Translation, localisation or transcreation?

AnneSophie Delafosse
Deliveroo Design
Published in
8 min readApr 2, 2019


Or how to translate your content.

You have designed a great product and you’re ready to translate it. How hard could it be?

Hint: Pretty hard.

Words as simple as “Enter” can translate to come or go somewhere in particular, enter a competition or become a member of an association. “Clear all” can be masculine, feminine, singular or plural. So how do you get high quality translations for all your content?

Translation, localisation or transcreation? What’s the difference?

The translation world comes with its own jargon: translation, localisation, transcreation, back translation, editing, proofreading…So what do we do at Deliveroo? And why are we using different translation workflows for different types of content?

When deciding if your content needs translation, localisation or transcreation, look at the type of content and the audience. You won’t translate a marketing campaign the same way you translate a legal contract.

Another way to think about it is based on the sensitivity of the content:

  1. Key content: your global, high-visibility marketing content, for example
  2. Important: this could be your product
  3. Low risk: internal policy documents, for example

Not all content will need the intervention of two linguists, two or three rounds of internal review and a back translation. It is important to assess the type of content and who your audience is before you start the translation process.

What is localisation?

Localisation means to make something local to a particular place or language. Localisation specialists will not only translate, but also adapt the translation to make it local to a particular market so users feel the product was designed just for them.

When localising, the linguist will think grammatically, but also culturally. They’ll consider currency, units of measurement, regional vocabulary, addresses, how to address people and the relationship people have with food and food deliveries in particular, in the case of Deliveroo.

When thinking of localising a product, you should consider more than the linguistics. Our designers are responsible for making sure the layout, colours and images are easily localisable. Your linguists or language experts can then advise on what is best to use for a particular market. A full English breakfast may not look appealing to users in France, Spain or Taiwan. Translation is not enough to reach our users, they need to understand and identify with our product.

Before you start localising your content

The localisation team at Deliveroo is lucky to be a part of the Content, Research and Design team. We are involved from research to design and content writing. Our Content designers write in English keeping in mind their copy will become global. They avoid jokes, cultural references and make the content country agnostic whenever possible.

Before sending copy for localisation, give as much context as possible to your linguists, especially if you work with external vendors who might not know all the ins and outs of your company. If possible, give them access to:

  • in-context translation or screenshots of the design so they can understand the flow,
  • a brief including the target audience, the location, the feelings/messages you want to convey and if it is part of a bigger flow,
  • any specific requirements (e.g legal terms, experiment, launch dates, terms to use or not to use…).

Content designers will be able to provide you with all the details before the linguists start working on the job.

What is our localisation process?

We localise anything related to our product — every piece of content that you see on our app is localised for a particular language. Below is an idea of how we work within our tech and product team.

Once the Content and Product designers are happy with the new feature, engineers working on that particular feature will push the content on our localisation management tool for the localisation team to work on. Once it is localised, the Engineering team will pull the keys and the localised content from there.

What is translation then?

Compared to localisation, our translation workflow is a “word-for-word” translation, our linguists don’t update pricing, currency or references. It is a direct translation.

And when do we use a standard translation workflow?

The answer is simple. We only translate two types of documents: internal comms and legal policies. For our legal content, we always need two versions per market: the English copy and the translated copy. That’s why our process is slightly different. Our lawyers in each market will have already localised the document in English to fit the local law before we translate it. There is no need for the translators to localise it.

So what is transcreation? How does it differ from localisation?

If you see translation as a word-for-word translation from one language to another and localisation as translation beyond words, then transcreation adds a creative element to your localisation. When transcreating, you are translating an idea, it is a step further to target your audience and convey your marketing messages. When creating content for marketing, it is a mix of rich language, storytelling and brand values that a word to word translation cannot recreate.

When transcreating a campaign, linguists will sometimes not look at the English but will ask for the creative brief that was sent to the content team and will only use the English copy as a reference. They will use the brief, the tone of voice and the material used to create the original campaign. We use transcreation mainly for marketing but it can be used for your product too. It really depends on your content, for example, if you use jokes in your tone of voice then you will need a transcreation workflow.

What if you do not speak the language, how do you know the campaign has been well translated and will get the results you want?

When working with transcreation, the workflow will be slightly different and often more people will check and argue over the best option. Transcreation is a long process and cannot be rushed.

Here are a few pointers when setting up a transcreation workflow:

  • Kick off call: the best way to start is for everyone to chat about the campaign, its objectives and explain the brief and the logic behind the English copy
  • Define for each market who will have the final say and approve a team of reviewers.
  • Reference material: send briefs, tone of voice and brand guidelines (when possible, send the guidelines specific to the market) and any other references that might be useful.
  • Linguists will write three options for each English copy with a brief explanation as well as a back translation into English. The back translation will help stakeholders who do not speak the language to ensure the same message is conveyed and will reach the targeted audience.
  • Two rounds of feedback between the linguist and the local team is standard, more than this can be tricky. Make sure not to involve more people than the team you have defined at the beginning of the project otherwise it can quickly become messy.
  • Once the copy is approved, it is sent to the studio to create the assets.

You also need to think of the colours and imagery to use for each market as people will respond differently in each market. You might want to involve the Research team to check what localised copy is best for each market. Remember, just because it works in one language does not mean it’ll work in all the others.

Global collaboration

Whatever workflow is best suited to your content, it is all about your team. We decided to use an amazing fleet of freelancers, rather than an agency. We now have a team of one or two professional linguists specialized in localisation and marketing for every market. All of our linguists are external vendors but they still go through a recruitment process: C.V screening, linguistic test and interview. If the test is not approved by the local team then we would not hire them. It is important that each local team feels the style of the linguist is a good fit for them. As we move at a very fast pace, it is important to recruit linguists with enough availability. They might be talented, but if they are already busy with other clients then it would not be a good fit.

Secondly, we rely on the local market to review and confirm the translated content is adequate. In each market, there is a product specialist who checks that content is on brand. The involvement of the local team will differ depending on the content. Marketing campaigns need more input than a new button. Having said that, the need for input isn’t always relative to the number of words. For example, when we received the translation request for “Service fee”, it was clear that two seemingly simple words would need input from a few different people in each market.

Lastly, our localisation process would not be as smooth if we did not have the support of all copywriters, content managers and designers. The briefs they create are key to have as much context as possible. It takes time to write great English copy and we ask linguists to translate on tight deadlines. If they do not have all the information about the job, they are more likely to translate it incorrectly or convey the wrong message. When writing a brief, here are the key things to give your linguistic team:

  • who your target audience is,
  • where the content appears,
  • how users get to that page,
  • if the content is part of a bigger project or if it is a one off,
  • the tone and the message you would like to convey as well as any emotions involved,
  • any specific requirements, and
  • reasons for adding this feature.

What’s next for us in the localisation team?

Have you heard of the expression “too many cooks in the kitchen”? This is exactly what has happened in the past. Localisation requires specific knowledge and training. It is important to remember that not every native speaker is a linguist. To help us with consistency and quality control, our next project is to create a style guide specific to each language that will include everything from our tone of voice to key terms, pointers to write for specific medium, punctuation, grammar and capitalisation (linguist’s worst enemy). We have decided to write our style guide in English so everyone in the business can use it. It will be a reference for anyone who needs to work with localised content. Watch this space!