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August 22, 2016

From machine translation to transcreation: a guide to multilingual content models

Confused by the choice between translation, localisation and transcreation? Here's what the three terms mean.

If you operate in multiple markets, your content operation instantly becomes much more complicated. As well as creating content, you need to adapt it to suit a number of different target markets. For the simplest content word-for-word translation is sometimes enough, but more sophisticated pieces – particularly those that are critical to your marketing efforts or service provision – demand a more culturally aware approach.

If you’re just jumping into the multilingual content world, there are three broad models you need to be aware of: translation, localisation and transcreation. Unless you have an unlimited budget, the best option is to use a combination of all three, depending on the importance and type of content in question.

Here is a quick guide to the different models and how you can use them in your multilingual content creation.


Translation is the most straightforward option, involving a direct conversion of text from one language into another. It can be done by humans or through machine translation, or a combination of both.

For content that is simple, direct and informative, machine translation is a good option. For example, technical or scientific content that contains no nuances or cultural references. This can be done by platforms such as Google Translate. However, machine translation is not always completely accurate, so it’s important you account for these limitations.

Where content has a distinct tone of voice or includes intonation and local or technical jargon, it’s wise to combine machine translation with human translation. Platforms such as Translation cloud are great, allowing you to upload text which is translated by a machine and subsequently proofread by humans.

It’s worth remembering here that translating content is made much easier when content is already optimised for translation. If you think any content may eventually be translated, keep it simple, succinct and free of jargon and colloquialisms from the start.


Localising content takes translation a step further by adapting text according to the local audience it is aimed at. This means it doesn’t stick to the original wording, but instead tailors it to account for cultural differences and references, as well as measurements, distances and anything else that may be altered across borders.

There are great online tools that can streamline the process of working with human translators. These include Cloudwords and SmartLing, which help automate the multilingual content creation process by connecting content creators to translators. They also enable you to manage the process from a central location.


For high-value content, trans-creation is usually the best option. It combines translation with content creation. Trans-creators are specialist writers rather than translators, and their job is to ensure content is tailored to create the same desired impact across different cultures. They adjust tone of voice, intonation, style and format to ensure emotive messaging is effectively conveyed.

Transcreation should be used when generating content with specific business goals in mind, as it will ensure that content is adjusted to appeal to different cultures, tastes and lifestyles. It often includes a combination of new content, culturally adapted content and direct translation, and it can involve anything from different wording through to alternative fonts, formats and images that will resonate with each target audience.

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