Transcreation Explained and Explored
We’re currently in the midst of the 53rd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic (29.06.2018 – 07.07.2018). So, I thought it would be interesting to use the translation of film titles to explain a little bit more about how transcreation works. This is an area of my job that I really love, but not everybody knows what transcreation is, how it works or when to use this technique.
Transcreation is a creative translation process mainly used in the localisation of marketing and advertising copy. It’s great for ad headlines as it can really push beyond the limits of normal equivalence and faithfulness. By using local idioms and cultural references to enrich the translation it can end up being unrecognisable from the source, whilst still conveying the same meaning or meeting the objective of the content.
To demonstrate this, I have put together the list below of British films which have a translated and localised title for the Czech market*. I have added a backtranslation and my comments on the rationale as an example of what transcreation projects can look like. But first a little bit about the process for context.
4-step transcreation method for a headline or title:
1. Read the client’s creative brief.
This should include the spirit of the campaign, its goals (sales, acquisition, engagement etc.), target market, register/tone, length restrictions (no. of characters) etc. If the client does not provide a creative brief, then I guide them through this either on the phone or with a template to ensure I get the information I need to do a good job.
2. Explore, craft, polish and finalise your creative options:
Option 1: A normal translation of the sentence.
NB: this is not a non-sensical literal word-for-word translation, but it is faithful and close to the original in length and meaning whilst still sounding natural in English.
Option 2: A slightly more creative version of the sentence.
Here you can start to change a few things around, perhaps with more local references and leveraging more equivalence.
Option 3: A very creative translation of the sentence.
Really push the boat out here. This sentence can be unrecognisable from the original source, perhaps using local idioms, colloquialisms and slang, referencing local culture, or summarising the idea or meaning from a totally different viewpoint.
3. Do the backtranslation back into the source language.
See the section below on how to do a great backtranslation.
4. Write in comments with the rationale if needed.
Where necessary a comment is added as the rationale explaining any clever play on words, why the option is effective etc., or why some obvious options don’t work or have negative cultural connotations and need to be avoided.
The client is then free to choose the option that works for them. And it’s worth noting that the most creative option is not always the one chosen by clients. So, it’s important that all three versions are viable, impactful and effective in the target language. For multi-market projects, the client may come back and ask you if the approach taken in, say, France, for example, would also work in your market, so that they can unite the brand message over several campaigns. So always account for re-work rounds when quoting/budgeting for transcreation and allow for this in your workload scheduling and timelines.
British film title translations in Czech
Option 1: A normal close translation – the original English film title is immediately evident word-for-word
Original film title in English: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Czech translation of the film title: Wallace & Gromit: Prokletí králíkodlaka
Backtranslation: Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the were-rabbit
Comment: In Czech werewolf is “vlkodlak” so the were-rabbit compound has been made in exactly the same way (as this is not an already existing mythical creature, so a new word needed to be created).
Original film title in English: Four Lions
Czech translation of the film title: Čtyři lvi
Backtranslation: Four lions
Comment: This close translation works here as the film title references the three lions on the England football shirt and the song of the same name to mock patriotism, and adds a fourth lion as there are four men who star in the film.
Original film title in English: A Clockwork Orange
Czech translation of the film title: Mechanický pomeranč
Backtranslation: Mechanical (clockwork) orange
Original film title in English: Oh! What a Lovely War
Czech translation of the film title: Jaká to rozkošná válka!
Backtranslation: What a lovely war!
Original film title in English: The English Patient
Czech translation of the film title: Anglický pacient
Backtranslation: The English patient
Original film title in English: Sexy Beast
Czech translation of the film title: Sexy bestie
Backtranslation: Sexy beast
Original film title in English: The Man Who Fell to Earth
Czech translation of the film title: Muž, který spadl na Zemi
Backtranslation: The man who fell to Earth
Original film title in English: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Czech translation of the film title: Čtyři svatby a jeden pohřeb
Backtranslation: Four weddings and a funeral
Option 2: A slightly more creative translation – it’s possible to make an informed guess at what the original film title was
Original film title in English: Slumdog Millionaire
Czech translation of the film title: Milionář z chatrče
Backtranslation: Millionaire from the slum
Comment: In English “slumdog” is an insult used to describe a person who comes from the slums. This derogatory meaning is a bit lost in the Czech, but it is still effective and representative of the content of the film.
