It’s a beautiful day out, so you go to the coffee shop across the street for your cuppa java instead of using the company’s coffee machine. As you wait for your traffic light to change, you see a car drive by. Something about it catches your eye: there’s no driver.
Have self-driving cars already taken over? You ask yourself. No. You quickly realize the car is just an import, made for a country that drives on the other side of the road. The “passenger” was actually the driver.
When the Familiar Becomes Unfamiliar
Driving is a skill that most of us eventually learn to do without thinking. However, the moment something different crosses our path, like a car with the steering wheel on “the wrong side,” we notice immediately and try to fit that new piece of information into what we already know. Because self-driving cars are still rare, we search for a more appropriate explanation and have a hard time focusing on anything else until that meaning has been found.
Learning new material in a foreign language has a similar effect on the learner. A foreign language speaker has to pay attention to many cues and details that come naturally to a native speaker, e.g., body language, colloquialisms and environmental details, to name a few.
Going back to driving on the other side of the road: Could you drive for two hours straight like you probably can at home? Or do you think you’d need more breaks to give your brain a rest? Your employees who need to be trained will tire sooner when focusing on something being taught in a foreign language. In the end, they’ll miss some of the information they’re supposed to learn, and you’ll miss some of your ROI on their training.
What is Localization?
Localization is the process of translating both language and culture into another language and culture. Here are a few examples:
- Changing the thumbs-up sign to something better understood in cultures where it might be a pejorative gesture.
- Finding suitable translations for expressions like “slam dunk” or “home run,” which don’t translate well because they’re based on North American sports.
- Changing forms of address. In North America, employees generally call their managers by their first name. Some cultures might see this as disrespectful.
Additionally, translating texts word-for-word is rarely a good idea. Look at the general French greeting “Comment ça va?” In English, that would be, “How it goes?” Here are a few more differences between English and other languages:
- Not all languages have a progressive tense. Speakers of these languages may not understand the difference between I run to the store and I am running to the store.
- Native speakers of other languages may not hear all the sounds in English. For example, some do not distinguish between the English l and r. Rent and lent might sound like the same word to native speakers of these languages.
- Several languages are written from right to left. Speakers of these languages may need more time to read English material because it’s both in a foreign language and written from left to right.
These differences mean that your international learners will process your material differently and will likely need more effort to focus on the message you’ve intended for them.
How Does (Not) Localizing Training Material Affect Employees?
Let’s go back to driving. What if a company launched a product that improved driver safety but gave its North American sales reps demo videos with cars driving on the left? Driving on the left side of the road doesn’t equal safety to North Americans; it equals collision.
Moreover, if the video were in British English and the narrator referred to the boot and bonnet of the car, North Americans might find themselves temporarily envisioning pieces of clothing while they sort out the meaning of those words using the context available in the video.
The end result? The training video would leave the sales force focused on the wrong message, and they might miss some of the information required to effectively sell the new technology. British English also carries different connotations for North Americans, depending on the context. It could suggest something refined, for example, or something old and historical. And we’re still within the same language here.
Localizing the video for a North American audience would involve replacing the British English speaker with an American English speaker and changing vocabulary where necessary. The car would also drive on the right side of the road. With these changes implemented, the sales reps wouldn’t be pre-occupied with images and words not normally used in their culture. Instead, they could focus on the true message of the video: the new technology that improves driver safety.
Learning material in a foreign language is hard work, even for employees fluent in that language. The unfamiliarity of colloquialisms, body language, and environmental cues can distract them. The amount of effort needed to process the foreign language can also exhaust them fast. In the end, your ROI on your training material will be much lower, because the training itself won’t be as effective. Using eLearning localization to reach your employees in their language will not only let them learn more efficiently, but it will also increase your ROI on your training efforts.