Translating stories for children across the globe
The Marketing Store (TMS) is a global customer engagement agency. They have offices in London, Leeds, Chicago, Hong Kong, Paris and Toronto.
We supported TMS with translating a series of short children’s books into 40 languages, as part of McDonald’s Happy Meal Readers program.
McDonald’s wants to support parents to encourage children to read, stimulate their imagination and allow greater access to books, making reading a fun time with the family and that’s why they offer children’s books with Happy Meals in so many countries around the world.
The first books offering was launched in Sweden in 2001, and the first year-round book or toy program launched in France in 2015. Now, in more than 100 markets, McDonald’s customers can always choose a book instead of a toy with their Happy Meal. Because of this, their restaurants around the globe have given away more than 546 million books.
Each book was prepared in two versions: one physical book (750 words) and one digital book (350 words).
Having an efficient, well-oiled and consistent process for all 100+ markets was essential. TMS required a partner that could bring a publishing transcreation capability to an existing highly evolved marcomms localisation system used on other McDonald’s activity. TMS partnered with us to ensure high quality and timely deliveries for the books, which were a more complex and nuanced product. In the end, McDonald’s and TMS were thrilled with the quality and how we added value to the translation process.
How we did it
Engaging children around the world through transcreation
This was a mammoth task, even by our usual standards. On top of a long list of languages, our translated books needed to:
- Mirror the author’s subtle humour and retain the feeling of the text, so that the reader has an emotional connection with the characters and story.
- Reflect the style of fiction texts in the local language aimed at Happy Meal aged kids.
- Use grammar and syntax as appropriate to the tone of the text, which is for young children and is imaginative and lively.
- Be linguistically and stylistically consistent across all books in the series, notably with areas of the text that are repeated in each book.
- Localise character names, including the family name, where comprehension is in doubt.
The aim was to create a series of books that would captivate children no matter what part of the world they read it in. To do this we prioritised a colloquial, natural and familiar translation over a rigidly accurate one.
Translating books is not as straightforward as finding the same meaning of a word in another language. You need to convey the feeling and emotion of the story, and bring the words on the page to life. This meant a transcreation approach, mixing translation and localisation with added creativity. To ensure success, we needed an expert team.
The expert linguists
For each of the 40 languages, we established teams of 3-5 linguists selected based on their experience in transcreation, specifically children’s literature. We used a new interview process designed just for this project, to make sure we had the strongest team possible.
“When translating these books, I try to imagine being a parent, rather than a translator, reading the book to my child, when he was very young, and think: What would interest him? What questions would he ask? Would he understand the words? How could I explain the words to support his knowledge and language development?” explains Zora Jackman, a Czech linguist who worked on the project.
“I also try and read the text for myself: Where do I put the emphasis? Can I use my voice to make the story sound more exciting? Should I add more suspense? And perhaps most importantly: would he want to meet the characters again?”
Zora demonstrates the level of detail each of our translators go through to bring the books to life. For this project our linguists became storytellers in their own right.
Keeping to deadlines and high quality
For each book, we had 4 to 5 days to complete the translations.
With strict production plans and approval needed from each of McDonald’s local market teams — we had to work efficiently to help streamline the process.
We started by ensuring we had enough immersion time with the client. We set up several meetings to clarify requirements and to understand TMS’ process so that we could support it. Our team also consulted on ways to speed up the process, without risking quality, by optimising the technology used, file sharing and various production systems.
In the end, we reduced delivery times from an initial 5 working days to 3 working days per story.
As part of the final delivery of work, we also shared a transcreation commentary and a mini glossary of terms. It confirmed the approach to style and tone, the localisation of character, family, place names and the reasons behind translation choices.
- Recruited 120 linguists to build 40 core expert transcreation teams across all languages.
- Managed the publishing translation process within the partner’s proprietary localisation system, coordinating 120 linguists across 40 languages simultaneously, per book.
- Reduced delivery times from an initial 5 working days to 3 working days per book over time.
- Streamlined solution to file sharing and oversight of project progress.
- Usage of Comtec’s own Client Portal to streamline file sharing and reduce admin time, speeding up key project stages.
- Translation technology utilised to reduce costs and streamline post-production of digital assets.
- Guidelines and best practice for centralisation of translation approval shared with local teams.
All 40 local market review teams were delighted with the quality of the translations, with minimal feedback, speeding up time to market. The books have been very well received in each country, with work now underway on translations for 2022.