When I explain to people that I went from a career in marketing, to retraining to work as a freelance translator, I’m often met with confusion, and many ask ‘why?’. To some, it seems a strange career path.
Interestingly, other translators don't normally question it, as many come to translation as a second, third, or fourth career. Additionally, there are quite a few marketing to translation converts like myself, including Tess Whitty of Marketing Tips for Translators fame.
For those that don't understand, I often attempt to explain the similarities between these two disciplines, and how they can help each other.
This blog post is in part an explanation, or a written answer to 'why'. Additionally, I hope it might prove helpful for those considering a similar career combination. Perhaps it could also help fellow translators understand how more in-depth marketing knowledge could advance their career.
1. Working in your specialisation keeps you up-to-date
I am a freelance translator, marketer, and copywriter. Marketing is one of my translation (and copywriting) specialisations – that is, either texts about marketing, or texts which have a marketing function – including adverts, webpages, and blog posts.
Having experience producing these types of texts means that you understand the requirements, the aims, know the jargon, and read relevant research and best practice.
In my case, I am actively working in marketing on these same content types. This means that my knowledge is kept up-to-date, and I know about the latest trends or technological updates.
2. Marketing helps prepare you for translation (or vice versa), since both involve tailoring a message to a target audience
Marketing is about crafting a message which speaks to your target audience. Sometimes this involves adaptation. For instance, in my work with universities, I started with text from academics which explained the contents of a degree programme. Often, the text was more appropriate for fellow academic staff than for a 16-year-old prospective student. I therefore needed to adapt it, changing the language, swapping out jargon for plain English, and breaking up big swathes of text into more digestible chunks. It needed to be relatable to that 16-year-old, and clearly show: what the programme was about, who it was for, and why they should consider applying.
Translation, meanwhile, could be considered a form of adaptation. Even in the most dry or technical of texts, some form of adaptation is needed. If we think of translating a legal text from French to English, the translated (target) text is likely to be quite different, depending on whether the target audience was English-speaking people based in France, or English-speaking UK residents. The former is likely to need to know the French names of courts mentioned in the next, while the latter is more likely to want to know the UK equivalents. (Of course, all of this depends on the translation brief, and the purpose of the translated text).
If we consider an article on a news website, idiomatic language and cultural references are likely to abound. They will have to be adapted, often changing completely, for the target audience. For example, ‘it's raining cats and dogs’ is likely to become ‘Il pleut des cordes’ (word-for-word translation: 'it's raining ropes').
Therefore, marketing experience is quite a good preparation for a career in translation, or indeed, vice versa.
3. Translation makes you a better writer
In translation, you learn to carefully analyse each word in a text, as well as the text as a whole. You consider both denotative and connotative meanings, idioms, the function, and the purpose of a text. And you consider how to render this into your target language for your target audience. There are always multiple options, and no two translations will be the same. Then, when your translations are reviewed, you need to be prepared to justify your translation decisions.
This process makes you more aware of the importance of the words you choose and the writing style you adopt. In particular, I’ve found justifying my translation decisions has pushed me to be more objective and analytical, considering all of the available options, and checking my assumptions, rather than simply choosing what ‘sounds right’ at the time, or what I prefer. This has made me a better writer.
4. You'll be an ideal candidate for transcreation work – where marketing meets translation
There are many types of translation and fields of specialisation. Yet, people outside of the translation world don’t often think about the translation of marketing content or advertising campaigns. This is often referred to as transcreation, and Benetello (2016: 259, cited in Benetello, 2018) defines this nicely:
“Writing advertising or marketing copy for a specific market, starting from copy written in a source language, as if the target text had originated in the target language and culture”
Or, as Smartling (no date) puts it:
“Transcreation is focused on conveying the same message and concept in a new language. Transcreation enables translators to inject their own creativity and cultural knowledge to create content that resonates with a new audience.”
