Found in Translation

The language barrier is just one of the challenges to overcome in developing global teams.
Apr 01, 2005

Global expansion through the creation of foreign affiliates or acquisition of smaller companies often makes good business sense. But, exploration of new foreign markets means overcoming language barriers and understanding completely new cultures. This article offers tips on addressing the challenges of training global teams, mainly—though not entirely—from the perspective of language barriers and translation-related issues.



The challenges of training global teams revolve mainly around location, time, and financial and technological resources. It must first be decided whether everyone will convene in one place—or at least be accessible at the same time (web conferencing, web casting)—or undergo training individually, through self-learning techniques.

Often, the most cost-effective and easy-to-implement approach is a combination of the two. The available budget will largely determine options. A limited budget, for example, may prohibit face-to-face meetings, so distribution of a CD for online self-learning is a good way to go. Another option is to organize train-the-trainer sessions and have each local team deploy local programs. Training materials must be ready in advance in different languages, and they should all look very similar. If you can afford it, preparing printed materials and gathering your teams in a single location can provide good return in terms of learning and motivation.

Regardless of whether it takes place at a single location or among several, global training involves considerable spending. It is therefore a good idea to define measures that are likely to improve return-on-investment (ROI).

Jon Niemczyk, director, global performance development, international pharmaceutical, for Alcon Labs says that global training participants at his compan are required to adhere to a list of pre-meeting requirements, such as completing certain reading assignments. And according to Paul Elias, curriculum and media development specialist with Performance Design, a common problem when dealing with global training is a lack of buy-in on behalf of the participating company. If trainees are not properly prepared—or worse, forced to participate in inadequately supported training—optimal results will not be achieved and ROI will be unsatisfactory.

Here are 12 tips for creating a successful global training program:

1 Ask a language service provider (LSP) for input Preparing training programs involves several phases, from selection of content to selection of the development team. Even if you choose an existing program, it is still advisable to have it evaluated by a LSP for adequacy and adaptability. Not all training programs are created equal: Some are ready for translation, and others are not.

2 Follow basic text guidelines Use the following guidelines when creating documents for your program:

  • Use simple English to enable easy translation.
  • Avoid using humor—or use it very carefully.
  • Limit the use of abbreviations, and when they are necessary, always include their meaning at the first mention. If you must use them, a glossary is extremely important, because it's a waste of time for trainees to repeatedly inquire about acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Avoid using idioms, slang, and culture-specific phrases or words.
  • If you must use area-specific jargon or vocabulary, include it in the glossary. This will help the translator, as well as the final reader.

3 Consider your target language When creating the original English version of a training program, think about the languages into which the program will eventually be translated. Otherwise, problems can arise in the translation process. One third of each page, ideally, should be left blank so that paragraphs in languages less concise than English will not run onto the next page. If not, the translator wastes time (and money) keeping the original formatting and pagination.