The Language Industry Needs Imagineers

“Imagineering,” a portmanteau of “imagination” and “engineering,” was coined and trademarked by Disney in 1989. The term and its underlying principle — “if it can be dreamt, it can be built” — has propelled Disney’s theme parks to unmatched success for decades. The secret sauce is in the ideation and the actualization of “wild,” creative imagination, with the sky being the only limit.  

As Walt Disney said, “Disney will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Philosophies like Disney’s underscore the need for imagineers in the language industry as well. In an era defined by creative content and cutting-edge technology, the language industry can certainly make use of imagineering. 

Creative content

With endless possibilities, a prescriptive approach to translating creative content can be counterproductive and can diminish the prospects for global connectivity. We need recreation, not replication — and thankfully, the solution lies in “transcreation.”  Also known as creative translation, transcreation is a fusion of “translation” and “creation,” and is the adaptation of textual, visual, and audiovisual content in a fashion that makes the final product resonate globally, thereby transcending cultural and linguistic barriers. 

Transcreation is both an art and a science. Like in medicine, “1+1” does not always equal “2” in transcreation. For example, Coca-Cola’s slogan, “Share a Coke” was transcreated and tailored to meet the specific needs of target cultures in a culturally sensitive fashion, contributing to the company’s significant success. It is recreating, rather than merely replicating the slogan and other marketing materials, that has helped Coca-Cola quench many thirsts around the world.  

When transcreating, linguists should prioritize preserving the impact, not the words, of the source content. The touchstone of a successful transcreation endeavor is whether the target content creates the same experience and emotions for target users, similar to those of the original audience. Imagineering, with its focus on creating experiences and emotions, aligns perfectly with this goal. 

Fortunately, the opportunity to integrate imagineering into the transcreation practice is right before our eyes, and we should seize it. 

Technological advancements

Recent years have brought about an unprecedented proliferation of cutting-edge technology, including within the language industry. The foreseeable future will yield even more advanced and sophisticated technology that will continue to shape our industry and practice. Training large language models (LLMs) to minimize translation time, for instance, was once just a figment of someone’s imagination. Today, it is a reality. Translation engines, artificial intelligence (AI) systems, and translation environment tools (TEnTs) are used to enhance the efficiency, accuracy, profitability, and affordability of our translation services. 

Now imagine integrating generative AI (GenAI) into the imagineering process, long before the transcreation process starts. If you are in the language industry, you have likely experienced writer’s block and understand the real struggle to find an immediate relief for it. Why not use GenAI to help expand on or articulate a fascinating idea, piece together our fragmented but promising thoughts, and/or overcome blind spots that limit our creativity? Why not use GenAI to best cater to the needs of clients wishing to take their businesses overseas? 

I am not suggesting using GenAI to think for us, but rather to polish our thoughts when needed. GenAI and other AI systems can augment but never replace human creativity, and we should leverage that. For example, LLMs can be trained to optimize cultural sensitivity in final products, perhaps by detecting and correcting mistakes related to cultural nuances. Similarly, GenAI can be used for image synthesis, i.e., generating images based on vivid, detailed text descriptions; this is particularly useful when adapting content from low-context cultures (which favor text-rich content) for high-context cultures (where visuals and minimal textual content are preferred). 

All in all, imagineers can push the boundaries of what’s possible, creating content that is new but still resonates deeply with global audiences and leaves a lasting impact. Integrating imagineering and technological advancements into our transcreation practice can drive the next wave of creative breakthroughs.

Deema Jaradat
Deema Jaradat is a Master’s in Translation student at Kent State University who has worked as an in-house and freelance translator. Jaradat created the first-ever public terminology database to help expand language access for Arabic-speaking LEP persons in the US.

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