It has never been as important as it is today for companies to invest in training materials translation. International businesses work with employees in various countries, speaking different languages, practicing diverse cultural and workplace norms.
That’s no exaggeration. Indeed, the demand for localizing training and eLearning material is only bound to increase.
Analyses project the global e-learning market to grow to $325 billion by 2025, and reports state that a little more than two years ago, in the US alone, 77% of corporations were using online learning.
This growth is fueled by a few factors that you probably also noticed, and which might even have led you to look into the most important aspects of training material localization, much like many of our clients.
ATL has been providing localization solutions to various companies for the past 15 years. Many of them have asked us about translating or localizing aspects of their business that they hadn’t looked into until then. With the growth eLearning has been enjoying worldwide, it doesn’t come as a surprise if you’re trying to see how training material translation can help your business.
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Firstly, ongoing globalization has led to an increase in the number and diversity of migrant workforces practically everywhere. Now, it’s likely that what you want to do is localize training materials into the languages of the countries where you’ve outsourced or offshored parts of your business or creative processes. It turns out that even in your HQ, however, there could very well be a growing need for translated training material.
Secondly, various international regions have their own rules and regulations that you simply need to follow when it comes to translation. In the EU, for example, law requires that certain machine manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies provide translations for their product labels and other documentation — including operational and maintenance instructions — into the appropriate EU languages.
These regulations are enforced through such laws as the Machinery Directive and other similar guidelines. These directives are meant to protect consumers in contractual relations as well as address any related health and safety concerns.
Lastly, the Covid-19 pandemic has bolstered the already healthy growth rate of the adoption of eLearning across nearly every aspect of instruction: from schools to companies.
The new normal that will follow the pandemic will undoubtedly make continued use of eLearning. It’s a perfect storm of different but interrelated contributing factors that highlight a simple fact: companies need to invest in training material translation not just for compliance with international law and company policy, but also to effectively expand their geographic market reach, both in terms of depth and breadth.
So, what are the most important aspects of training material translation?
If you’re interested in translating your company's training materials you either already have a functioning version that’s more or less complete and might be in use, or nothing is finished and you want to create multilingual versions of the same training material concurrently.
The former is usually the case, as businesses tend to expand into new markets and reuse existing material for this endeavor. Of course, it also comes naturally to build upon existing processes and documentation, including training material.
Now, it could also be the case where market expansion merits multilingual versions of completely new training material from the start. Either way, there is a single factor that could make or break your training material localization: The base version.
The base version is the original source of all other translated materials. If you already have a complete training curriculum that you want to localize into various languages, then that completed version is your base.
For many companies, they typically start out with an English version that they then want translated into the usual Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Spanish (PFIGS) configuration, perhaps, or non-Latin language set, the usual suspects in which case would be Chinese, Japanese, Korean (CJK).
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But what if you don’t have a finished version yet? Do you need a base version or should you develop all the training material in each required language at the same time, independently?
You would still need a base version, and are in fact in a better position to create a spotless, clean, base version for future localization purposes. Your base version doesn’t necessarily equate to the most prioritized language — after all, it might be the case that the languages you require are equally important. Your base version would be the scrubbed, essentially a completely neutral version that you don’t even send to trainees.
Wait, what does that mean, exactly?
Well, for example in the case of a finished version of a training course, being translated into new languages, the completed curriculum shouldn’t actually be used as the base version, as is.
A scrubbed and completely neutral form is preferable, to the point where it only contains what the learners need to know, but not the same storytelling, examples, terminology, and even the same instructional methodologies. It would essentially be a skeleton or frame of the curriculum, not the training course or material itself.
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One of the main reasons for creating a base version is best laid out in the EU’s Guideline on the Readability of the Labelling and Package Leaflet of Medicinal Products for Human Use, Revision 1, January 12th, 2009: During the drafting of the original package leaflet, every effort should be made to ensure that the package leaflet can be translated from the original to the various national languages in a clear and understandable way.
The base version is ideally free of any errors that can arise from literal translations, faulty or hasty localization of non-text elements (like graphics and illustrations), and unoptimized references and examples that often arise from cultural, not just linguistic, biases.
Again, as the EU’s Guideline put it: Different language versions of the same package leaflet should be ‘faithful’ translations allowing for regional translation flexibility, whilst maintaining the same core meaning.
Additionally, if you don’t yet have any finished materials to use as a base, it is not recommended to concurrently develop multilingual versions unless your development processes are heavily standardized, because the base version essentially becomes part of that standard.
