We’re going to cover the differences between — and the uses of — the two main types of translation: literal translation and creative translation so that you can choose the right translation service for you and your business.

You might be already be a successful global enterprise looking to distribute your content to other audiences around the world after dominating your dometic market. Or, you might be in the early stages of starting an international business of your own. No matter your current scenario, it can be challenging to know where to start when it comes to translating your content for international markets. The fact that different types of content often need different kinds of translation also adds to this challenge, especially during the first steps of translating your content.

What is literal translation?

Literal translation is otherwise known as direct translation, and as you might have guessed, it is the literal, straightforward translation of source content into a target language.

Literal translation takes existing content in one language and translates it word-for-word (or sentence by sentence) into the target language. It’s the simplest type of translation, and is the kind of approach to translation used by most automated translation software.

Benefits of literal translation

Just because literal translation is the simplest form of translation doesn’t mean it is without benefit. In fact, literal translation is useful for a number of reasons:

  1. It is the fastest type of translation service, decreasing turnaround time for translation projects
  2. It makes content understandable in the target language while remaining easy and straightforward
  3. It ensures that no important information is excluded from the source content
  4. Because literal translation is simpler, it can make good use of cutting-edge translation technology

The above benefits of literal translation mean that it’s the translation service of choice for many businesses that use straightforward, impersonal content. Translation of legal documents, technical copy, and step-by-step instructions are particularly suited for literal translation services. For example, if a company has a large volume of dry, legal content that needs to be translated from the source language, literal translation ensures that the documents aren’t changed in any way from the original (which could render them contestable), and that they are translated quickly and reliably.

Problems with literal translation

Literal translations experience difficulty with content that is more personal, as the main problems with literal translation arise from idioms and context. This makes literal translation particularly unsuited for consumer-facing content or content designed to inspire or persuade.

For example, in English, “let the cat out of the bag” is an idiom meaning “to give away a secret.” A direct, literal translation of this idiom into another language does not take into account the context of the idiom, and instead may leave you sounding more concerned about feline escape artists than you are for your audience.

What is creative translation?

Creative translation, also known as transcreation, is a more in-depth approach to translating content than literal translation. Creative translation takes into account the context of the source content, making sure that the translation doesn’t just make sense from a grammatical and linguistic point of view, but also from the cultural perspective of the target language.

Creative translation is done by adapting the source content into a different language rather than literally translating it. But what is adaptation in translation? Well, it takes into account the cultural and social significance of the content along with the values of the new audience, and builds them together in order to effectively communicate the content’s message.

For example, source content aimed at an audience in London that describes colder-than-usual winter weather as “-1 °C”, wouldn’t make sense culturally if it were translated into Russian for an audience in Moscow where temperatures regularly dip below -10 °C. In this sense, while a literal translation would be grammatically and linguistically correct, the translation would still be incorrect and risk alienating the intended audience. (This is sometimes referred to as “localizing” content, a process which is becoming increasingly popular.)

Benefits of creative translation

Creative translation is a great tool for international businesses. Here are just a few of the benefits of creative translation:

  1. It takes the intent of the source content into account, making your messaging much more effective
  2. It properly translates idioms, avoiding any embarrassing errors in your finished content
  3. It takes into account the values of the audience for which it is translating, making it culturally relevant
  4. It makes the translated content more engaging overall as it can implement humor, tone, and voice much more effectively than can literal translation

For example, source content from Canada that references Canadian celebrity, chef Bob Blumer, would need a creative translator in order to make a cultural substitution for a celebrity chef in the target audience’s culture.

Non-linguistic creative translation

Sometimes, creative translation goes beyond the copy of your content and expands into non-linguistic areas such as image or video content. If this is the case, sometimes the content might need to be edited or replaced in order to better appeal to your target audience or to ensure retention of respect for cultural differences.

Problems with creative translation

As creative translation (or transcreation) requires an in-depth study of the source content and a knowledge of the target audience at native level, this kind of content can be more expensive and naturally more time-consuming than literal translation.

Not all types of content necessarily need creative translation. For example, step-by-step instructions for operating a product, or lists of ingredients, are simple enough that literal translation will suffice.

Global Lingo Translation Services

When approaching a translation service provider, it’s important to find a company that can help you find the right translation type for your content. Depending on your project, you might require either literal or creative translation services, or even a combination of the two!

At Global Lingo, we’ll work with you to find the right combination of translation services and provide end-to-end process support through GloZone, our dedicated client portal.

Our expert linguists cover over 150 languages and are adept at altering their writing style in order to match your creative brief. Our team comes from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and subject expertise and will ensure that your language nuances are never lost amidst creative translations.

We also provide cutting-edge translation technology including Machine Translation and Translation Memory & Terminology Management. This allows us to provide linguistic consistency and quality while reducing delivery times and translation costs for your project.

You can find out more about our expert translation services by getting in touch with our fast and efficient customer service team.

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