For Learning & Development professionals, engagement of the target participants with the learning contents and key messages is critical to success. But is there any guarantee that the audience in another country, with a totally different language and unique culture will be engaged the way they are at home?
Effective localization of training is difficult for many global companies. Yet as companies grow and enter new countries, languages and cultures, localization becomes more important. To retain consistency of the brand image, the quality of products and services, and employee engagement and productivity, the localization of training is a must.
The localization process is intended to capture and transfer knowledge accurately but also to ensure that engagement is achieved so that the target audience can be motivated to learn and comply.
We have helped companies localize global content and also developed source material for future localizations into other regions for more than 18 years.
In that time, we have experienced many similar recurring issues:
Local staff are often suspicious or skeptical of training developed overseas and rolled out globally. In one case we helped bring a sales training program to the Japan sales office of a global telecom supplier. The sales process and techniques were developed and proven in the home office and other markets and so were considered successful. Since sales were declining locally, it was decided to roll-out the new sales strategy and process in the local market. During consultation with local sales managers as part of the translation and localization process, they expressed concern that the proposed strategy did not fit the buying process of local customers. The message was clear, “That sales strategy will not work here, and we will not support it.”
Ultimately, the issue was resolved by getting the Japanese sales team to modify the sales strategy and processes that the head office wanted to implement in Japan. After new English training modules were created (for application in Japan), the localization process got re-started. Then, the project was executed smoothly with this major obstacle removed.
We often get requests to deliver a globally mandated training to a local team. The client will say “Please just translate this and deliver it in Japanese.” During our content review process, we go through the whole content with our bilingual Japanese consultants. One remark we often hear is that it is obvious that the material is aimed at a different audience and designed to achieve a different objective. In one recent case we were asked to deliver an assertiveness program to a Japanese branch of a US company. But our Japanese consultant pointed out that the material seemed designed to help overly aggressive people become less aggressive, rather than to help overly passive people become less passive. The material was designed with the wrong assumptions and for the wrong culture.
In the end we were able to replace some of the cases and role-play scenarios and asked the trainer to adjust the focus to suit the needs of the Japanese audience.
We were asked to deliver a global project management training course for the local branch of a global temp staffing company. They did not want to spend the money to translate their own material into Japanese (A PowerPoint deck and a few handouts). All of the target staff could read English reasonably well, so we felt that this was not a big issue. We therefore planned to deliver the training in Japanese with a bilingual trainer. But while reviewing the supplied material with the project sponsor, he discovered that the course failed to address some of the key challenges of his local IT team. And our internal review showed that the course was designed essentially as a 2-day lecture with a few written quizzes thrown in – not engaging at all.
We were able to get agreement to add the key modules that were missing from the original content. We also created learning activities for each of the legacy modules in which learners would be able to output their learning in the form of simulated project artifacts. And we added module summaries in Japanese for those who might struggle with English. And we created a simple workbook as a reference for after the workshop. In the end the course was a big success.
Training content developed in the US tends to be full of obscure idiomatic expressions. In particular Americans seem obsessed with using sports metaphors. Phrases like “out of the ball-park” or “hit a home run” or “let’s touch base” may seem like innocent and well-understood, neutral language, but most of the world has no idea what these expressions really mean.
We once had to make a list of all the idiomatic expressions in a training program that we ourselves could not understand – it contained nearly 30 idiomatic expressions. Unfortunately, when we sent the list to the content developers for confirmation, we received no reply. In the end we had to do extensive on-line research with various slang dictionaries to clean the text.
This was for a training delivery in English!
eLearning training programs are also impacted by the same localization risk factors. Companies often spend more than $50,000 to develop sophisticated, interactive eLearning courses. In 2019, the average cost is estimated to be around $22,000 for a 60-minute module. This cost does not include hours invested by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or other stakeholders. After completing the eLearning modules in English, many companies will then ask a local partner company to localize this material for their region.
The ROI of localized eLearning content depends even more heavily upon the engagement of the end user. eLearning has a notoriously low completion rate and some of this may be because of a poor job localizing content for local users. More than just language, the users’ entire culture is different from that of the content creators. Can we connect with an audience that not only speaks differently but also thinks and learns differently?
And unlike Instructor led training, nothing can be done to fix an eLearning program after it has been developed: there is no trainer who can be asked to make adjustments or adaptations to the local audience. So effective localization needs to be planned from the beginning.
Many people are automatically skeptical when attending presentations developed by HQ. It does not take very much to cause the audience to dismiss the message as “not right for us.” So it is important for the learning content to be free of any offensive or unprofessional content and messages must be presented so they cannot be misinterpreted, or the audience engagement will be lost very quickly.
There are many different ways to localize a global program. If we start with the assumption that the source material has been created following the above best practices, then we just need to get it into the local language somehow. But there are several ways to do this.
Below we show a comparison of the most popular ways:
When the local staff can read English source material, one can save a significant amount by engaging a talented facilitator – who can make adjustments as they work through the material.
The localization of training is not always the easiest task. Companies that support domestic and international customers and employees know this very well. But the common pain points and pitfalls can be easily avoided by starting with the end in mind and following a few simple best practices. Customers and their localization partners need to be precise about the target audience and about the learning objectives.
Interested in learning more about how to localize your organization’s global training? We can help!