Translation, Transliteration, Transcreation – Difference in Time, Money, and Quality

Are you familiar with the “Three T’s” of translation: Translation, Transliteration, and Transcreation? Each word represents an essential component of the industry and a key piece of the puzzle when moving information from a source language to a target language. By understanding the differences between these three key elements, you will have a better grasp of what is entailed in the creation of your documents and a superior comprehension of the services that are available to you.

Defining Transliteration

Transliteration involves changing the script used to write words in one language to the script of another; taking the letters or characters from a word and changing them into the equivalent characters in another language. This process is concerned with the spelling and not the sound. The sound of the words is handled through yet another “trans” – transcription. When there is a word you don’t want to be changed, interpreted, or explained, but only put into the characters of another language, your translator will use their transliteration skills. This is often the case when it comes to names, addresses and other such material. When you think about Japanese words written in Latin lettering, you are thinking about transliteration.

The challenge of transliteration comes when there is not an equivalent character as often happens in Chinese of Japanese. The translator will need to approximate the character and this can lead to several translators spelling the same word in different ways.

Defining Translation

Translation is taking the meaning of a word from the source text and providing an equivalent text in the target language. Many times when you use an online translator, what you are really getting is transliteration or transcription and not a true translation. That is why the results of the “translation” often do not make sense.

It should be noted that there are levels of translation. A simple word by word translation takes text from one language and changes it into a word with an identical meaning in the other language. This is great unless there are word strings or sentences in which case a word for word translation is not sufficient. For example, the English “You’re dead meat” is meant to tell somebody that they are in a lot of trouble, they are going to get hurt, or perhaps even killed. The implication is “you better watch out”. The Spanish “Tu es carne muerta” is a word for word translation, however, the translated message would make no sense at all in the target language. It did not consider sentence structure, grammar, cultural issues, context, or overall meaning.

To be effective, a translation must take the meaning behind the text and put it into the target language so that the intent of the message remains intact. In the dead meat example, an effective translation might be “Eres hombre muerto” or “you are a dead man”.

A comprehensive translation will consider the grammar, syntax, and local culture during the conversion process so that the final document reads as if a native speaker wrote it.

Defining Transcreation

When a message does not directly translate from one language or culture to another the translator must do something to preserve the intent of the source information. This typically occurs when figurative or culturally related speech is used. Examples of difficult text include analogies, metaphors, similes, and colloquialisms. Since the job of the translator is to preserve the intent of the language, a culturally and locally relevant equivalent must be chosen to represent the source text.

In the “dead meat” example, an appropriate translation might be ¡vas a ver lo que es bueno! which in English means “you will see what is good” or ¡te vas a enterar! “You’ll find out”. While these do not appear to have the same meaning to an English speaker, they do to the target audience, and that is what matters. After all, target audience comprehension is the whole point of translating your text.

What The Three T’s Means to You

There is a time and place for each of the “three T’s”. In the end, the most important element of the translation process is accuracy. Did the translation accurately convey the message you intended to get across? Most documents require at least a little bit of all three T’s, although the mass of most documents receive general translation services.

The time required to perform each type of text change varies, but transcreation generally takes more time than a simple word swap. More time equates to more expense. Therefore, projects that contain large amounts of figurative or culturally-based text and require significant transcreation take longer and cost more than those which can more easily translated. Despite the extra time and expense, the preservation of your message and the creation of a document that reads like a native wrote it is worth it.

While your translation service provider can meet each of your challenges, it is important to let them know if there are certain words you want transliterated and not translated or transcribed. You can also save yourself time and money by internationalizing your document prior to translation and removing as much need for transcreation as possible.

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