Do you boil or enrich? This slogan is from the Spanish cooking company Gallina Blanca talks about how you do things. Do you just cook or you cook adding flavour and love, that´s pretty much the intention of the advert and we could have titled this post this way, if it weren’t for copyright issues and the fact that we are more than two decades late, but we would have been right. And it all comes down to translation, because do you translate or you transcreate?

We are not going to talk about classical translation in the eyes of a linguist like Jakobson, who divides translation into three types: intralinguistic, interlinguistic and intersemiotic. I can almost hear you yawn.

Although they are first cousins to what we are going to talk about, that is not the point. Starting from that point, we can differentiate between four types of translation:

  • Ordinary translation
  • Localisation
  • Transliteration
  • Transcreation

Each methodology has its own benefits and disadvantages. These different translation modalities can help you expand into foreign markets, build ties and increase trust with existing clients or aim to be competitive in the global online landscape.


Let’s start by banishing the notion that translation is changing word for word, from one language to another in a text. Let’s get a little more romantic and talk about translation as an art rather than a science. We want to convey the same message and provoke the same sensations whoever the reader or receiver is.

If we talk about websites, things get interesting. Static content, the most obvious and the one we all see, is that which is used to describe or talk about our product or service, shipping information, return policy and a long etcetera that fills our website, such as the text of images or videos.

But there is more. On the other hand, we have all those texts with metadata and meta descriptions that search engines love to read and that are equally important when changing language.

When it comes to getting down to work, we can go from online machine translators to translation agencies. Everyone finds the right balance between cost and quality.

Within the concept of translation we have localisation and transcreation, both of which are key when it comes to internationalising a company.


Localisation goes a step further than translation. Localisation takes into account where the message we want to convey will end up. It avoids the linguistic conversion of word for word and bye.

Here we take into account the market we are targeting and change words, phrases, even products and services if necessary. We localise almost regionally so that the right choice of word is the right one to generate interest from potential customers. You go from being an outsider to a local thanks to your localisation.

Using terms specific to that location boosts SEO because those are the terms that customers use in search engines. 

A good example of this might be the word “Palomita (de maíz)” in Spanish (pop corn). If your company sells this product, don’t try to sell it as it is in Uruguay because they call it Pororó or even pop. In Argentina they call it Pochoclo or Cabritas de maíz in Chile. In Peru they are Cancha, canchera or porcor.

This also applies to your website as the information we are displaying must change. Think about whether the currency of your homepage is the currency in which our customer can pay. In addition to payment options, we can look at whether the unit of measurement is appropriate or not; no one should be looking for a converter to understand what you are talking about.

Let’s go to a more visual issue, images could well represent landscapes, monuments or the people of that place you want to reach, regional cultural references or respecting holidays makes you generate credibility and trust in your brand.

A very favourable point is knowing how to adapt to non-Latin letters. Thus, using Arabic, Russian or Chinese letters and characters in names will make the potential customer feel more comfortable and this can be a reason for a higher conversion.

When is localisation used?

This type of translation makes more sense between countries with different cultures. For this reason, despite the current trend of localising into FIGS languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish), there is a growing need to look more towards CJK languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean), as the Asian market is one of the most powerful.

This technique is used for e-commerce, websites or mobile applications. In them, content and products are adapted. Among its advantages, as we mentioned before, is the improvement in SEO level and they can find your company through organic search with no need for investment other than a good quality content.

What happens if this is not done? Ask the fashion brand Mango, which was involved in a scandal in the neighbouring country of France when it decided that it did not need localisation when selling its new product online; the “slave” bracelets. (slave is esclava in Spanish which means both, a kind of bracelet and a slave, well done Mango!)


We talk about transcreation when a creative process is added to the translation process. Although we can move away from the original text with complete freedom, we must create one that has the same impact on the receiver, regardless of its origin, as the intention, context and tone are maintained.

In marketing, transcreation is the king. We can´t translate slogans, advertising or references with double meanings literally, or at least most of the time. Nuances must remain present without losing any sparkle. The play on words must be maintained, but without using the same words, because what we are looking for is the same reaction, not the same execution.

Be careful because we can also use it in regions with the same language. Just ask Orange UK, the British telecommunications company. Its slogan “The future’s bright… The future’s Orange” did not go down well in Northern Ireland, where the colour orange is associated with Protestantism. I can’t even imagine the number of Catholic customers who cancelled their service without hesitation.

Or in product naming. Mitsubishi had a great name for one of their vehicles and all went well until they reached the Spanish-speaking market where their Pajero model didn’t sound quite right. Why? Because it literally means wanker.

In addition, and moving away from e-commerce, think about the essential role that transcreation plays in the world of books, films and games.    

Transcreation combines linguistics with creativity, brand image and storytelling with the surrounding culture. The ultimate goal is to get the final message across in the same way, no matter who the receiver is.

Is the difference between translation and transcreation so important?

Sometimes changing an expression is not enough to make a joke understood. Maybe that joke, or image, is not appropriate because of a socio-political situation of the place, or simply culturally it would be an insult. This same situation can be carried over into the field of advertising. We must be very conscious of what we say, how and where.

The key is to adapt to the audience of each region, making a profound exercise of creativity, research and translation. In this way we can situate transcreation between translation and copywriting.

Differences between transcreation and localisation

In localisation, the meaning of the content is not modified, it remains exact to the original, whereas in transcreation, the content can be modified in its search for the same reaction from the audience.

Moreover, transcreation takes into account puns, double meanings and even rhymes and rhythms. Localisation, on the other hand, takes none of this into account and aims to ensure that the newly created content is perfectly adapted to the new market.

In addition to the skills that the translator in charge of localisation must have, namely being a professional, native speaker with a high level of knowledge of the market, skills and knowledge in marketing or advertising must be added if transcreation is to be carried out.


Transliteration is the change of content from one writing system to another. In other words, it is not just a literal translation of a word, but uses phonetic elements of the original word to translate it into the desired language.

Going one step further, it is possible to play with this situation and create new sounds, words or concepts with which to relate a fact to our brand. This process is mainly carried out when a Western company wants to expand into countries with non-Latin alphabets; China, Japan, South Korea, Russia or the member countries of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa).

For example, Coca-Cola has transliterated its brand in Chinese as 可口可乐 with pronunciation as [kěkǒukělè], meaning ‘delicious and happiness’. In this way they have managed to make the brand’s sonority almost the same and also added value by evoking pleasant sensations with their name.

Another way of doing this is to move away from phonetics but create a much more literal translation. Continuing with the Asian giant, there the company Apple has decided to call itself 苹果 pronounced as [píngguǒ] which literally means ‘apple’.


Let’s clarify these four concepts in a very simplified way to leave the post with a good taste in our mouths. Translation is the more rigid process of transferring a sentence or text from one language to another. Localisation, being faithful to translation, looks more closely at its surroundings and takes into account the linguistics and culture of the place where it wants to get the message across.

Transcreation breaks with the rigidity of translation to convey the message in its entirety, making the receiver feel exactly the same sensation, regardless of the source and language. And finally, transliteration, which plays with writing systems and can choose to make a more literal, phonetic or semantic translation.