Original film title in English: Bend It Like Beckham
Czech translation of the film title: Blafuj jako Beckham
Backtranslation: Bluff like Beckham
Comment: The film’s English title refers to David Beckham’s technique of curling the ball past a wall of defenders to score a goal from a free kick. The “bluff” here in Czech is because the main character keeps her football playing and skills a secret from her strict and traditional family.
Original film title in English: Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
Czech translation of the film title: Harry Potter a princ dvojí krve
Backtranslation: Harry Potter and the prince of double blood
Original film title in English: Chariots of Fire
Czech translation of the film title: Ohnivé vozy
Backtranslation: Flaming chariots
Original film title in English: Love Actually
Czech translation of the film title: Láska nebeská
Backtranslation: Heavenly love
Original film title in English: Atonement
Czech translation of the film title: Pokání
Original film title in English: Man on Wire
Czech translation of the film title: Muž na laně
Backtranslation: Man on rope
Original film title in English: The Italian Job
Czech translation of the film title: Loupež po italsku
Backtranslation: Robbery around Italy
Original film title in English: In the Loop
Czech translation of the film title: Politické kruhy
Backtranslation: Political circles
Original film title in English: A Hard Day’s Night
Czech translation of the film title: Perný den
Backtranslation: A busy day
Original film title in English: The Remains of the Day
Czech translation of the film title: Soumrak dne
Backtranslation: Twilight of the day
Original film title in English: Legend
Czech translation of the film title: Legendy zločinu
Backtranslation: Legends of crime
Original film title in English: Eden Lake
Czech translation of the film title: Jezero smrti
Backtranslation: Lake of death
Comment: This is a horror film where a couple camping at a lake run into some trouble with the locals. But perhaps a spoiler alert in this name?
Original film title in English: Chalet Girl
Czech translation of the film title: Holka s prknem
Backtranslation: Girl with a board
Comment: This film is about a female snowboarder who works as a chalet girl to fund her stay at a ski resort so she can enter a snowboarding competition. The Czech version puts more emphasis on her being a snowboarder than a chalet girl – a concept which isn’t so common in Czech ski resorts. So, this title is more relatable for the Czech market.
Original film title in English: Sightseers
Czech translation of the film title: Dovolenkáři
Comment: This film is a dark comedy about a couple travelling around the UK on holiday and seeing various points of interest. The Czech version is clearer that they are on holiday and not just sightseeing on a day trip. It has the same jolly and innocent tourist connotations to provide the contrast to the actual content of the film.
Original film title in English: Shaun of the Dead
Czech translation of the film title: Soumrak mrtvých
Backtranslation: Dusk of the dead
Comment: Simon Peg and Nick Frost's film is a nod to cult zombie film Dawn of the Dead (Úsvit mrtvých) and this Czech film title mirrors this.
Original film title in English: The Decoy Bride
Czech translation of the film title: Náhradnice
Backtranslation: The [female] substitute
Option 3: A very creative translation – you’d probably need a few more clues or details to be able to find out the original film title
Original film title in English: The Full Montey
Czech translation of the film title: Do naha!
Backtranslation: To nakedness!
Comment: Speaks for itself.
Original film title in English: Lock, Stock and two Smoking Barrels
Czech translation of the film title: Sbal prachy a vypadni
Backtranslation: Pack up the dosh and get out!
Comment: “Prachy” is the Czech slang word for money and fits the Cockney accents and slang used in the film.
Original film title in English: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Czech translation of the film title: Jeden musí z kola ven
Backtranslation: One [person] must [get out] of the circle
Comment: This reflects the plot where they need to identify a mole or double agent in a spy organisation.
Original film title in English: Shooting Fish
Czech translation of the film title: Fixlování
Comment: The English film title comes from an idiom "Like shooting fish in a barrel", which means ridiculously easy. And it reflects how easy it is for the film’s heroes to scam people. The Czech title nicely combines the verb “fixlovat” meaning to scam, fake or cheat and “rybolov” (fishing).
