The Challenge of Transcreation in Asian Languages

Transcreation is highly used in marketing and promotional materials. In this globalization era, many businesses and brands are expanding not only within their countries but across continents. As a result, transcreation plays a crucial role in capturing attention and transmitting the original message to the target language in a way that is culturally-relevant and contextually appropriate.

However, transcreation is not easy. It requires many factors to create a good piece of work. Since you may already know about the difference of transcreation and translation and how it differs from copywriting, in this article, we will talk about the challenge of transcreation in Asian languages and how we can overcome it. Practically, there are two cornerstones of transcreation, namely the linguist and the context.

The Linguist

The Challenge of Transcreation in Asian LanguagesFirst and foremost, the linguist! In transcreation, you need the linguist who has the capability and willingness to go the extra mile. It goes without saying that such a linguist should be a master of translation but he or she should also possess creativity and the ability to think outside of the box. They need to be able to look beyond the source text and find a creative solution that would fit naturally in another market and at the same time match the source language’s purpose.

The context

Secondly, it is the context. There’s no translation tool that can be used for transcreation (at least not yet). Consequently, the context can be considered another ‘soft tool’ for the linguists. Without enough back story of the brand such as the tone of voice, the brand’s culture, its targeted audience, the main and secondary objectives of the message and etc, it will be difficult for the linguist to make it right. Those contexts are what gives them more information, thus more room for creativity to transcreate.

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Some examples from different angles of Chinese transcreation.

1. Context

Source English Text: Trojan Network
A – Literal Translation: 特洛伊网络
B – Transcreation: Trojan 全球校友会

Explanation: This source phrase appears on the pamphlet of a university. If we transliterate “Trojan”, it will sound like a virus’ name. Also, “network” and “internet” have the same Chinese translation in many cases. So the whole translation will be a technical, IT-related term. However, under the specific context of this translation project, “Trojan Network” refers to a “Global Alumni Association”. The translator needs to spend time researching the background of the phrase, think over the word choice, and make sure to deliver an accurate translation.

2. Grammar

English Source Text: The best of artisans (God) ordained that creature to whom he had been able to give nothing proper to himself should have joint possession of whatever had been peculiar to each of the different kinds of being.
Transcreation: 这位举世无双的工匠(上帝)决定,由于找不到任何恰当的东西给予

Explanation: This English sentence is complex in structure and rigorous in logic. If we translate in the word order of the original sentence, we will make no sense at all. We need to change the syntactic structure of the original sentence and recombine it according to Chinese grammar which takes quite some time.

3. Idiom

English Source Text: What’s done cannot be undone.
A – Literal Translation: 已经做过的不能变成没有做过的。
B – Transcreation: 生米做成了熟饭,还有什么法子吗?

Explanation: The English text looks simple. If we choose the option A, translated word by word, faithful to the source text, and follows the source structure, the translation will be bland. But the second translation is vivid and authentic. It conveys an aesthetic feeling, which is more in line with Chinese expression. “The raw rice is cooked” or “The die is cast”, Chinese people are familiar with the phrase.

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4. Culture

Source English Text: Elite Education, Personalized Preparation
A – Literal Translation: 精英教育,个性化的准备
B – Transcreation: 精英教育,因材施教

Explanation: Influenced by traditional Chinese philosophy, Chinese aesthetics emphasizes the beauty of balance. Antithesis rhetoric and four-character idioms are often used in Chinese, especially the four-character idioms with coordinative relation between the two parts. The translation A “个性化的准备” is right in meaning, however, the translation B “因材施教” is a four-character idiom, it improves the readability and literariness of the translated text and reflects the translator’s Chinese writing ability.

In conclusion

We have listed just a few examples in order to show the different nuances of translation and transcreation. Our aim is to give you an idea of how complex can be the translation of a single sentence. An understanding of what lies behind each type of service in the translation industry will lead to the right choice when recommending a service to clients. That, on the other hand, leads to satisfactory and continuous partnerships.