For companies looking to engage new geographical markets, training material translation comes hand in hand with expansion.
Whether you want more breadth of reach or depth of market penetration — if you have your feet on the ground and a workforce that requires onboarding, uptraining, or cross-training in a different language, you’ll need e-learning translation.
The problem is that you might not know how to proceed in a way that maximizes your investment.
In the decade and a half that ATL’s been providing localization and translation services for clients around the world, we know by experience that anything from software localization to marketing translation can be daunting for companies for many different reasons.
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In your case, if you’re looking to localize e-learning and training materials, you might even be wondering if it’s worth partnering with a translation agency for a full-fledged project when simple document translation might be enough.
The short answer: it most definitely is.
Participants in e-learning have been shown to retain five times more material without increasing the time spent in learning, and every dollar invested in online training has been proven to result in $30 worth of productivity increase, according to research from IBM.
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You already implement your own training regimens for your current teams, so localizing those materials for new languages and cultures is a no-brainer. Your most pressing concern is how to make the entire training material translation process as smooth as possible.
The most important facet of translating training material is the same as e-learning: ensuring the accurate understanding and transfer of knowledge.
Localizing the material of an entire training course into five languages by simply directly translating the words just won’t work.
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Properly localizing e-learning ensures student or trainee engagement in order to motivate them to learn and comply. This means taking into consideration international formats, cultural and contextual nuances, appropriate imagery, and more.
While not every project concerning translating training material is the same, there are general guidelines that should help you evaluate what you need to consider when localizing e-learning.
The student and learning profiles between your current and international teams differ not just in language but also in culture.
Beyond that, cultural differences can further branch into popular references, workplace culture, lifestyles, and norms, among others. Understanding your learners and updating student profiles for your training material is a key factor in maximizing their engagement and thus their benefits from e-learning.
Zeroing in on your learner profiles for every target language ensures that you translate the training material in a way that maximizes their engagement and thus their acquisition and transfer.
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For example, according to a study performed by Carnegie Melon University on cultural variations in learning, the differences between the student-teacher relationships in Western and Eastern cultures could very well dictate a different approach to classroom-based training sessions.
In the University research paper, a Korean undergraduate is quoted as saying “In my country, students learn one way: from teacher to student. In the U.S., students learn many ways.” Another student reflects on Chinese learning norms: “In my country, there is a hierarchic relationship between teachers and students. Students must pay absolute respect to teachers. For instance, a student can’t interrupt the teacher by asking questions.”
This would ultimately depend on whether you’re doing onboarding, uptraining, cross-training, or something else entirely. Understanding what gaps there are to fill helps identify whether you already have the training materials to be translated, if you need more, or if you might need to merge some modules or use different tools or platforms for e-learning delivery.
Identifying these gaps, the processes, and tools to fill them reveals what technologies and methodologies you already use that can safely be adapted, which ones you need to change, and what you need to add.
For example, due to new standards stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, your original classroom-based learning modules will need to be delivered through synchronous webinar platforms complemented by asynchronous e-learning modules designed to emulate practical experience.
In this case, the localization required far exceeds translating the words in the slides your instructors are projecting in training rooms.
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It is also important to note that “gaps” in this sense need not be small. The gap could be a skill gap, which is usually the case and what companies often want to remedy through translating training material.
It could also be a process maturity gap where the training team process is not at the same level as your current team, so the learning curve is more significant.
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Then there are cases where the knowledge being acquired and transferred does not apply to the team being trained.
One example is an e-commerce company that needed sales process training translated into Japanese. They realized after completing the translation of over 40 modules that the sales process or strategy being translated didn’t align with Japanese business culture. The Japanese team had to modify the sales strategy before adapting the translated training material.
The base version is the original source for all materials to be translated.
In most cases you already have a finished training curriculum that you want to localize into various languages. That is your base version. However, what you need is a scrubbed base version with neutral language and zero cultural references to ensure that it’s easy to adapt into other languages and cultures.
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Do you already have a completed course that simply needs to be scrubbed into a neutral version? Will your base version suffice for every language based on the first two guidelines, or will it require some changes?
Do you need new base versions, for example for businesses expanding into new markets with entirely new processes where no training material currently exists?
Scrubbing the base version often comes with very detailed requirements, but overall, you’ll need to:
Naturally, factors identified during the course of exploring the earlier guidelines will need to be addressed. For instance, if the base version training material is mostly textual content but you realize that the target audience will benefit most from audio-visual material, the localization then expands beyond text translation and layout concerns, and into voice dubbing.
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In some cases, the base version increases in content volume from the actual original source in English, or its original language. This is due to some international teams needing new platforms, new formats, or new approaches that will work best for them.
In our experience, each client will have different needs based on their industry, experience, market penetration, and budget, among others.
So, it is indeed true that it will be by a case to case basis, but these three guidelines form a good foundation for the evaluation of what it takes to translate your training material. While they’re not definitive nor exhaustive, keep in mind each guideline can be expanded upon, broken down, or adapted as needed.
The process or flow of translating training material generally follows a single route:
There are quite a few potential areas of failure or delay, which is why companies often partner with translation companies to deliver on-time, on-budget, and on-spec.
You may want to attempt to translate your training materials in-house, using your Sales & Marketing team or freelance translators. Just make sure to weigh all the pros and cons of these solutions.
If you decide to hire translation services, they will help you evaluate the project and walk you through the process from start to finish to maximize your investment in training materials translation.