Original film title in English: Hot Fuzz
Czech translation of the film title: Jednotka příliš rychlého nasazení
Backtranslation: The too-rapid reaction unit
Comment: The film Hot Fuzz makes several references to cult surf movie Point Break. The “fuzz” is British slang for the police (like pigs). The Czech title references a real police unit in the Czech Republic – „jednotka rychlého nasazení“ or “útvar rychlého nasazení” (rapid reaction unit), but plays on the words to make it ridiculous and fit the comedic nature of the film (the main hero is an overzealous city policeman in a rural setting).
Original film title in English: The Wicker Man
Czech translation of the film title: Rituál
Comment: This film is about pagan rituals on a remote Scottish island. As the “Wicker Man” is a local folk symbol, it may not be clear what the film is about if translated too closely. Ritual is more internationally recognisable.
Original film title in English: The Descent
Czech translation of the film title: Pád do tmy
Backtranslation: Fall into darkness
Comment: This is a horror film set deep underground in a cave system. So, we can see both a literal and metaphorical meaning to this film title.
Original film title in English: Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging
Czech translation of the film title: On je fakt boží!
Backtranslation: He is actually a god!
Comment: This is the kind of thing you would hear a teen girl exclaim about her crush. A literal translation of the title would be far too long in Czech, and the cultural references would be lost, meaning potential viewers may not get it at first glance. One of the lines in the film also references a “sex-god”: “I don't need a nose job or blond hair, cos my sex-god boyfriend likes me JUST the way I am!”
Original film title in English: Layer Cake
Czech translation of the film title: Po krk v extázi
Backtranslation: By the neck in ecstasy
Comment: In the film the main character is tasked with becoming a broker for some ecstasy tablets, among other things.
Original film title in English: A Lonely Place to Die
Czech translation of the film title: Není kam utéct
Backtranslation: There is nowhere to escape to
Comment: This is a horror film about people on a climbing trip who run into some trouble up a mountain where there is no-where to run.
Original film title in English: The Inbetweeners Movie
Czech translation of the film title: Přizdis*áči
Backtranslation: The wall sh*tters
Comment: This is a rude and derogatory swear word in Czech. The asterisk here in Czech is for the letter "r" making “s*áč” meaning “sh*t”. There is a cult teen lad film in the Czech Republic called Snowboarďáci (Snowboarders). This “áci” ending here lets us know that this film is in exactly the same spirit. “Přizdis*áč” is used to describe a shy and fearful person who has ambition but always seems to fail. Sums up these lads pretty well I think.
Original film title in English: Confetti
Czech translation of the film title: Svatba jako řemen
Backtranslation: Wedding as a belt
Comment: In general, the phrase “jako řemen” (as a belt or like a belt) means “good and proper – how it should be”. And “svatba jako řemen” means that the wedding has to be big, with no expense spared, luxurious, posh, lots of guests, expensive outfits, great entertainment, professionally organised (wedding planner) etc. It fits well for this British comedy mockumentary about a wedding of the year competition. Incidentally, there is a Czech wedding comedy film of the same name from 1967, but that didn't seem to be an issue here.
*Please note, I did not translate these film titles into Czech – these have been done by native Czech speakers and are the official titles that you can find on the DVD boxes in any store. I always translate from Czech into English to ensure that I produce the best possible quality as a native speaker of English. But I wanted to do it this way to effectively show how the process can work.
How to do a great backtranslation:
A backtranslation is the literal word-for-word meaning of the target sentence back in the source language. It just needs to convey the meaning to the client, who may not speak the target language, so they understand what it means and can make an informed decision about which option to pick. A backtranslation does not have to flow well or sound natural in the source language (usually a non-native speaker will be doing the backtranslation as they are a native speaker of the transcreation target language). Having said that, try not to make grammatical or punctuation mistakes in the backtranslation as the client may misunderstand and think these are also present in your target transcreation. If you foresee any client concerns stemming from the backtranslation which do not apply to the transcreation, then add a comment about this to pre-empt any negative feedback.