Transcreation, therefore, is a perfect example of where marketing meets translation. Experience producing ‘advertising and marketing copy’ is certainly beneficial when you come to adapt such copy from one language and cultural context to another.
5. The need for transcreation services is growing
Language service providers (LSPs) and marketing agencies predict that, ‘in this age of “big-data”’, the need for transcreation services will continue to rise, as companies try to reach new markets (Transtec, 2019).
As machine translation becomes more sophisticated and is used more for ‘informative’ texts, relying on human translators for post-editing, the role of the translator is changing. This also means LSPs make less money on 'regular' translation work.
In contrast, transcreation is focused on recreating the message in another linguistic and cultural context, and often the actual words in source and target texts bear little relation to one another. What’s more, cultural knowledge is key to successfully adapting messages, as Coca Cola’s advertising blunder in New Zealand demonstrates. Given all of this, machine translation is unlikely to be used for transcreation any time soon – if ever. As TranslateMedia (2017) puts it:
“It’s hard to see how AI can replace transcreation services. It’s likely that human intervention will still be needed to craft effective messages and culturally-significant materials to communicate with new audiences.”
Consequently, LSPs can charge more for this type of service, and it has become an important revenue stream. As a result, more LSPs are trying to offer this service, which means higher demand for transcreators.
6. Translating with marketing knowledge is an added bonus
Having a marketing background could differentiate you as a translator. As well as transcreation, there are other areas where your experience could prove particularly useful.
If you’re translating website and blog copy, having a working knowledge of web writing and accessibility best practice, and of search engine optimisation (SEO), will stand you in good stead. What’s more, these days language service providers, translation agencies, and digital marketing agencies advertise SEO translation, and website localisation services, and you could be a shoo-in for that sort of work.
7. You know how to market your business
I’m sure all freelancers and small businesses will recognise the value of a marketing background when it comes to selling your services or products.
That said, applying your marketing knowledge to yourself and your own business is a bit different to marketing someone else’s business or product. Because you’re inextricably involved in the business, or as some say, ‘you are the product’, at times it can be challenging to take an objective view of things.
For this reason, it can be helpful to get outside advice. Check in with someone who can give you their honest, objective opinion.
I hope that this post goes some way to explaining my career journey. I hope it's been interesting, and would love it if any have found it helpful when considering their own career path.
Benetello, C. (2018). When translation is not enough: Transcreation as a conventiondefying practice. A practitioner’s perspective. The Journal of Specialised Translation, 29, 28-41. Available from https://www.jostrans.org/issue29/art_benetello.pdf [Accessed 29 October 2019].
Giguere, J. (2018). Coca Cola’s Lost In Translation moment reinforces the case for brand transcreation. Fourth Source. Available from https://www.fourthsource.com/branding/coca-colas-lost-in-translation-moment-reinforces-the-case-for-brand-transcreation-23328 [Accessed 29 October 2019].
Jones, G. (2018). What’s the Difference Between Translation and Transcreation? Translator's Studio. Available from https://translatorstudio.co.uk/difference-between-translation-transcreation/ [Accessed 29 October 2019].
Smartling (no date). Six Ways Transcreation Differs from Translation. Smartling. Available from https://www.smartling.com/resources/blog/six-ways-transcreation-differs-from-translation/ [Accessed 29 October 2019].
Transtec (2019). Importance and rising need for transcreation. Transtec Group. Available from https://www.transtecgroup.net/blog/importance-and-rising-need-for-transcreation [Accessed 29 October 2019].
TranslateMedia (2017). Why Demand for Localised Content is Booming. TranslateMedia. Available from https://www.translatemedia.com/translation-blog/demand-localised-content-booming/ [Accessed 29 October 2019].
Wordminds (2017). Transcreation Helps Your Business Expand Into New Markets. Wordminds. Available from https://wordminds.com/blog/transcreation-business-expand-new-markets/ [Accessed 29 October 2019].