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Lean In crosses borders: Translation and localization of a universal message

Most of us have heard the hype lately surrounding Cheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. Women all over the United States are buzzing about the book, including those who have not read it. Seemingly, everyone has an opinion on the book because of the controversial themes mentioned in interviews with the Facebook executive. Sandberg is very clear on her purpose for the book, admitting that she has and still makes a lot of mistakes in taking on the challenge to "lean in" to her career while caring for her family. The term "lean in" is a metaphorical one in the sense that Sandberg encourages women not to sit back and let opportunities pass them by. Now that the book will be found in over 20 international editions, how well will the "lean in" message translate into all these languages? Literal translation of an already figurative phrase is simply not an option.

Such a complex issue is the work of specialized translators who work with women's issues and a great editing team. Mana Nakagawa writes, "A challenge surfaced almost immediately: many languages had no direct translation for the phrase 'lean in.' To resolve this puzzle, each translator crafted a title that would resonate with the local audience while still embodying the book’s core message. The title has now been thoughtfully translated for each international edition; the original English phrase also appears on the international book covers, tying these different editions back to Lean In’s central call to action."

Lean In book titles in various languages (

However, the title is only the first piece of the puzzle in marketing the book and empowering women worldwide to take on a more powerful role in their own careers. Translators must work with the Lean In organization to make the concepts and situations in the book relevant to women in the countries where it will be sold. Nakagawa continues, "Our research supplemented the US statistics cited throughout the book with country-specific data wherever possible. This involved investigation into more than twenty-five different issues – from the percentage of women in corporate leadership positions to data on household divisions of labor and public policies – for more than twenty different countries."

Lean In editors take the book's purpose one step further in these international ventures. Various editions will include messages from prominent female leaders who speak to the women in their countries. "These extraordinary women leaders represent a rich diversity of geography, sector, experience and personal choice. However, they all emphasize an important theme: the universality of barriers that women face in achieving leadership."

The book is already available for purchase in nine countries and will surely continue to sell in others, as the combination of an important issue, various research and translation teams and a universal theme allow for its message to cross boundaries and language barriers.

Have you seen the book in another country? What title appears on the cover in that language?