent fool of yourself.

Winston Brembe

Common European thought is the fruit of the immense toil of translators. Without translators, Europe would not exist; translators are more important than members of the European Parliament.

Milan Kundera

Many critics, no defenders,
translators have but two regrets:
when we hit, no one remembers,
when we miss, no one forgets.


Say what we may of the inadequacy of translation, yet the work is and will always be one of the weightiest and worthiest undertakings in the general concerns of the world.

J. W. Goethe

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.

Anthony Burgess

Either the translator leaves the author in peace, as much as is possible, and moves the reader towards him: or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him.

Friedrich Schleiermacher

Translation quality assessment proceeds according to the lordly, completely unexplained, whimsy of “It doesn’t sound right”.

Peter Fawcett

Translators live off the differences between languages, all the while working toward eliminating them.

Edmond Cary

…translating from one language into another… is like gazing at a Flemish tapestry with the wrong side out: even though the figures are visible, they are full of threads that obscure the view and are not bright and smooth as when seen from the other side.

Miguel de Cervantes in The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha

A good translation does not just convey the same meaning, but it gets the music of the words right.

Orhan Pamuk

Beautiful translations are like beautiful women, that is to say, they are not always the most faithful ones.

George Steiner in After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

About this weblog

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture
-Anthony Burgess

To know another’s language and not his culture is a very good way to make a fluent fool of yourself
-Winston Brembeck


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