Think Outside the Country

John Yunker brings his 20 years of experience as a globalization and marketing consultant to bear in his new book Think Outside the Country. While clearly targeting newcomers to the field, hot-off-the-presses stats and facts may surprise many of the initiated.

At first glance, the two-and-a-half-page table of contents seems daunting. That said, Yunker’s clear and conversational writing style makes for an easy read. A wealth of screenshots, charts, graphs and easy-to-digest lists sprinkled throughout break up the narrative. Using data that describes the global situation, Yunker juxtaposes overarching facts and trends with concrete examples that illustrate those trends, an approach that keeps the reader engaged.

Having written a comprehensive book on the same subject, Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies, way back in 2002, Yunker could have simply presented a rehash of a subject he knows inside and out. The freshness of the content, however, becomes apparent in the first three sections that serve as an introduction to the book. First, on page 5, he makes a rather bold assertion about what he calls the translation economy:

“At its most basic level, the translation economy is the globalization of the information economy. Think of it as a linguistic and cultural interface between you and everyone else around the world. This interface works in both directions. It translates what you have to say to the world and also translates the world back to you.”

The freshness of the content is also illustrated on page 12. In answer to the question “Why this book?” he addresses the current global political economic climate as exemplified by the Brexit vote and the results of the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Despite the rhetoric, he remains optimistic that trade between countries will not grind to a halt anytime soon. Companies, he states, must make a choice of whether to opt in or opt out of the still vibrant global economy. Those willing to opt in will find a wealth of worthwhile information in the following pages.

The first chapter, “New Rules of the Translation Economy,” provides important context. It also debunks certain misconceptions. For me, the most important might be the notion that the internet is a border-free space. Yunker shines a light on the “rise of the splinternet,” the first of many neologisms or industry-specific terms that turn up in the book. To illustrate the high-stakes risks of going global, the author cites the Target debacle in Canada. He winds up the first chapter by stressing the important role of the global generalist and giving global executives permission to say “I don’t know.”

As a language geek and word nerd, numbers, particularly big numbers, induce brain freeze. So, I was relieved when Yunker kicks off the second chapter, “Think Globally,” by simplifying a range of potentially mind-boggling data. And I think I finally wrapped my head around some of the big numbers. The chapter also defines basic industry terms such as localization and internationalization; acronyms such as LSP and MVP; and numeronyms, among them l10n and i18n. Although this might be old hat for acolytes, language industry neophytes will find this chapter very useful. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that a numeronym was a thing.

Chapter three, “Think Locally,” reminds readers of the importance of locale-specific particularities. Yunker repeatedly underscores the importance of translation to the globalization process and makes a compelling return on investment (ROI) argument for investing in translation. The section on global gateway strategies demystifies a complex subject and answers a question many internet and mobile users ask themselves: how does a site know where I am? The chapter also explains another two terms that were new to me even if I was aware of the concepts: endonym and exonym.

For anyone who revels in the subtle (and, sometimes, not so subtle) differences between cultures, chapter four, “Think Culturally,” is a treat. Again, for old hands, some of the content is terra cognita. Newbies, however, will discover a world of differences: holidays and lucky numbers and letters. The chapter also tackles the critical difference between translation and transcreation, and the importance of the latter.

What’s most significant about the rise in transcreation services is that marketing executives are now taking a closer look at the content itself, its audiences, and its intended ROI. And this a good thing, because every language should be treated as a new language, not just a copy of English.

In “The obligatory lost in translation chapter,” Yunker reprises some timeworn translation bloopers. Some fresher examples would have been welcome here. The September 2016 release of Apple’s iPhone 7 in Hong Kong, which caused a stir due to the unintended sexual message that turned up in translation, comes to mind.

For the visually-centric, the chapter “Think Visually” is more than eye candy. First, Yunker emphasizes the importance of simple, globally flexible website design. He moves on to the significance of colors, the power of images depicting people, the pitfalls of body language and gestures, and the evolution of icons. To illustrate the latter, he provides a concise history of the International Red Cross that, as it turns out, was not that international. He spends some time on using flags as language icons. I thought that everyone understood the issues. Clearly, I was wrong.

The chapter “Think Outside” takes the reader on a whirlwind worldwide tour of eight countries: China, Brazil, Germany, India, Thailand, United Kingdom, Australia and Russia, and winds up with a section on regions where Arabic is the major language. Each section drills down to reveal the critical particularities of the chosen country or region.

Yunker concludes with three important statements that function as section titles: “We are more alike than we are different,” “We’re all translators,” and “Globalization is a journey,” not a destination. The first and third statements struck me as obvious. The second, however, caught my attention. Here, Yunker starts out by invoking a much broader definition of translation and, by extension, language. Everyone, to a certain extent, translates in order to communicate with different constituencies, whether defined by job description or age. Yunker reverts to the more common definition when he goes on to note the “rise of the translator class.”

But translators can be your secret weapon in going global. They are user advocates, they provide input into product design and naming, they are cocreators in their own right.

The Resources section of the book provides a valuable takeaway: The ultimate globalization checklist, as well as some very useful links.

Overall, Think Outside the Country is a primer for those starting out on their globalization journey and a useful refresher course for those who think they know it all. Crafted by a seasoned copywriter and industry insider, the book is a fun read while providing some serious food for thought.