Translation, Localization & Transcreation: Find Your Match

January 3, 2017   -   Posted by Chrissy Bullock


Translation. Transcreation. Localization. They’re often used interchangeably, and definitely have overlapping qualities, but they are three different language services with unique applications in our multilingual age. So how do you decide which contender is the best match for your particular project or initiative? The key is differentiating the three services, and then identifying which service – or combination of services – is best suited to achieve your business goals.

flag_round1-01.png for the love of customization

When selecting which type of language support is best suited for your project, the first thing to consider is the level of customization your audience requires.

Translation Converting literally, word-for-word.
(Customization: Level I)

Translation is the literal conversion of text from one language into another – strictly adhering to the language, grammar and syntax of the original message. This is why it’s ideal for straightforward content like product assembly instructions, technical manuals, consent forms and contracts. But because text is being converted word-for-word, meaning may be compromised (“lost in translation”) and language may seem awkward or rigid (“robotic”).

Note: A professional translator – who is constantly calling on his or her human judgment, social awareness and ability to navigate unexpected inputs – is always going to be more effective than machine translation alone.

Localization Adapting to your customer.
(Customization: Level II)

Localization is the process of adapting the meaning of the words to another language – taking words, images, currency and minimal aspects of layout into account – in a way that is culturally appropriate for the target audience and their frame of reference. It’s ideal for products or content intended for a particular market or locale, such as websites, mobile apps, software and video games.

Transcreation Recreating for your customer.
(Customization: Level III)

Transcreation is the process of recreating content in another language – changing words, images, layout, colors, currency and even brand vocabulary – to preserve the meaning, as well as creative and emotional intent, of the original message. Transcreation allows you to “speak your customer's language,” making it ideal for highly customized messages like websites, advertising campaigns and marketing materials.  

flag_round2-01.png for the love of turnaround time

The next step is understanding the different people and processes involved in each of the three language services, and how that affects project timelines and turnaround.

Translation Straight and to the timely point.
(Turnaround Time: Level I)

Since translation does not account for cultural nuances, the process is more straightforward and less time-intensive than localization and transcreation. Depending on the scope of the project, translation may require only a single professional translator, or possibly a team. If you're translating materials on a consistent basis, investing in translation memory will aid in speedier turnaround times.

Localization Taking time to make things make sense.
(Turnaround Time: Level II) 

Localization is about making your products and messages make sense to your audience. So to preserve original meaning and intent from one language and culture to another, you have to control for cultural nuance and frame of reference. Localization isn’t about completely recreating content, but phrases, ideas, concepts and imagery all have to resonate. This requires a small team of professional translators, cultural competence experts and designers – and probably a round or two of revisions.

Transcreation Making more time for more moving parts.
(Turnaround Time: Level III)

Both transcreation and localization consider cultural nuances and frames of reference, but transcreation takes it a step further. Instead of just adapting material to preserve original meaning and intent in another language and culture, you’re actually recreating the content. And this means you need a larger team of professional in-language copywriters, culture experts, designers and marketing professionals. Because transcreation requires all of these key players to develop completely new content, and usually multiple rounds of revisions, it’s the most time-intensive and difficult to predict when it comes to project schedules.


flag_round3-01.png for the love of affordability

While cost alone should never dictate which type of language support is best suited for your needs, it is undeniably part of your equation. Here’s a pricing and affordability rundown for each service:


You have less to pay for.
(Price: Level I)

  • Billed per word
  • Least customization
  • Fewest people involved 
  • Typically least time-intensive 
  • Translation memory (TM) provides opportunities for cost-savings


This is your happy medium.
(Price: Level II)

  • Billed per hour
  • More customization (culturally adapting content)
  • Requires a small team and a round or two of revisions
  • More time-intensive than professional translation, but (typically) less time-intensive than transcreation
  • Opportunities for cost savings through translation memory


You’re getting the most.
(Price: Level III)

  • Billed per hour
  • Most customization (culturally recreating content)
  • Requires a larger team and multiple rounds of revisions
  • Most time-intensive



Landing the perfect match

As you can probably surmise, these three services often bleed into each other. Most projects require aspects of each, or at least two of them. But they also have distinct differences that should be carefully considered in order to make smarter decisions about your language support.  

Quick consideration:

If intent and meaning are super important to get the message across, then you require the cultural and creative considerations (voice, tone, context and style) of localization and transcreation. If a more literal, word-for-word conversion is desired, then professional translation is what you're looking for.

Still not sure?

Our audiences are speaking more languages and representing more cultures than ever before, and being able to speak to a multilingual audience – in the comfort of their native tongue – is critical to your organization’s global success. The key is to find a language services provider who offers professional translation, transcreation and localization, and then work with their team to decide which aspects of each service you need to best serve your audience every step of the way.

Remember: Your audience and demographics are going to shift as your company expands and evolves, so your best bet is to scout a flexible provider who is able to adapt unified language services to your changing needs.

Here’s a quick tip sheet to help you make that match and land the best language services provider for your organization.


Additional Resources