MT vs. Transcreation

Yes, it's another MT-related post.

No, I am not scared.

Really, I am not.

I can't help but notice two curious trends on modern L10N market. They may look unconnected, or even opposite, but I think they represent two sides of a single market polarization process at its earlier stage.

On one hand we see the marching Mighty Translator (MT), which is said to produce decent results in some pairs. Evangelists even predict that it will completely take over certain segments within few years. I am not sure about that, hyped statistical MTs are still useless between EN and slavic languages... algorythmic/rule-based systems are slightly better, but they don't get much investment. Anyway the trend exists — researchers are researching, customers are asking for case studies, GPMs are launching pilot or even production projects, CAT developers are implementing MT plugins... A lot is going on the scene and behind it, and many find it disturbing.

The 2nd trend is more subtle. The populariy of Transcreation concept has been growing for last few years. It was mentioned much more often in 2011 than in 2008, when I received my first Transcreation PO. Bloggers are writing slick posts (<envy mode on>What can I do to make my English that slick?<envy mode off>), theme discussion groups appear all over the Web, companies and freelancers quickly change their positioning or at least tune it with new idea. It happened with two good customers of mine, whose specialization has mutated from "marketing and communication" to "transcreation" within 2011. This is not a hype, but you surely can't miss it.

Now to the point. MT is a logical development of Henry Ford's workflow-oriented "more eyes see more" approach to localization. Supplier chains are long, resources are cheap, but sloppy, quality is "normalized". Customer is supposed to be protected by a long sequence of steps with multiple feedback links that looks fancy on the whiteboard. Every step is supposed to improve quality, though usually it does not. Good news is that nobody will ever read the bigger part of content produced this way. So if you replace the initial node (cheap human translator) with MT, nothing changes. Price drops a bit, and that's it.

But the whole workflow thing has never worked for marketing and advertising copy, and majority of translation buyers have learnt this lesson hard, harder or the hardest way. That's why agencies, who specialize on such content, are applying different approach: do it right the first time. There is one qualified translator, and one qualified editor, both not cheap. They usually work in close contact to produce a fluent copy that sells stuff. Imagine a CIO reading an MTed collateral for six-figure product.

The logical development of this "do it right the first time" approach is Transcreation, which is [IMHO] about giving a translator more freedom and responsibility to produce a copy suitable for local audience expectations. No more source limitations, the goal is to sell stuff, not to stick to the original. Do whatever you want with idioms, wordplay, and overall emotional temperature. Do whatever you want, as long as they buy it. Such translation is essentially a new copy, [loosely] based on the original with all that it implies.

So let's return to the beginning of this post — polarization thing. Here's my layman's prediction: High-volume technical projects with low to medium level of sophistication (high-volume software, consumer manuals, tender docs, etc., you name it) will be slowly moving to human-edited MT. It's happening already. Sad but true, sorry MS translators. The change will be driven not only by costs, but also by volume of translatable content.

At the same time Trascreation wave should rise for stuff with higher fluency/creativity requirements, particularly marketing and games (hopefully), training materials perhaps. May be they will even be selling MT under the Translation label, and rename regular professional human translation to Transcreation. And I don't know, who will make more cash per hour, MT-editors or Transcreators [hehe]... Think about it.

Traditional technical translation should remain under some name for highly specialized texts, which require hands-on experience in the narrow field. I won't tell why — tired of typing.

One more thing, I wanted to use "Transcreation equals Translation in hipster glasses" joke, but couldn't fit it in the main text, so I'll just put it here.