Transcreation – a couple of practical examples

Rather than the theoretical approach taken in another blog, here I’d like to provide a few practical illustrations of cases where “conventional” translation is not appropriate and where Transcreation is called for instead.

Rather than the theoretical approach taken in another blog, here I’d like to provide a few practical illustrations of cases where “conventional” translation is not appropriate and where Transcreation is called for instead.

My first example comes from a bank who is offering mortgages for people living in Switzerland pursuing their dream of a holiday home in France. Their brief to Alpha was to transcreate a set of headlines to go with romantic views of various regions, such as the Cote d’Azur, the coast of Brittany, or the Rhone valley. Here are a few examples, in the original French:

  • Ma bastide avec piscine à Sainte-Maxime
  • Un luxueux cabanon dans le bassin d’Arcachon
  • Une charmante maison près du Pont d’Avignon
  • Ma maison de vacances au coeur de la Provence

You don’t need a lot of French to realize that each of these actually contain rhymes. Not exactly world-class rhymes, but all the same: “piscine – MaXIME”, “maisON – AvignON”, etc. Clearly, the bank’s is trying to be original and appeal to people’s emotions, while standing out from other financial institutions offering the same service in a more mundane fashion. Since a holiday home is something special, a dream that many people might have, they want to make sure they get their potential clients into the right mood – taking them away from the everyday humdrum.

So there’s a challenge! Since the names of these regions and towns are all French, with typical French names, nasal sounds and all, it was immediately obvious that finding rhymes in English and German with these same names would prove futile. There simply are no English or German words that can be paired with “Provence” or “Avignon” – leaving aside perhaps “Come along to Avignon” …

And of course it was not just a matter of finding cities with a name that can be matched up with an English and a German word, they had to be in – more or less – the right geographical area as well. “Ihr neues Paradies in der Mitte von Paris” would not do, since they were after rural regions, not the capital.

What does the transcreator do? Scratch their head, grumble a bit, open up a map of France, look at the target regions, the rivers, trying to find towns close to Sainte Maxime that might provide a rhyme … Think of a chanson, hope for inspiration … But bear in mind, the clock is ticking.

So here are some of the proposals we came up with:

For English:

  • A dip in the sea in Brittany
  • Your Riviera dream in Sainte-Maxime
  • My own chateau near Bordeaux
  • Your holiday home along the Rhone

For German:

  • Lebensfreude pur an der Cote d’Azur
  • Ein Kleinod in Bordeaux
  • Ihr Zweitwohnsitz in Biarritz
  • Das Haus Ihrer Wahl – im Rhonetal

And, where we just could not think of a rhyme, we proposed alliteration, such as:

  • Ihr Paradies in der Provence
  • Your private paradise in Provence

Clever, no? If you want to try your luck at transcreation, feel free to have a go yourself – in your own language.

But even when they don’t contain rhyme, marketing messages can be tricky and inspiration doesn’t always come easily. Here a few typical examples from a world-famous manufacturer of mice, keyboards and other peripherals. The table below contains examples of a few headlines they came up with for selling products to people working from home during the pandemic. We had the English source to go on.

Create your home workspace.Gestalten Sie Ihr Arbeitsumfeld zu Hause.Créez votre espace de travail à domicile
Connect and create in comfort.Komfortabel kommunizieren und kreativ sein.Communiquez et créez sans sacrifier votre confort
Feel better. Do better.Besser fühlen. Mehr erreichen.Moins d’inconfort. Plus d’efficacité.
Life beyond work.Das Leben nach der Arbeit.Il n’y a pas que le travail dans la vie.
Avoid the sofa.Weg vom Sofa.Evitez le canapé.
Connect. Collaborate. Create.Verbinden. Zusammenarbeiten. Kreativität.Connectez. Collaborez. Créez.

I think these examples show just how easy and elegant English – and how much more clumsy such messages almost inevitably turn out in other languages. We’ve all heard about legendary phrases such as L’Oréal’s “Because You’re Worth It” or KFC’s ‘It’s Finger Licking’ Good” – but in one form or another, we’re all faced with such conundrum’s all the time. And, let’s face it – it actually is fun!

And finally, one totally different type of transcreation that arguably might be called something else (because it is the source that needed tweaking). The examples come from a series of video interviews with non-native-speakers (or transcribed by machine, perhaps?), which in many places did not make much sense. “Straightforward” translation didn’t cut it, one needed to go a bit further.

This one is from an interview with a potato crisp manufacturer: “It’s a simple ingredient since a potato, oil and chip” and “That’s our ideas behind this digital transformation, it’s the goal from having the sit in class for six hours to learn how to operate a handheld, to picking it up and being able to learn it intuitively.”

Here you can see how the transcreator has to put themselves into the shoes of the interviewee, really trying to understand what he might be saying – and then rendering it in their own words. That is definitely not 1:1 translation.

Another, slightly comical one, this time with a medical doctor, who allegedly said: We capture various kinds of data of our patient, let’s say whether male, female, age, then also whether any prehistoric conditions are there. I don’t think he was referring to Ötzi the Iceman.

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