When companies expand globally, their workforce becomes increasingly diverse, with employees who speak multiple languages and who come from distinct cultures that might have different business priorities and ways of working. These differences can place strains on chief learning officers, who then need to consider new strategies for developing, localizing and deploying learning materials.
The issue is that the needs of these international employees, how they learn and the languages they speak are not universal. In Europe alone, there are 230 living languages — 41 officially recognized by the various governing bodies, and 20 sanctioned by the European Union. In Africa, more than 2,000 languages are spoken. In Asia, the complexities continue. For example, there are 23 official languages in India, and there are seven main dialects and numerous subregional dialects in China.
Language is just one barrier to retention, recall and application. To improve workforce connections, reduce global turnover and increase efficiency across the organization, localized and globally consistent employee training is necessary. It also can increase the productivity of a successful business. CLOs often operate with a small budget, however, and can supply only a limited amount of locally appropriate materials.
Global companies face many challenges when training a global workforce. Areas learning leaders should review to assess the value of a strategic localization program include customized message delivery, collaboration across borders and cultural sensitivity.
The Business Case for Global Training: Just Follow the Business
International business is no longer a footnote on an income statement. In a recent Fortune 500 list, companies reported, on average, more than 42 percent of their revenues and more than 50 percent of their profits from nondomestic customers.
Many things become significantly more difficult when extended over five, 10, 20 or more countries: recruiting and retaining employees, learning, employee development, adherence to mission and values, compensation and performance management, among others.
Imagine the value of a local sales force that could retain and apply the newest product features and address customer pain points with greater consistency. This is a classic ROI metric for training, and the goals for your international programs are the same as those for your domestic efforts.
To achieve those goals with the same degree of confidence and efficiency requires you to provide your multicultural audience with the same level of comfort and accessibility that is available to your domestic teams.
Organizations that develop a consistent strategy for developing, localizing and deploying training materials will see improvements in several key areas:
Your ability to create materials for use in other countries is critical because, with proper planning, you can minimize the costs of creating localized versions. The following sections outline some of the barriers to delivering existing training to an international audience. They provide design criteria for future modules that will enable you to design your courses for a global release and minimize costly and time-consuming localization efforts.
Barriers to Global Training: Language is Just the Beginning
There might be a variety of languages in use in your company today, and making your training available to speakers in their native tongue will dramatically improve the engagement, retention and application of the instruction. This applies to the language the instructor speaks (whether live or recorded), the language used in the supporting training materials (binders, presentations, workbooks) and the language used in reference materials (books and Web sites).
Conversely, a course that is delivered by an instructor speaking only English can be enhanced by ensuring the course material and exercises are available in the local language.
But language is just one element of the overall program that must be considered when introducing courses on a global scale. Consider the impact of the following key areas:
Learning leaders can help bridge these gaps and build awareness of global training issues through leadership development, promoting international travel and assuming responsibility when it’s time to implement localized learning efforts that take a more global view.
Developing Effective Global Training: Plan for Diversity at the Start
Many of these issues and concerns can be corrected with a comprehensive localization program. But the cost associated with deconstructing, localizing and re-assembling the course for delivery in a variety of languages and locales is often prohibitive. As a result, companies are forced to make sacrifices, with most opting to “just translate the language — people will have to live with the images.”
Most would agree such a scenario is not optimal but feel there is little alternative. The reality is that applying a bit more forethought and adopting a broader perspective when conceiving and designing the original course can avoid much of this expense and enable a more seamless, culturally aligned global program. Companies should focus on the following checklists for global course creation:
Incorporating these simple design parameters into your course-creation effort should not greatly affect your overall development schedule and will dramatically reduce the time and cost associated with correcting these issues later. Adhering to these design principles also will enable your international audience to receive the same value from the session as your domestic team, thus improving your ROI for the course.
In the end, what should be translated is a highly specific decision based on your company’s operating strategy. When examining materials, however, determine:
As your business expands, employees might feel isolated from the direction and opportunities apparent in the home market. An effective translation strategy and global learning program can bridge this divide. By improving the availability and accessibility of your corporate training and materials for all employees, you are making a statement about their role and the value the company places on them — regardless of how far away they sit from headquarters.
Wendy Farrell is an e-learning consultant with Lionbridge, where she helps define client learning solutions and prepares teams to implement instructional development projects. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Languages Sanctioned by the European Union