Translation, localisation and transcreation: What’s the difference?

19 October 2022
3 minutes

Your business is expanding into new markets and you want to share content that will truly resonate with your new audiences. That’s where translation, localisation and transcreation come into play. But what’s the difference between these three processes?

Main takeaways

In this blog, we’ll show you:

  • The differences between translation, localisation and transcreation.
  • How these processes enable your brand to engage with new markets.
  • How to maximise your impact with the right process for the right content.

What is translation?

Translation means recreating a text from one language (the source) in another language (the target). In its most basic form, a translation is a sentence-by-sentence reproduction of the original text, except in a different language.

For texts like technical manuals and legal documents, you want the translation to be as close to the original as possible. The translator shouldn’t take a lot of creative liberty or change the content.

It’s still important to always work with native-language translators (people who translate into their own native language). The translator should also be experienced in your field or with the types of text you want to translate.

When should you use translation?

Image of a person translating different words in a note book

Translation is the right process to use for texts like: 

  • Your website’s cookies statement and privacy policy.
  • Your general terms and conditions.
  • Contracts and legal documents.
  • Technical instructions, like user’s manuals or FAQs.

What makes a translation good? 

A good translation ticks all these boxes:

  • Captures the exact meaning of the original text, including every detail.
  • Uses terminology consistently and correctly.
  • Never adds or omits information compared to the original.
  • Is always grammatically correct and easily understandable in the target language.

What is localisation?

The term ‘localisation’ has two meanings: 

  • Adapting a text (or UX, product, etc.) not just to the target audience’s language, but also to their cultural norms; for example, using colours that have positive associations in the target culture, or using the level of formality that the target audience expects.
  • Tweaking a text to make sure it accounts for regional variations in spelling, style, punctuation and vocabulary within the same language.

In both these forms, localisation is about making your target audience feel like your content was created specifically with them in mind. This is again why it’s important to work with experienced linguists who understand the cultural nuances in your target market.

Are you expanding into a new region where the same language is spoken? Remember that many languages have strong regional variations. For example: 

  • UK English versus US English.
  • German versus Austrian or Swiss German.
  • Spanish versus Mexican Spanish.
  • Egyptian Arabic versus Gulf Arabic.
  • Dutch versus Flemish.

Working with linguists who are true insiders in these languages and cultures lets you create texts that take important differences into account.

When should you use localisation?

It’s wise to localise your content any time you target audiences in a new region. There will inevitably be cultural and linguistic differences that you need to account for; for example:

  • When expanding from the Netherlands to Flemish-speaking Belgium.
  • When using UK English content to target US English-speakers.

What is transcreation?

Transcreation is the gold standard for adapting your text to a new market. It requires the greatest level of skill and expertise from your translator (the ‘transcreator’). And it gives your adapted text the biggest impact.

As the term implies, it’s a combination of ‘translating’ your original text, but also ‘creating’ a new text that is equally engaging.

Literal translations sound stiff and impersonal. Transcreation brings your message to life in authentic terms that resonate with your new audience.

Instead of literally translating a text word by word, the transcreator reads your original text and then chooses the most creative way to express your message in their native language. 

When should you use transcreation?

Transcreation isn’t necessary for technical translations (that’s what conventional translation is for). Use transcreation for all other types of text, such as:

  • Any text that you want your reader to engage with personally (web text, blog and social posts, mailers, advertising, etc.).

What makes a transcreation good? 

You can tell a good transcreation when: 

  • It looks and feels like it was created specifically for the target audience (not simply a 1:1 imitation of the original version).
  • It generates the same engagement among your new audience as the original version did among your original audience.

Can translation, localisation and transcreation benefit your business?

Do you want to learn more about how translation, localisation and transcreation can help you boost conversion and engage with a broader audience? Check out our case study on how specialised freelancers from Contentoo helped Showpad successfully scale its content internationally with an authentic localisation approach.

Check out our latest report!

Read the 2024 localisation report here.

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