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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?

Translation is worth a thousand (fill in the blank)

A picture is often said to be worth a thousand words. But what about a translation? What is a translation worth to you if it helps you to communicate with your clients and colleagues? For most, a translation is priceless...but that doesn't mean it has to cost you your first-born child. Think about all the texts that have been translated in the world. Too many to count! Now, what if those texts had never been translated for us to read? If you are a religious person and the Bible had never been translated, where would you be today? If you loved reading the foreign classics when you were growing up, would you ever have known these stories if they'd never been translated? If you did not have a translator to translate the "Wet Floors" sign in your place of business and someone slipped after a small spill, what would happen?

In the last scenario, you could very well lose your hard earned money from a lawsuit without such a sign in place. What about employees in your facility? Is there proper signage displayed to show them where to wash their hands or how to use any equipment necessary to perform their job? Is there a training manual or HR manual in their language? If not, perhaps this is something to consider for the long-term benefit of your employees, not to mention a wonderful investment for the future of your business.

Another point to consider is the quality of the translation. Professionals! Call them. They'll come to your rescue and you will never have to worry again about how terribly the latest automatic translation website has butchered your text. Forking out the cash for a professional translation, handled by trained and educated translators, proofreaders and editors will save you a bundle in the long run.

So many of our clients have paperwork, HR manuals and letters translated for employees with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). They understand the legal ramifications of not doing so and are proactively taking steps to invest in their employees and their company, both in the long and short term. Hospitals and courtrooms have interpreters and translations available. The small booklet that comes with your toaster has a translated user's manual enclosed. These are very different types of industries, but all see the benefit and need of professionally translated materials for clients and consumers.

How seriously do you take your business' communications? Are you willing to risk a lawsuit over a mistranslated (or not even translated) sign or manual? What about an e-mail that was misinterpreted or uses incorrect terms due to a lack of language skills? We tell our clients that they won't be spending an arm and a leg to have their texts translated, but what they'll receive in return is worth a thousand sleep filled nights. And they could very well even see a return on their investment.

For more information on how translation has affected and will continue to affect all of us, check out Nataly Kelly's "10 Ways Translation Shapes Your Life" or her new book with Jost Zetszche, Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World.

3 Things You Should Never Ask of a Health Care Interpreter

Medical interpreting, whether in a hospital, clinic, at the scene of an accident or in a family physician's office, is a professional service provided by professional individuals and language agencies. However, it can often be challenging for the interpreter, both mentally and emotionally, depending on the patient's condition, the situation in which the interpreter is needed and other factors that arise as part of the job. Health care professionals are faced with challenges in their own daily work as well. Nevertheless, it's important to remember that one's own professional challenges in a given situation may not be the same as those of another and vice versa. Doctors, nurses and administrators in medical settings each have their own capacity in performing their work, as do health care interpreters. Here are three things to avoid requesting of a health care interpreter.

"Could you please read/fill this out for the patient?" This question might seem innocent and one that is meant to help a process move along a little faster or more smoothly, but it's a common question asked of health care interpreters in health care facilities daily. Some patients cannot read well, write well or may even be illiterate, however it is important to remember that the interpreter is not responsible for filling out a patient's medical information and should never be asked to do so.

Consider this scenario. A patient arrives for an appointment and speaks little to no English. The interpreter introduces him/herself to the patient and the health care staff upon checking in. While the administrator behind the desk prepares the paperwork the patient needs to fill out, s/he asks the interpreter to explain the forms to the patient and help him/her fill them out. Ethically, the interpreter should know better and kindly inform the administrator of his/her role as an interpreter. The administration should provide someone from its staff to go over the forms with the patient, while the interpreter interprets the content. This way, if the patient has any questions or concerns, the staff can answer these, leaving the interpreter to do his/her job and avoid giving any medical advice, which is clearly not his/her role. This also deflects liability from the interpreter for doling out incorrect information or making a mistake on the patient's documentation.

"Can you hold this child's legs while we give her the booster?" This question might even sound humorous to someone reading, but it has happened and continues to happen often. Ask any parent or nurse. Giving a child a vaccination can be a stressful situation. A child is upset, sometimes crying, squirming, etc. But again, the interpreter's role is to interpret, not to assist in performing any medical act or procedure.

Image Source: "Dedicated to All Better: A Blog by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta"

Many times, health care staff see the interpreter as an extension of their own staff. This is wonderful in terms of respect and professionalism, but it's important to know where to draw the line when it comes to overstepping an interpreter's role. This is all in addition to any liability issues that could result from an interpreter helping to restrain a patient. Ask another staff member to assist and leave the interpreter to interpret.

"Tell us your opinion of this patient's mental state." Many of you who are reading may already be shaking your head. How can an interpreter assess a patient's mental state? Yet, this question is often asked of interpreters in situations in which the patient's mental or emotional health is being assessed.

Consider this. Would it make sense to ask an English-speaking individual present for another English-speaking patient's visit what s/he thinks of the patient's mental state? What authority does this person have to assess another's mental condition? The same goes for an interpreter and the ethics we practice in our industry. Interpreters are not health care professionals, nor are they qualified to assess a patient's condition. Yes, they are professionals who are able to communicate in both languages with a high level of medical knowledge and terminology, but this does not make them colleagues in the same sense.

Interpreters' professional code of ethics also prohibits them from stepping out of the roles of the profession. The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC)'s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care clearly states, "The interpreter maintains the boundaries of the professional role, refraining from personal involvement." This allows the interpreter to remain unbiased as much as possible and avoid any involvement that could result in larger problems down the road.

Many health care professionals are unaware of interpreter ethics and standards, which is why it is crucial to take the time to learn about these aspects of the interpreter's role and what to expect of a professional service. For more information on National Standards of Practice or the Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care, please visit the NCIHC webpage.