Found in Translation

April 1, 2005

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2005, Volume 0, Issue 0

When translating English materials into other languages, be careful of words that mean one thing in one dialect and something else in another dialect. Otherwise, you run the risk of referring to coaches as animal trainers.

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.

4 Use compatible platforms Whenever possible, create files in Microsoft Word and/or PowerPoint. Although your LSP may be able to work with other software applications, they are not as popular, so it's safer to stick with Windows-based applications. Often, marketing and regulatory affairs departments provide files in formats that are not easily editable—or not editable at all. Some LSPs work closely with commercial printing services and design artists, so using software that is widely compatible is most likely to ensure the layout and image quality that you want.

5 Avoid format problems Documents should be designed using as few fonts as possible. Ideally, all fonts found in the document should be available on the user's PC. Otherwise, the pagination and layout may change or become corrupted when new fonts are introduced.

A properly internationalized graphic file has all text elements in separate layers from graphic elements so that text can be localized and replaced in the graphic without disturbing the original artwork. Try to avoid complex graphics with too many colors or lots of detail. If possible, insert text in graphics by using text boxes, which are easily editable. This, too, will save time and money.

In the same way that documents should be created with target languages in mind, extra space should be left in tables and other graphics.

6 Size does matter File sizes influence two basic procedures: delivery and translation. It is more difficult and time-consuming to upload and download large files, so we recommend keeping single files under 3 MB. The translation process slows down when large files have to be opened and saved. Similarly, the number and size of graphics should be kept to a minimum, and use black and white images whenever possible. If the file size is still large, consider separating a document into shorter chapters or a series format.

7 Consider cultural differences Language barriers not only mean that training programs, research papers, and marketing materials need translation, but also that cultural differences have to be taken into account. A drug's brand name may be appropriate in one country, but totally unacceptable in another. Even in countries that share the same language, there can be subtle variations that should be considered.

Some time ago, we translated the largest training program in Pharmacia's history into Spanish. We had to consider whether executives in Spain or Latin America were the target audience, and which country within Latin America was the most important market. One word that appeared throughout the training manuals was "coach." In Spanish, this word can be translated in different ways, depending on the country. In some areas, the word has the same meaning as it does in English, but in others, the direct translation is "animal trainer."

To solve the problem, wording was developed to satisfy the needs of the company's most important affiliate in Latin America.

8 Provide—and ask for—feedback Once you finalize objectives and prepare a first draft of the training program, the next step is to contact local affiliates for input. When all of the content is decided on centrally, you can miss many important local needs, and run the risk of the affiliates feeling as though the content is imposed on them from the top, which might make them less accepting of it.

Two quick ways to request feedback from your affiliates are: to provide them with a Word document asking basic questions about your program, or to create a web survey. Use Web tools for post-training evaluations. Survey questions can be translated online, and if you choose a multiple-choice survey, responses can be analyzed in any language, regardless of the language in which questions were originally posted.

It's helpful to incorporate feedback from your LSP about the way training materials are created. The best results are achieved when you consider local needs across different regions, as well as input from your LSP.

9 Translate centrally You have the option of having materials translated locally, at each affiliate, or centrally. Whenever possible, translations should be centralized because it avoids duplication of costs, not having all materials ready at the same time, and differences in format or layout.

10 Plan ahead Once the original—usually English—program is ready, you can forward it to your LSP to begin translation. But because original training programs can have considerable mistakes in spelling, content, or terminology, it's best to have plenty of time for revision. Also, there are languages like Arabic or Chinese that involve changing the page layout to accommodate right-to-left differences. Other languages, such as Thai, have special requirements for long sentences. In some cases, a LSP might be able to detect these issues before the translation process begins, which will save time and money in the long run.

11 Participate in the process Most translation companies have the resources to preserve quality, but sometimes, one translator that may have had success with one client may not serve another's needs. Often, it is not that the translation is bad or unacceptable, but rather, affiliates (or managers) have different needs. Requesting a translation is like having a suit tailor-made: You are not buying a finished product; it must be adapted to your particular needs.

Companies should have someone from the local affiliate review the program and provide feedback early in the translation phase. And when translating large projects, which is often the case with training programs for pharma companies, it is advisable to forward a sample of the translation (10-20 pages) to each local affiliate for review.

12 Pay attention to industry trends Business needs will continue to shape the future of global training. Ed de Kievet, global director for training at Organon, says that managers will place greater emphasis on proving the ROI of programs and personalizing them "through the concept of the managed approach to learning—business process, required competencies and personal learning plans, all linked to performance management."

Niemczyk predicts a balance between self-paced and facilitated learning. Pressure to create a unified approach to selling pharmaceutical products worldwide will intensify. Technology, too, will have a big impact on the way training is developed and delivered, but in the end, proper feedback and time management will remain key in delivering successful, high-quality global training programs.

Jorge Arteaga, MD is president of Alter Translation Services. He can be reached at jarteaga@altertranslations.com.

Related Content:

Strategy | Leadership