Creating the same training materials in multiple languages at the same time leaves a lot of room for human error. Your efforts can suffer from inconsistencies in brand messaging, ineffective instructional methodologies (e.g. because the workplace cultures in the target languages differ from the source language), and other issues that can be avoided when using a base version for reference.
The base version also ultimately becomes the reference for any future localizations in other languages.
One office may prefer slide presentations, while another might function well with a video instructional series. Presentations may be best viewed on desktops or laptops while videos could be used across devices. Slides are best presented in a classroom environment while videos are more of a DIY method.
And that’s just two formats across devices and platforms as well as modes of instruction. You need to consider that the efficacy of the modes and platforms of instruction may differ across your various locations and offices due to various reasons ranging from availability of software and hardware to how the training materials are used.
For example, if a team in one region all go to the same office and can all easily schedule in-person classroom-based learning, then creating a slide-based presentation administrated by a training professional might be the best approach. However, the same training material might not work for another team who doesn't go to a physical office, but all work remotely from home.
Should you simply adopt the classroom-based presentation and administer the training through synchronous Zoom conference calls? You risk technical issues and scheduling conflicts, if the team does not work in the same time zone.
In this case, perhaps an instructional video series might be better, scheduled in a way that learners can benefit from the media in their own time within a certain delay, complemented by learning activities to ensure practical application.
What usually happens when, let’s say, English versions of training material are translated into another language, is that the facts and information are simply put on a different medium in a different language. Meanwhile workplace training, like all learning, really, thrives on storytelling and engagement, as well as effective examples and references.
When you translate learning material into another language, you’re translating for another learning profile. Students are not all the same even in the same classroom, let alone in different countries.
The most effective training material takes into consideration the profile of the student, and therefore changes instructional context based on the needs of that student. Translating the training materials should not take away the effectiveness of the subject matter.
Engaging learners from North America and learners from Southeast Asia means using different references, different regional and workplace culture examples, and different instructional methodologies.
In this sense, educational material is different from technical documentation, for instance, in their use of examples and references that are often cultural or are notions specific to a location, group of people, or demographic.
These linguistic cues help learners become more engaged and better integrate the training materials. Furthermore, there are also technical factors to consider, such as, again, the availability of software and hardware as well as platforms used for instruction.
Any huge rollout goes through a cycle of deployment, evaluation, analysis and redeployment. Software patches are the most common examples, but even in eLearning, continuous releases are becoming more common. After all, eLearning can become a crucial part of your business continuity.
When you need to increase the depth of market penetration into a current location and you launch new processes, products, or services, you’ll often need new documentation and training material. When you need to widen the breadth of your market footprint and expand into other verticals for example, again you’ll need to renew the documentation.
So, testing rollouts is an integral part of training material translation, not just to ensure quality, but to safeguard business continuity.
Testing training material translation generally takes place twice, though of course everyone does it differently to serve their own needs: once after the content has been translated, and again after the training material is put together.
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The first testing ensures that the translations are consistent with the company messages and branding, as well as terminology and other standardizations. At this stage, it would be easy to correct errors in terminology or inconsistency with staying on-brand or on-message.
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The second testing phase makes sure the translated content works in its mode of instruction. The simplest example of this is checking whether the characters fit into their tabs or buttons, if the course is interactive, for instance.
It is also important to test the translated version locally for user-friendliness and efficacy, both in terms of deployment (e.g. does it work well in its platform and format for the hardware and software used by the learners?) and student engagement. In short, this means a closed beta test.
There is simply no way to make sure your localization process is optimized other than choosing the right translation company. Unless of course you have the capability and the need to start up an in-house translation team of your own for your company’s needs, which is unrealistic for many.
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An optimized training material translation pipeline incorporates multiple facets on its own — from creating, maintaining, and implementing multilingual terminologies and style guides to automating translation and localization workflows with the right translation tools and integrations between your system and their translation software.
It’s essentially highly specialized, complex project management that requires expertise and experience.
In short, making sure your training materials are properly localized boils down to finding the right provider and partner to do so.
You’ll need to work with your partner to not only stay within your translation budget and navigate the complexities of the localization process, but to ensure that everything works — from developing your base versions, considering modes and platforms of instruction, updating learning profiles, to testing.
Your translation agency will be able to walk you through the process and support you regardless of the volume or sequence of work required to ensure that the localization pipeline delivers excellent translated training material.
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