Transcreating – Thinking global, acting local

Those of us involved in the translation industry have had to embrace technological advancements in our field, and generally in the world around us, for quite some time now. Not only in relation to the way we work and the technologies we need to use to research and deliver our final products, but also in relation to the way we seek employment, the way we deal with our potential clients as well as the type of work we do and the fields of expertise we are made to engage with. It’s a case of adapt or perish.

In our case, we are generally forced to adapt once others have reacted to specific changes. Multinationals, publishing houses, localisation agencies and other players in the game, take a step to ensure their survival and we have no choice but to adapt to their changes. Consequently, translators today no longer translate the old fashion way, we also localise, we proofread for others, we have become experts in a wide range of CAT tools, and, interestingly as well, we transcreate. We translate and we recreate.

Triptychs of Strangers #20, The Analog Lover - London

Translation and recreation = Transcreation

I’m going to be extremely simplistic about this process but I want to quickly highlight how was it that transcreation became a necessity for most of us.

When it comes to companies making a decision to expand overseas, generally, at least in the earlier days, they had to opt for a standardisation all of their products and services and embrace a single marketing strategy for all countries, or on the other hand, they have to consider each local market independently and create a marketing mix and a series of strategies and campaigns designed to fit each and every one of their unique characteristics. It generally comes down to either a standardisation of products and documentation to save costs or a market adaptation to tailor to the cultural needs of each market. As I argued in an earlier post, most companies, in the end, tend to opt for an adaptation to cultural and other differences to avoid alienating customers.

Although it is often argued that with globalisation the international market has become too homogenised and that multinational companies can market their products and services the same all over the world by using identical strategies, the truth is that people in different countries speak different languages and abide by different rules and regulations. There are different economic conditions, political stability, customs, aesthetics, legal systems. There are far too many aspects to throw everyone in a single basket and hope that the message that is delivered and the way it’s delivered will make sense for everyone on this planet.

Having recognised diversity as a key element in their marketing programs and budgets, companies needed to find an effective way to persuade people in multiple cultures to buy their product or service. And after repeated cross-cultural marketing blunders, they finally realised that is not enough to be aware of the diversity of their markets, it is also essential to get the message they intended to convey delivered professionally. Copy is key in translating marketing messaging and a review of the marketing material by a native speaker just want fit the bill any more. Markets have become far too sophisticated and companies and advertisers need to look towards bilingual professionals who have a complete mastery of the intricacies of at least two languages to deliver the nuances they planned on delivering originally in English: “Think global; act local”.
So, enter the former translator (with a flavour for creative writing), now transcreator, trying to balance the demands imposed by having to promote a brand that is recognised around the world, while tailoring an advertising message for a specific local market. Not an easy task. He or she will be charged with creating a promotional text based on the English (in most cases) original, in a way that brings the intended emotions to life, intriguing audiences, luring them and, ultimately, prompting them to buy into the concept. Copywriting, you ask? Yes, that’s right.

Transcreation = Copywriting?
So, wouldn’t it be easier for a company to merely hire a copywriter/s in the target country who can produce the text from scratch? Well, most clients will want the ‘feel’ of the original text to be maintained, which requires someone who has an intimate knowledge of the source language – they will have to understand why the message works and produce something that is localised for the target language.

The difference here is that the transcreator does not really have to transfer the meaning from a source text to a target text. No, the transcreator is scavenging for identical reactions and emotions as in the source language. And yes, lots of you would have already rolled your eyes and argued that a good translation should always try to reflect these aspects of the source text. And I agree (to an extent, of course, because some types of texts, like technical texts will usually not contain many emotions and cultural references). Transcreators dig for identical reactions derived not only from the message, but from the style, the cultural nuances, games of words, sense of humour, images, metaphors.

Marketing and advertising copy often contain puns or references to imagery used specifically by the particular company the transcreator is working for. Generally companies will have a unique Tone of Voice to adhere to, a specific way to communicate with customers, which can go from casual, to mentoring, to instructional, to masculine, etc. And they will also want you to convey your message taking into consideration demographic differences and target groups, not just consumers, but also other external stakeholders and resellers and stakeholders.

So, if you still want to go ahead and add the title of transcreator to your CV, you need to be creative and possess a superior knowledge of both the source and target languages and their respective cultural backgrounds. Learn to love the product you write about and write about it enthusiastically. Transcreators are also expected to provide cultural advice: they should tell the end client when a specific translation or image does not work for the target audience.

And also, importantly, don’t forget that the advertising world needs your brochure transcreated by yesterday, in two or three different versions and with a back translation to help the end client understand the options you have provided. If that fast-paced working environment is your thing, then, welcome to the world of transcreation.

Creating a website for Chinese audiences – Cultural and copy aspects

China is a major economic power with a highly untapped business potential.

A tagline that gets repeated regularly by government departments, businesses and other interested parties. Companies look towards the Far East and see over 1.3 billion Chinese potential customers/users/readers/buyers actively using the Internet as a source of information, to purchase a large range of goods and services and to share that information on those goods and services with their extensive lists of contacts.

But why is it that a potential online market of such magnitude is still being approached with great caution and vigilance by foreign companies? Why are foreign investors slow to take an early advantage on a country with the world’s largest number of Internet users? Is it fear of the unknown? Inability to break the language and culture barriers? Too many restrictions?

In this post, I’d like to raise a few issues for you to consider if you are thinking about approaching this giant that is the Chinese online community.

