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Internationalization (I18n) and nation branding: the challenges of cultural content adaptation.

Internationalization, also known as l18n in our industry, is the process and practices involved in designing or modifying a product to ensure it functions as expected when adapted for use in different languages and locales (source: Internationalization Labs). While many language professionals are familiar with the word localization, internationalization has gained more and more attention worldwide. If localization is all about adapting software programs and content to meet the language, culture, and other requirements of each locale after their creation, internationalization is all about designing content with future markets and languages in mind. This can be done by working upfront to design a product consciously, so that the core code is altered the least in case of content adaptation into a different language or culture.

But then what is nation branding?

How is it linked to internationalization ? Nation branding can be defined as the act of creating favorable images of countries through different tools including marketing strategies, but also through substance, and symbolic actions (Anholt). When the term was coined in 1996 by Simon Anholt, nation branding was presenting the idea that "the reputations of countries (and, by extension, of cities and regions too) behave rather like the brand images of companies and products". It means that they also have to do reputation management, monitor their corporate social responsibility (CSR), and preserve sovereignty. The United States, France Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom all have very strong cultural diplomacy, which is part of soft power. Hence, most of them have an excellent nation brand. It means that there are probably some very striking images rolling in our minds upon hearing the names of those countries.

What is at stake for translators working in this capacity

The cultural war between countries requires a lot of content adaptation to reach bigger audiences. And what is at stake for countries is a lot more than just a poor landing page. It did not occur to me how much internationalization is linked to nation branding until taking a translation technology class, where we discussed at some point l18n. While trying to understand more how it works, I had to accept the fact that most governments, despite available funding, fail spectacularly to adapt or design their content for their citizens abroad. A quick search of Senegal's webpages aimed at the diaspora shows how much the websites are not designed with future users in mind. And they are not the only ones. Other countries such as France seem to have a better internationalization process, as I was able to check the France Diplomatie website in 6 languages: French, English, Arabic, Spanish, Russian and German. These are the languages of the major economic and political partners of France.

However, things start to break down in languages that are written with a different alphabet. Here, while the page is written in Arabic, the code of the website probably did not include provisions to allow for a complete localization of the page.

While this shows that stakeholders and countries have understood the importance of adapting their content for economic, cultural and strategic reasons, it also demonstrates why a lot more progress could be done. I believe that internationalization can be the answer.

Imagine not only being able to have access to information about a country you want to visit or learn about in your own language, but also having the content presented in an ergonomic, accessible and beautiful way ! Remember, a country has to support its brand. By keeping the international customers of the brand happy, they dramatically increase the reception of the country's products, content and eventually policies. Now, this last point is more complicated than it appears. But making the brand global-ready gives a better chance at fighting the cultural war.

Many challenges ahead ...

There are many challenges of internationalization, the first being that the public that are involved in shaping and maintaining these brands are not educated in l18n. A second challenge appears with budgetary and time constraints. For many countries, internationalization takes a back seat because of its initial high investment. In fact, because internationalization is about clearing the roadblocks to localization, it requires more strategizing and proactivity at the beginning of the content design. For freelancers working in these conditions, it's mostly about beating time by having the highest translation output possible. This becomes then incompatible with the time needs of a well-executed pseudo-localization. Pseudo-localization is a way to test the internationalization readiness of a content. I must admit today that having pseudo-localization allows me for a better visualization of the problems beforehand and then reduce drastically my work as a professional. However, the business person in me would only go through this for a client willing to pay for that level of quality and preparedness. The fact that cultural broadcasting and the way it's received cannot always be controlled makes it also hard to trust that a brand will be successful even if they leverage I18n. This incentivizes governments to fund programs with immediate impact rather than playing the long game of internationalization.

I predict that tourism agencies, diplomatic counselors and other relevant stakeholders in countries will be more and more educated about the need to integrate l18n as a full part of their content adaptation strategy sometimes in the future. However, it is not for the near future. As for us translators and other language professionals, our role is to educate more the public about the benefits and challenges of internationalization.

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