How to Spot a Great Transcreator
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KFC put a lot of time and effort into making sure that their Chinese launch went off without a hitch. This meant spending countless hours on translation, product testing, and market research. But, all this footwork did nothing to stop them from horrifically mangling the Mandarin-version of their slogan. Instead of telling consumers that their food was “finger lickin’ good,” KFC asked them to “eat their fingers.” While this issue was quickly fixed, it left a sizeable dent in KFC’s profits. You might be wondering where they went wrong. While they researched their target market, they failed to hire the correct language service professional. What KFC really needed was a transcreator.


Transcreation is a portmanteau of ‘translation’ and ‘recreation’. To transcreate is to take a source text and recreate it so it better resonates with members of a target audience. Unlike translators, who work to preserve the wording of the original text, transcreators attempt to mimic its tonality, emotionality, and impact. This often means that transcreators make drastic changes to the original content in the process.


Every localization project, regardless of scope, needs a great translator. But, sometimes, like with the KFC case above, that isn’t enough. That’s doubly true when dealing with creative or persuasive content. Word-for-word translations of such pieces often go right over the heads of people in other markets. If your content contains any of the following items, it might be time to call in a transcreator:

  • Idioms and puns
  • Humor
  • Slogans and taglines
  • Country-specific phrases
  • Cultural references
  • Persuasion
  • Emotional appeals

Put simply, transcreators are to translators what copywriters are to writers. This means that transcreators come with their own unique skills and abilities.


With that new skillset comes a completely different set of requirements. While we’ve discussed the qualities of a great translator many times before, we’ve never delved into the makings of a great transcreator. I think it’s time to remedy that. Here are four things I’d require from my future transcreators:


    As they’re the language-service industry equivalent of a creative writer, good transcreators have ample experience with the written word. To verify that they write well, you should start the conversation by asking for links to a web portfolio. If you have little knowledge of the language he or she works in, you can also ask your transcreator for concrete proof of their ability.


    Some content calls for a cool, professional tone. Other pieces, such as taglines or blog posts, require a much conversational style. Your transcreator must be able to roll with these sudden changes in voice and tone. To ensure that they have this ability, ask for a variety of samples up front. I would also suggest providing a list of the content types you’ll need translated. Doing that will stop you from finding out halfway through that your transcreator isn’t comfortable with your more technical content.


    Don’t hire a glorified copywriter with only passing knowledge of your target language. If you make that mistake, you’re going to end up with content that’s well-written but ineffectively translated. To ensure this doesn’t happen, ask to see a resume detailing the transcreator’s experience in your target language.


    Transcreators have to do more than know a language. They have to live and breathe it. This familiarity with a target culture can make the difference between a poorly-written, ineffective piece, and a well-written, super-effective one.


    Whether it’s your company’s niche or the transcreation process, you need to hire someone who’s truly excited for the project at hand. If not, his or her boredom will shine through every line of text. When you’re looking to tug on people’s heart strings, the last thing you want to do is put them to sleep. To gauge their interest, ask the transcreator why they applied to the job in the first place. Can any applicants who give a wishy-washy, or overly-generalized, response.

Please note that the above list is in no way exhaustive. You should always trust your instincts when making hiring decisions. As transcreation can cost a pretty penny, you need to ensure that you only hire people you feel comfortable with.


Transcreation is a vital part of any localization effort. Without it, your persuasive and creative copy will lose much of its punch. But, you should never hire a transcreator without carefully vetting them. Failing to do so can leave you, and your company, in some hot water. If you’re looking to have something transcreated for the Swedish market, you can contact me at Please visit to learn more.

Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.

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