1. Be aware of online registration procedures and filtering restrictions.
Start by registering a Chinese (.cn) domain name and find data hosting that is physically located in China. This is a good idea from an SEO point of view, to make sure that Chinese search engines looking for geographical location are able to find you easily, but also to stress your commitment to conduct legitimate business in China with Chinese nationals and. Registering a .cn name might not be an easy task, and in fact, you need to be very careful of possible scamers. Try finding an accredited company with a reputable history. They might also be able to get you an ICP licence, which is needed for your site to go live. And remember that once your site is up, you will be faced by the GFW (Great Firewall of China), established to filter information that the Chinese Government considers to be unsuitable for the public ( not exclusively pornographic material but any news item, services and products that could be sensitive or contradictory to the Chinese Governments view). So, take advice from your provider from the start.

Another good option is to hire a webmaster that is native to China, usually marketing themselves in freelancing websites. Offer a weekly or monthly rate to register and maintain your site and look after any other aspects of the registration process like calling customer and technical support, and taking care of whatever other localised business you need done.

2. Cultural aspects to consider in your UI design.
Whenever you create a new version of your site in a foreign market, it’s always important to take cultural aspects into consideration to make sure your intended message gets interpreted and displayed appropriately and successfully. This is particularly true in the case of a market like China. It’s easy to become complacent and simply opt for translating your original design (and copy) to Chinese. That will not work. You should not assume that a UI design which has shown to be effective in your country will also work in China (or in any country for that matter). It is very important that you do your research (or use someone with more knowledge in this field to do it for you) and rebuild the different features of your site accordingly to adapt to Chinese cultural practices and standards.

• Chinese typography: the Chinese script is composed of over 40,000 ideographs (although the average person will considered to have an acceptable degree of literacy when capable of reading around 2,000 characters), each of them made up of at least one stroke and a maximum of 60 strokes. Such complexity makes Chinese a much more difficult language to read than most Latin-based scripts.Chinese characters

Chinese characters are blockish and dense and they need to be presented in a font at least 12 px to ensure ease of read. To improve readability, Chinese sites tend to divide the space available into multiple smaller cells or content blocks, so that the length of each line of writing is shorter and easier for the mind to process. Also, in order to improve user experience, Chinese sites tend to increase spacing between lines or use font colours with lower saturation and contrast. It is also important to maintain distributed alignment (text aligned to left and right margins).

• Chinese site layout:
It’s a good idea to visit some of the more popular Chinese websites such as Rayli and Chinaren to get an idea of the preferred layout and distribution. But my advise is to take into consideration that the state of the Chinese internet connection will be improving in the very near future and this will most certainly mean that Chinese users’ browsing behaviour will change. Lots of sites are currently using flash adverts for various reasons, mainly to cash out as much profit as they can, but also because they want to give the impression to be enjoying a booming trade and don’t want to loose face (Mian Zi), a key factor is Chinese collective behaviour.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Chinese users don’t enjoy simplicity and prefer a site overflowing with links and ads. Many are often seen complaining in Baidu and Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Google and Twitter, about the complexity of Chinese sites and the poor user experience they are forced to endure (in fact, many Chinese users apply a nifty little tool called 360 safeguard which allows them to filter and skip adverts).

It’s also very important to think about the range of colours used in your design. Colours do have different significance to visitors from different cultural backgrounds. It’s very easy to convey the wrong meaning by getting the colour choice wrong. Even the tone of the colours is important, as some Asian countries seem to prefer to use pastel cool tones like greens and blues as opposed to the brighter shades commonly used in Western sites.

I personally like to use Lush as a point of reference for successful localised layout and typography and colour localisation.

3. Cultural aspects to consider when copywriting and localising

  • Tone of voice:  Stop and think about your audience from a cultural and generational point of view before you embark on the task of translating (or writing) copy and localising. You need to discuss with your translator what’s the most appropriate tone of voice: If your main customer base is composed of generation X and Y, you need to find a way to get your message across to Chinese younger audiences avoiding certain formalisms that could simply contribute to making the sight sound outdated and unapproachable.Get a native speaker to review the final copy to pick on human errors or more subtle cultural blunders that may not have been picked up by the translator. But if you really want to cause the same emotive reaction you get from other markets from your Chinese audience, you might need to spend some more time and money employing someone who is able to transcreate, not merely translate. For more details on how transcreation works, visit my post:
  • Political and historical subtleties: Apart from the various and obvious restrictions imposed on the type of content broadcast in websites in China, you need to ensure your translator or writer are using the correct type of characters. Taiwan and Hong Kong prefer to use traditional Chinese, a much more complex version of the written language, while China introduced simplified characters in the 50s and 60 in an attempt to increase literacy. Make sure you are addressing Chinese people with simplified characters as using the traditional version could make it not only a lot harder to read for most people, but also completely inappropriate and ultimately a waste of your time and money.
  • Localisation of numerical data (weights and measures, dates, currency, fractions and time are often represented differently), pricing (make sure your prices reflect the local Chinese currency and taxes) and preferred payment methods. The most preferred online payment instrument in China currently is remittance (debit transfer), collection (credit transfer) and collection with acceptance (debit transfer) market. Also, its third party platform is highly competitive with 40 companies offering fairly similar services.
  • Specific legal regulations: You need to be aware of and compliant with the different privacy and antispam laws established by the Chinese government.
  •  Customer support: If you are an Ecommerce site you need to provide localised customer support for each country. Your online and offline support personnel must speak Mandarin, be available at the right hours, and be reached by local or low-cost phone numbers and email communications.

Next post, SEO and marketing the Chinese way.