To train globally, you’ve got to think locally. The more you speak the audience’s language, the more effective your training will be.
Say you’re a hotshot trainer from the South Bronx trying to make a point in Beantown Boston. Even if the Yankees are in first place, you aren’t going to start talking up America’s #1 baseball franchise to a room full of Red Sox fans. You’ll lose that crowd faster than you can say “Babe Ruth.”
That’s triply true in translation. Local color fades in the translation wash. And inside baseball talk must stay inside baseball. That moment of incomprehension can trip up an entire training program. In cases like these, translation is no solution. Content has to be adapted to suit the needs of the audience. The localization devil is in the details.
So before we translate, training content has to be “internationalized.” A trained specialist should review source content to make sure it will work in any language, and make a note of where it won’t, so that alternative adaptations can then be translated.
That internationalized document adapts original concepts in a way that informs and hopefully inspires the intended audience.
So, when do we localize instead of translate in your training material? Here are some things to watch for.
Size matters: At least if you are planning to print out. 8.5” x 11” is a quaint American quirk in this metric age. Go with A4 or go bust. This can be a costly headache.
Product names: Brand names don’t change much from country to country, but product names and taglines do. If your translators aren’t talking terminology, you’ve got a localization problem.
Titles: People get prickly when you mis-identify their position. Job titles are notoriously difficult to translate since title-holders often have closely-held opinions of how they want to be described in another language, regardless of a translation team’s judgement. Proceed with caution to avoid stepping on toes.
Humor: Internationalistas take note. Humor doesn’t translate, so stop it. That wasn’t funny, was it?
Numbers, currencies, weights and measurements: Numbers always require localization. Phone numbers change from market to market. Number formatting differences cause confusion and alienation in different markets, and it’s always the first thing people notice. And of course it gets more complicated. Does an American woman know how many stones she weighs? Does a Dutchman man know his weight in pounds? If your training references health, mathematics, science, business or even baking, localizing and adapting weights and measurements will ensure that audiences can more accurately and logically conceptualize the amounts you are referring to.
Acronyms and local culture: While acronyms and local cultural references can serve as useful shorthand, they also work as in-group filters. For example, in the US the IRS is considered a fact of life and so the acronym is not often defined when referenced. However, someone from outside the US, unless they loved watching American TV shows or had some other reason to be in the know, probably would not know that IRS stands for Internal Revenue Service or that this agency is in charge of tax collection and tax law enforcement in the US. Don’t inadvertently lock a new audience out – try localization instead.
Cultural and sports references: Even Red Sox fans know better. Stay outside baseball, and away from references to cartoon or TV show favorites that will leave your audience with a blank screen mentally. Some would argue that soccer (football) speaks a universal language. On the other hand, it’s probably a good idea to keep football fans from getting too excited.
Slang and colloquialism: Use it. With careful attention, adaptations can really help communicate a message. Localizing any slang used in the training means that the new audience will be able to receive the information in the way that the creators intended for the original audience.
Dialect: Even in English it makes sense to localize between UK and American English to ensure training understanding. The same holds true in all the old imperial languages, French, Portuguese and Spanish, which all differ significantly from country to country. Chinese poses particular challenges. The degree of localization required in each of these will vary from project to project.
Whatever the topic of your training, localization ensures that those in your target market clearly understand your message and reach their objectives in the most natural way possible.