Automating Transcreation

From the first day of my career in the language industry, I worked with the latest technologies. I never imagined working without automating standard processes until I dove into the field of marketing translation — or rather, into creative adaptation, or transcreation.


The most creative and highly paid type of commercial translation turned out to be the least optimizable. While there were already at least a dozen CAT tools, terminology management systems, and machine translation engines on the market, transcreation projects were still managed in spreadsheets and text documents.



At the same time, for the translators themselves, the inconvenience was minimal: they had to fill in columns with three options for the translation of a slogan, give a back translation in the next column, and give a rational in the last. It was much more difficult for project managers to handle such projects (compared to conventional ones). If a slogan adaptation or a commercial voiceover text had to be performed in a dozen languages, managing multiple files, file versions, and editions was a real challenge.



In 2019, at the UTICamp conference, the topic of upgrading the transcreation process was tackled at a panel discussion with three translators and a representative of Trados, a company that develops a CAT system. We talked about what could be automated in creative translation and what benefit a separate module would bring. This conversation was not without results: after a year and a half, Trados presented the first tool on the market for transcreation projects, with support for integration into translation management systems (TMSs).


Just a couple of months later, another major player, Smartling, announced its solution in this area. It seems we should soon expect that other TMS and CAT tools will want to implement similar modules.


Although I am not currently doing commercial creative translation regularly, I got interested in comparing the Trados and Smartling tools.


Transcreation Solution from Trados


Since I have not had a Windows-based computer or a fresh Trados license for a long time, I could only get acquainted with their solution thanks to the presentation Paul Filkin recorded. The presentation is detailed and allows you to evaluate the capabilities of the module. If you’re interested in the details, you can watch it for free after registering on the Trados website.



Like everything else with Trados, the transcreation solution turned out to be substantial and cumbersome. First, the original content needs to be added to a specially formatted table. And this format doesn’t necessarily coincide with what you receive from the client or will send back to them. This additional step is required for Trados to understand how to import the data. After you’ve formatted your content, Trados will convert your regular project into a transcreation project. As a result, the system clones the original phrases into a given number of versions for work. In general, we see a familiar CAT tool interface where we can connect a translation memory and a termbase. It’s also possible to add comments to each segment. However, there’s no separate block for reverse translation at this stage. To add it, you first need to finish working on the options and then perform a few more manipulations with the project.


Advantages of the Trados solution:

  • Translation memory and a termbase facilitate the work, allowing you to add terms and trade names preapproved by the client.

  • You can organize a project by languages and stages. When you work on a multilingual project, you can easily find a back translation for Spanish if needed, for example if you need to revert to it .


Disadvantages of the Trados solution:

  • You need to make an incredible number of manipulations with files, settings, projects, imports, and exports. This makes using the tool irrational if you only need to adapt one or a couple of slogans into one language.

  • It’s not possible to save only the final version in the translation memory (TM) to keep it clean.

  • There’s no integrated machine translation for back translation.


If your company already has a Trados license and Trados is your primary tool for managing translation projects, then if you need to carry out a large transcreation project, it makes sense to use this solution. If you’re looking for a new tool for your transcreation needs, I would still wait. The Trados transcreation solution has potential, so we can hope that Trados will have the resources to develop it further.


Transcreation Solution from Smartling


Smartling has also created its own original transcreation solution. I had the opportunity to test it, so I can judge this one not only based on a presentation.


It doesn’t take much time to create a project in the Smartling transcreation tool. Just upload the source file in a valid format and then authorize the strings into a new or existing job. Next, you can choose a standard or custom transcreation flow, which you need to create and configure in advance only once for all projects.


What’s interesting here is that, if necessary, strings of one document can be added to different workflows in the same job: you can have a transcreation workflow for headlines, slogans, etc. as well as a standard translation workflow for body texts (product or service descriptions) and additional content (addresses, footnotes). It looks pretty convenient. Without automation, you have to create different documents for different parts of a source document, process them separately, and then recombine them.



If a string is added to the transcreation flow, it will open for editing in a modified CAT tool window. It has some differences from the conventional window: the source text is located above a segment, and the usual two columns are not “source” and “translation” but “translation variant” and “back translation.” At the same time, translators have the opportunity to add as many translation options as requested or as they see fit. You can also attach a back translation, but, as with Trados, it cannot be done automatically. There’s no possibility of commenting either. There’s also no translation memory and glossary connection in the transcreation flow yet, but Smartling says these features are in development.


The Smartling solution supposes you’ll edit transcreation variants in the same window; however, it doesn’t provide an opportunity to export a file with variants and back translations to send to the client for approval. To do this, you need to either give the customer access to the Smartling project or manually transfer all variants to a separate file, making this solution less convenient.


The advantages of the Smartling transcreation flow are as follows:

  • Ease and flexibility of creating projects and adding files to them

  • Back translation is integrated into the same stage as translation

  • Ability to export final files in the original format with the selected translation option


As for the cons:

  • Absence (so far) of translation memory and glossary connection

  • Inability to automatically create a file with all translation options, including back translations and comments

  • No machine translation for back translation


In general, my conclusions are the same as for Trados. If you’re already using Smartling, try testing the transcreation flow; if not, wait a little longer.


As you can see, both solutions are still somewhat raw. Smartling says that development is underway, and soon some of the missing (in my opinion) functionality will become available. I did not find information about Trados’s plans for further module development. Perhaps some work is in progress.


In an ideal transcreation tool, I would love to see:

  • Simple project creation

  • A translation memory and glossary

  • A machine translation module for back translations (Why I insist on it so much is the subject for a separate article.)

  • The ability to export drafts with options (for submission to clients) in addition to the final document with the preferred adaptation

  • The ability to comment / discuss directly in the CAT tool

  • Automatic plagiarism checker module


By the way, the possibilities of such a tool go beyond the scope of transcreation. For example, localization of some documents for clinical trials often requires back translation, discussion, and the creation of several versions. It seems that CAT tool providers can use the modules they're currently developing to expand their potential customer bases and increase their return on investment (ROI).


Both Trados and Smartling can borrow something from each other to further develop their transcreation solutions and add missing functionality. Let’s see what awaits us in this new and interesting niche.


Disclaimer: The conclusions in this article are my personal opinion, based on limited information about the products of the brands mentioned and based on product testing at a particular point in time. The above findings should not be used as the sole reason for deciding whether to use or not use these products. All trademarks mentioned are the property of their respective owners.



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