Look before you leap: the top five challenges of localizing training materials

By Seán Nolan
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Look Before You Leap: The Top Five Challenges of Localizing Training Materials

Do your corporate training and eLearning programs convey critical information and promote branding at the same time? This is challenging enough at home, and deserves equal consideration when educating a global workforce. If your company is moving into international markets this year, get the most bang for your buck by adapting corporate training programs to the needs of global trainees.

One of your first steps will be to select and prioritize the types of training materials that fit each international market. A few new dimensions include cultural, linguistic, regulatory, and legal contexts. Whether it’s new hire training, eLearning courses for soft and hard skills, sales, customer or partner training, you have many decisions to make up front when adapting your programs to multilingual and multicultural audiences. Develop a winning strategy with these top five challenges and expert-approved solutions.

Challenge #1: selecting the right tools and platforms for international training

Your company may already use all sorts of tools to train your U.S.-based employees: PowerPoint or video presentations, software-based tutorials and wizards, print manuals, and more. To deliver these training materials, you probably rely on a range of platforms: web-based applications or learning management systems, webinars, or self-directed distance learning modules.

Now that you’re ready to enter new markets far from home, another question becomes very important: Will your tools and platforms translate well for your trainees in Hong Kong, Milan, or Montreal? Which mediums best fit the learning styles in those markets? After some initial research, cost and feasibility are two more factors that will help you determine your approach. Here’s a quick review of the main media option and how to localize each:

  • Video: Video presentations with slick audio and visual tracks can be the most complex programs to localize, especially when onscreen action needs to be synched with the narrated or spoken text. However, if your video localization budget is limited, there are many ways to cut costs including dubbing or subtitling. And if you prepare your script and video files prior to translation, you will save considerable time and money in and out of the studio.
  • Webinars and instructor-led training (ILT): Webinars and ILT require hiring native facilitators to moderate or lead live training sessions. If you opt for this form of training, you’ll also need to localize handouts, webinar visuals, and instructor materials. Investing in ILT is still one of the most effective and meaningful ways to interact with trainees.
  • ELearning applications: If your training program lives in the cloud, localizing the content and learning management system (LMS) lets you reach any audience in the world. This approach is typically cost-efficient and scalable for companies launching across multiple countries. Be sure to consider whether your LMS is already multilingual and how user interface preferences differ across cultures.
  • PowerPoint presentations: PowerPoints are still used extensively for training as they are straightforward and inexpensive courses to translate. Text expansion can be an issue, however, when translating into languages such as German, French, and Spanish. A little buffer space in your English file can help avoid the need to cut content. In addition, embedded multimedia elements and visuals need to be reviewed and adapted to target cultures and languages.  

Challenge #2: updating the student profile

To develop training materials, your company probably conducted an in-depth needs analysis and geared content to a relatively homogeneous student profile. As you enter new markets far from your domestic base, that profile may change radically. In addition to linguistic issues, your new student may have a different education or training background, threshold for risk, and expectations for teaching or testing styles. For example, a relaxed peer-to-peer setting may put off students accustomed to a very formal and regimented classroom atmosphere.

In a booklet published by Carnegie Mellon University, foreign students made comments about these very differences. “In my country, there is a hierarchic relationship between teachers and students,” a Chinese teaching assistant notes. “Students must pay absolute respect to teachers. For instance, a student can’t interrupt the teacher asking questions.”

Addressing such fundamental cultural distinctions will lead to a much higher impact in your training materials.

Challenge #3: adapting text content

It takes more than simple translation to adapt the text content of training materials to diverse multilingual and multicultural target student profiles. First, you will need to determine if the content of your training materials is relevant for your new trainees. For example, McDonald’s instructions for preparing beef patties will not apply to staff working in Indian vegetarian restaurants.

Remember that work rules can vary widely between countries and guarantees may not be enforceable. Product supply chains, sales channels, and service will probably not mirror your domestic market, either. Review all market-specific text content with an internationalization partner to determine what needs to be localized or replaced.

Tone is also important. What comes across to domestic students as “warm and fuzzy” may be confusing to students in other countries. Locale-specific and company-specific jargon and acronyms might undermine the message. In addition, exercises that revolve around national sports, holidays or celebrities may leave students in new markets indifferent or confused. Weaving locale-specific athletes, history, and heroes into materials and exercises demonstrates respect for your new partners and gets your message across.

Challenge #4: evaluating non-text elements

Like text, graphic and multimedia elements convey critical information and bolster branding. And like text, all the graphic and multimedia elements should be carefully evaluated to ensure they are appropriate outside your domestic market. For example, some images of women might seem very “foreign” in a target market where the workplace is not fully integrated. Body language, hand-gestures, and posed social groupings all convey subtle messages that may or may not be appropriate for trainees. A strong localization partner can help you strike a careful balance between respecting your target market’s culture and honoring your organization’s values.

All non-text elements — graphics, video clips, flash files, music and sound clips — need to be vetted to ensure they are not confusing or, worse, offensive. Remember that even seemingly inconsequential elements can pack a major positive or negative communication punch. Two global gaming giants learned this lesson the hard way. Their products’ soundtracks sampled text from the Qur’an backed with music, a poor choice that resulted in expensive damage control.

Challenge #5: putting training materials to the test

Seeking qualified expertise to guide you in the translation of training materials is one way to develop a winning strategy. Testing your localized materials in-country before implementation will also ensure quality. Involve your new partners in the development of localized training materials for an end result that accurately reflects the social and cultural context of new markets.

When done right, high-quality training translation communicates critical information while reinforcing your brand message to a global workforce. Contact Acclaro today to learn more about our training and elearning translation solutions or request a free quote for your next project.

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