Translation vs Transcreation: What’s the Difference?

Jonatan Parski CEO

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Translation vs. Transcreation

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between translation vs transcreation? We know transcreation is a new term to most of you. If you’ve ever attempted to bring a service to a new market in another language, you may be familiar with the term. Otherwise, you might have never come across the word before.

That’s quite alright too! We’re here to provide a “transcreation” definition and contrast it with the conventional “translation” definition. We’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of what a translator does and what a transcreator does. We’ll also address the difference between the two.

This article will also explore both practices from a global business perspective and issue recommendations on which option is best for different situations.

Are you unsure about where you stand on translation vs transcreation? You’ll walk away from this guide with a fully-formed opinion on the matter. Now, let’s dive in. What is the “translation” definition? What does it mean to “translate”?

Translation Definition

A translation is a faithful reproduction of a text in another language. The word itself comes from the Latin “trans”, across, and “-latio”, carry. Written documents are carried across from one language to the next. Simple enough, right?

Wrong. With translations, the devil is in the details. There are different ways to translate the same text, and even different schools of thought on the matter. The goal of translation may be a faithful reproduction. How to best achieve that, though, is a hotly contested matter.

Literal, or word-for-word translations, offer a precise retelling of a text in the target language. However, human language is incredibly subtle. A word by itself can have multiple meanings. A word-for-word translation is likely to lose a significant amount of meaning, despite its precision.

On the other hand you have sense-for-sense translation. Sense-for-sense translation aims to translate each sentence into a sentence of equivalent meaning in the target language. This accounts for contextual, non-standard or variant word usage without loss of meaning.

The debate extends far beyond these two schools of thought. Professional translators generally side with the sense-for-sense school, the oldest and most traditional of the two. Academics counter that subjective biases affect these translations in ways that may distort meaning.

It’s within the context of this debate that a new school has emerged. And now, a new debate, translation vs transcreation, is primed to take its place. So, what is transcreation? What’s all the fuss?

translation vs transcreation

Transcreation: A Practice for the Global Business

When it comes to translation vs transcreation, the latter takes things one step further. There’s no formal “transcreation” definition, as it’s a fairly new field. In essence, transcreation is a recreation of an original message, adapting cultural, regional, and other details to new audiences.

The practice began in the world of literary translation. As novels and comic books went global in the 20th century, many new audiences came into contact with them. Radical cultural differences rendered many of these works incomprehensible for people foreign to the original context.

And so, transcreation began. Nations like India, Russia, Japan, and the United States were often both originators and receptors of transcreations. For instance, in Spiderman: India, America’s New York-dwelling Peter Parker becomes a more relatable Pavitr Prabhakar, living in Mumbai.

It wasn’t long until the global marketing industry picked up on transcreation’s potential. Transcreation is being adopted as a tool to preserve the emotional impact of a text on new audiences. Its value for global-facing businesses is thus incalculable.

Through transcreation, advertisers can ensure their message will connect across cultural and linguistic barriers. As such, transcreation is entering the arsenal of many corporate marketing departments and firms.

Academically, transcreation is an extreme position on the free/literal translation spectrum. Word-for-word translation falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, as the most literal. Sense-for-sense translation is closer to free than to literal, but not as free as transcreation.

Transcreation is a task that requires significantly more creativity than translation. Transcreators are essentially bilingual (at minimum) creative writers, which is an essential element in the difference between translation vs transcreation.

Translation vs Transcreation: Which One Should I Opt For?

Having a hard time making up your mind between translation vs transcreation? The truth is, neither method is superior. Both translation and transcreation have their advantages and disadvantages. Each is uniquely useful for certain situations and usage cases.

When you’re dealing with legal information, contracts, or anything else where precision is crucial, translations are your best bet. When even single commas can have major consequences, stick close to the literal end of the translation spectrum.

Similarly, when the document at hand is academic in nature, like a textbook or study, it’s best to translate. Information where precision is important, and where the emotional impact is not a factor, are best served by translations.

On the other hand, whenever you need to forge an emotional connection with your audience, transcreations are far more effective. A translation will rarely capture the feeling of a message. It’s the origin of the phrase “lost in translation”. Transcreation addresses this problem directly.

This makes it ideal for a number of applications. Businesses with a global outlook have a lot to gain. Instead of spending vast amounts of money to create custom ad campaigns for different territories, you can transcreate your campaigns.

It’s a game-changer in the world of marketing. There are so many benefits in evaluating translation vs transcreation. Transcreation is far less expensive for businesses than setting up marketing departments for each new region. Through transcreation, brands can speak in their own voice, in another language, just like a native speaker would.

translation vs transcreation


In an increasingly globalized world, language barriers are a thing of the past. Tools like translation and transcreation have bridged the distances separating us. Conversely, knowing which tool to use at the right time is more crucial than ever before.

Translation vs transcreation. Which do you need? Translation is precise and pointed service, like a scalpel. Transcreation is free and rounded, like a broad brush. One lets you carve out exactly what you want. The other paints a picture. Use them wisely.

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