Localization of Training

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.

What is localization?

Localization is the process of adapting a learning content to a specific locale or market. Most people think of this process as simply translation, but real localization is much more comprehensive and generally includes:
  • Language: Translation into the local language, with careful attention to the appropriateness and politeness level of the language used.
  • Images: Graphics and photos need to reflect the location and population of the target audience/culture/market.
  • Formats: Use proper local formats for addresses, postal codes, dates, phone numbers, etc.
  • Content: Modify content to align with local business practices and to respect cultural differences.
  • Layout: Adapt the design and layout of content to allow the text and graphics to fit and flow properly on the page.
  • Proof-Reading: Have all the material proof-read by a local person to catch unconventional wording, poor phrasing and visual irritations like orphaned words, etc.
  • Standards: Convert all measurements, currencies, etc. to local standards.
  • Learning Methods: Some cultures will have difficulty learning in modes that other cultures are very comfortable with. Role-plays work some places, but not others. And lectures (from well-respected figures) are preferred in some countries but will put audiences to sleep in others.
  • Case Studies: When case studies are used, they should be well-known to the local audience, or based on the local business.

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.

Common Challenges

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:

“That won’t work here.”

​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.

“That’s designed for Americans”

​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.

Missing Information, Poor source material

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.

Idiomatic Expressions

​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 Content

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.

Localization Best Practices

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.

Start with localization in mind

  • When developing content in English, make sure that your content is designed to facilitate localization and translation. Begin with culturally neutral content, free from colloquial expressions or phrases. Avoid images of people entirely, and ensure any narrators or audio are professional.

Coordinate with local stakeholders

  • A well-understood target audience is imperative to creating effective, localized training. The language, culture and country are all important aspects to consider as oftentimes multiple languages and cultures exist within the same office / country. In order to avoid delays and increased costs, a stakeholder for each region should be kept in the loop as development progresses. You’ll need a knowledgeable point of contact to review progress and provide feedback on the localized content before it’s too late/expensive to fix.

Beware of offensive content

  • It only takes one phrase or one picture in a presentation to turn an audience off. Imagine a sexy photo of woman sun-bathing presented at a conference in Saudi Arabia. Such pictures, like a certain curse or slang words, will cause many to dismiss the entire presentation or program. A local reviewer can help avoid this.

Professional presentation design

  • If a learning module comes across as sloppy, with poor layout, poor design, orphaned words and/or phrases, or voiceovers or subtitles that are not in sync, then the audience will believe that it does not deserve their best effort. Presentations need to be professional-looking, just like any of the company’s products.

Localize information formats

  • Put data in a form that is conventional for the target audience so that it is comprehended without error. Not just dates and times, but correctly identifying the local holidays, displaying contact information in the right order, and addressing local business customs make the presentation relevant.

Remember physical design / layout

  • Some cultures and languages read left to right. One language’s translation of material may be significantly longer in length than another. It’s important to keep these facts in mind from the beginning to allow for the proper layout of content.

Avoid ambiguity

  • The shorter and more concise your content begins, the easier it will be to localize across the globe. Avoid ambiguity, long sentences, superfluous adjectives or any language barriers that may cause confusion.

Localization Cost Drivers

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!

​Connect with our ​localization team