How I ended up with egg on my face and learned a new word

Ah, got your attention, didn't I?!

The whole thing started as it often does, when a friend-of-a-friend etc contacted me about a piece of translation. The contacting lady was from Texas. Which isn't a bad thing in itself. The text was a kind of marketing letter sent out, presumably, by the Head Office of a certain chain of women's gyms, let's call it 2D (for reasons which will be made clear in a later post), to its various branches. The letter was proposing to the staff of the branches a way to drum up business.

Letter 1 in the correspondence went like this:


Hi Nina,

I got your reference from L. who is a friend of my colleague M. I wanted to see if you could send me your resume and rates for English into Hebrew translation as I had a small sample that I needed translated.




I duly sent CV and rates.
Letter 2 went like this:


Hi Nina,

Please can you quote me for translating the attached file and if you can send it to me ASAP.




There was an attached Word document of 382 words, plus the following brief instructions:

"The purpose and audience for the translation as follow:

  • The audience – franchisees i.e. owners of 2D clubs
  • The purpose – to communicate important business related information that would help franchisees with running their clubs successfully."

I thought I'd just do the best I can and send it off ASAP.

But, alas! I did not heed my own rules and warnings! What do I keep telling you? That poor source material is no excuse for poor end product. And besides – hahipazon hu mehasatan – perhaps you can think of a better translation than "haste makes waste", which the admirable Neri Sevenier's Thesaurus of Idioms and Phrases could not.

I did try. Since I was not familiar with the 2D chain, I Googled it; found the international website and the Israeli website. The Israeli website was really a mess -- someone had done a very literal translation. So it wasn't very useful. I also consulted a friend of my daughter, a young woman who is familiar with the women's fitness scene. Though I myself am not totally unfamiliar with it, having exercised with one of the leading chains for several years and having tried "co-ed" gyms too.

I must say I found the style of the Texas text a bit strange. Either because I'm not familiar with Texan English. Or else because whoever wrote the text had a strange style. Gai vais, as they say in Yiddish.

So I translated. I tried not to be literal. On the other hand I didn't leave anything out. I had not been asked for my 2c worth regarding the quality of the text or its appropriateness for international markets. I just translated. And wanted to send it out ASAP, to show I could provide "short turnaround time".

Many days passed.

When at last the response arrived, I was dumbstruck by the scathing criticism of my work. I just couldn't believe that the critique was leveled at me and referred to my, yes my work.

P., who had sent me the job, wanted to know what to tell the client.

Believe me, I told her. I found either an explanation or an excuse for every choice I made. But I had to admit (to myself, not to P.) that my translation was simply not good. It wasn't wrong; it just didn't have the right ring or feel to it. It was blah.

Days passed. P got back to me. The client is willing to give me (and her) a second chance, because they indeed had not made it clear that what they wanted me to do was not "to translate" but to "transcreate" the text …


Google it and ye shall find.

Personally, I think it's a way for clients to get out of commissioning (and paying for) copywriting. What they mean is, be creative, for heavens' sake; take the idea and write it up in your native language. Translating poetry, for example, is transcreation (assuming we allow the word.) You don't really translate a poem; you re-create an existing poem in your own language. Or perhaps the word is trying to imply that mere translation is technical and literal, whereas transcreation is creative and inspired.

What say you? Shall we embrace the new word or kick it out?

As for my "transcreation" efforts on behalf of 2D – the jury is still out. Will let you know. Maybe :-)


Ruchie Avital said...

Nina -First of all, thanks for sharing what was certainly a less-than-pleasant experience. Transcreation sounds like an attempt to get translation prices for what in effect is copywriting. There is clearly an added value here, far beyond translation, even excellent, inspired translation. That is something that not all translators can, like or want to do. It should certainly have been made clear in the job description. But what should be clear if a translator does decide to take such a job is that the charge should be calculated on an entirely different basis from straight translation. How much - that is something everyone needs to decide for themself.

Nina Rimon Davis said...

Thanks for the support, Ruchie; I couldn't agree with you more!
Indeed, if that company ever approaches me again re "transcreation", I will quote a significantly higher price than I did originally for translation.

Jennifer said...

Not a pleasant tale to tell, for sure. I have to say that I was left with a sense of frustration - no, make that more like mitigated fury...
To borrow your new word, a good translator also transcreates, after all - at least to a certain extent. I feel here that this is a way for the client to (a) shirk his own responsibility for writing intelligible copy (at best) and (b)- as Ruchie said - get copywriting for the price of translation (at worst)!

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