How to get into a creative mindset:
Everybody works in different ways, and it can be hard to have lightbulb moments of creativity on demand when working under pressure and to deadlines. Having a good brief and client voice and tone guidelines can be a great help. To understand the mindset of a brand or project it can help to imagine it as a person. Get into character by imagining who they are, what they wear, how they speak, what hobbies they have etc. I also find it helpful to do brainstorms, word association, write out synonyms, play with words and idioms, change the order, take a break, etc. Oftentimes, a great option will pop into my head when out walking the dog or doing grocery shopping – I always have some way to write these things down, even next to my bed. In reality, you may find you write out more than 3 options, and then you have to tweak, refine and perhaps even combine options to narrow it down to the best ones. Don’t just chuck in a dud as filler or fall back on clichés. Also, make sure that something does not already exist with that name in the local market which may be under copyright or send possible customers to look at the wrong thing.
To demonstrate the multiple option creativity process, I have quickly put together some Czech film titles and some possible translations for the English-speaking market. (So, imagine that these films do not already have official titles in English.)
For the purpose of reaching a wider audience, I have done the comments in English (but in practice, a Czech client may very well want these in Czech).
1. Cosy Dens* (Útulné pelechy)
Pelíšky is a diminutive version of the Czech word “pelech”. The film is about the comfort and refuge people seek out to be their secret self.
2. The Generation Gap (Generační mezera)
The film is about fathers and sons struggling to understand each other.
3. Misunderstood Youth, Misspent Adulthood (Nepochopená mladost, promarněná dospělost)
4. Stuff versus Substance (majetek vs. solidnost)
To represent the tension between Communism and Capitalism depicted in the film.
5. To each their own Christmas (druhé Vanoce pro každého)
Román pro zeny
1. Women’s Fiction (Ženská fikce)
This reflects the lies or untruths women tell themselves to get through life. An unknown truth becomes uncovered in the film.
2. Chick Lit (Literatura pro slepice)
“Slepice” is a Czech word meaning silly gossiping woman, it literally means “hen” and is a good match for “chick” here. It may be a bit too derogatory, as chick lit can also been seen to be a derogatory term
3. From Subway With Love* (Z metra s láskou)
The main character notices love letters to an unknown woman written on subway (or underground) billboards. This title is evidently a play on “From Russia with Love”. NB: This is US English centric as UK speakers use “underground” or “tube” for the metro. A subway in UK English is an underpass.
4. Seeking Mr. Right (Hledání Pana Dokonalého)
Perhaps too much of a cliché.
5. A Typical Czech Romance (Typická česká romance)
This is a nice play on words with the Czech “Román” (novel). The plot is about a Czech woman wanting to avoid “typical” Czech boyfriends.
6. The One That Got Away (Ta, která zmizela (ztracená láska))
Related to the plot line. It’s not gender neutral in the Czech backtranslation, so it seems specific to a girl that got away, but in English it is more ambiguous. So, it could be from the perspective of the letter-writer that she got away, or from the heroine’s perspective that he got away.
Příběhy obyčejného šílenství
1. Tales of everyday madness (Příběhy obyčejného šílenství)
This is the literal translation and it works in English too. Although, it might be seen as a bit unambitious in terms of creative translation.
2. The absurdity of everyday madness (Absurdita každodenního obyčejného šílenství)
3. The absurd, every day (Absurdita, každý den)
This reflects the weird goings-on in the film.
4. The only sane person in the asylum? (Jediný rozumný člověk v azylovém zařízení?)
The hero is made to feel like there is something wrong with him, but he is actually surrounded by friends and family who are not behaving entirely normally.
5. Not All There (Není tam všechno)
This is an English idiom for someone who is a little bit crazy or missing some mental capacity. It could also be interpreted to reflect how the main character doesn’t have everything in his life in order – he’s not there yet.
6. Wrong Side Up* (Nesprávná strana nahoru)
The film features and airport freight worker and this fits in nicely with the design of the film publicity with the different symbols used to mark crates in transit (this way up). And it also reflects the frustrating situation of the main character who is “not doing very well at the moment”.
*Official translated title, I can’t take the credit for these.
Transcreation isn't just for headlines and film titles. It is possible to work on longer chunks of text with transcreation, for example ad body copy, marketing websites and brand books. I have just used headlines and titles here as an example as it helps typify and sum up the general process.
If you think your company would benefit from the freshness and non-predictable nature of transcreation or you would like to train up a translation team on transcreation processes and workflows, then please get in touch.