In our increasingly global economy, those of us in the training industry find an ever-increasing need to communicate with a worldwide audience. This blog post considers some of the challenges that we face when designing and developing online training applications intended for global distribution. We are sharing these challenges, experiences, and insights so that, as an industry, we can exchange information and explore ways we can improve communication with learners worldwide.
Companies in the Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, and Translation (GILT) industry recognize that designers and developers who underestimate the GILT effort are in for ineffective, delayed, and costly outcomes. Training companies, however, who plan GILT efforts carefully, have a clear vision and strategy, and follow localization guidelines find that we are able to optimize time-to-market, meet budget requirements, and produce training that is effective in multiple languages and cultures.
What follows are four areas of localization challenges that we regularly consider at Enspire Learning, along with a few questions about what might be next in our industry for globalization of online training products.
Text is perhaps the simplest aspect of a course to translate, but it deserves careful consideration nonetheless. One must consider that translated text typically increases English text length, so screen real estate and layout become an issue. We’ve found that it is smart to design screen space to anticipate an increase of about 25% in length. Additionally, it is important to plan space for translating interface elements, caption text, menu items, on-screen instructions, and navigation tips. Because each of these areas on the screen need to be able to allow for alternate languages, including languages with entirely different alphabets and symbols, we’ve found it important to begin the design phase with text-based translations in mind.
Beyond translating text, writers must recognize that although a large amount of linguistic communication is informal language, idioms, and analogies, these are challenging (and often impossible) to translate. Therefore, scriptwriters must find ways to convey information not only without the use of vernacular language, but also using metaphors and analogies that will transcend cultures. When writing training material for the American Heart Association, for example, one of our greatest challenges was to script realistic scenarios between doctors and patients using convincing dialogue but without use of colloquialisms, idioms, and informal language. Our solution was to script the course using International English throughout.
As a writer, finding attention-getting and meaningful ways to connect with an end user in the mediated online environment is challenging already. But finding ways to “hook the learner” (an idiom itself) and communicate powerfully with a global audience takes that challenge to a new level.
Localizing audio includes all aspects of audio elements from the tone of the opening music and types of SFX, to languages of voice over narration and dialects of characters. The work required to translate text, for example on an HTML page, is substantial. Audio localization requires significantly more work. Even a script with one-voice narration requires text translation, professional voice talent, high-fidelity recording studio, a sound engineer, a director, and post-recording processing and editing.
So what do you do when the voice, language, and dialect is critical to the communication of the content? We were recently in the situation of developing characters for a global humanitarian aid group’s course. The scenarios required, in part, the following character voices:
- Sarah: Caucasian female, 30-ish, Northern European accent (Swiss, Scandinavian, Dutch)
- Maya: African American female, 40-50 yrs old, British/South African accent
- Afammi: African male in late 40s, British or European accent from South Africa–similar to Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe
- Chin-Mae: Asian male in early 40s, slight Asian accent but still English-speaking
We scouted talent around the world to find the specified accents and dialects. We had the client listen to voice talent samples to select just the right voice talent. And we cast the voice talent. We also patched in the client to some of the recording sessions for which they were particularly interested in specific intonation and inflection. The project is a global success.
What if you don’t have that kind of audio budget? Plan ahead. Creatively. We recently worked with a small company needing a rapid development and release of global training on a health care device. We devised an approach in which we designed the project from the beginning to use limited voice-over. We strategically designed the project to rely heavily on visual communication strategies: images, graphics, and demonstration animations. For information that needed to be conveyed with text-based language, we incorporated dialogue bubbles, labels, and other creative on-screen text approaches which were translated much more economically than voice-over narration.
Planning for translation up front allows us to identify content approaches, audience needs, and the project budget, so that as we design and develop the project, we are continually planning for translation.
Most trainers are aware that icons, colors, and symbols – even body language and hand gestures – can differ in meaning from culture to culture. At Enspire we’re also aware of the more subtle ways that visual communication conveys information, and so we take into account aspects of visual communication such as screen layout, human elements (skin color, facial features, even hair style), environments (city scape, rural, urban, mountains, terrain, weather) and regional visuals such as road signs, architecture, and other environmental cues.
One simple example of how we’ve maintained sensitivity to cultural perspectives is with a recent project with a multinational semiconductor company. We needed to illustrate how small a particular new processor chip is, so we used an image of a hand balancing the processor chip on the tip of a finger. However, because the project will be translated into 11 languages, some of which consider the left hand to be offensive, we flipped the image so that it appeared to be a right hand. For other companies, we’ve blurred backgrounds so that users aren’t distracted by seeing a setting that is unlike their own, changed skin color and facial features on illustrated characters to create greater diversity, and altered logo placement for greater impact.
Cultural adaptation of scenario-based training events include analysis of cultural issues as well. If budget permits, a pool of scenarios can be designed so that situations can be presented appropriately based on the culture or environment of the learner groups. Often, however, creating multiple scenarios is not cost-effective, and designers need to create case studies that are general enough to meet the needs and issues and challenges of a global audience. One approach we have found effective is to focus on the similarities across cultures rather than the differences. We work with clients to identify values, standards, and business behaviors in their industry that cross cultures. For example, sales forces worldwide must learn to deal with rejection. So we ask how we can create global training on effective ways of handling rejection and build scenarios that allow learners to practice appropriate methods.
In a recent leadership training project for a large global audience, we created an engaging, simulation with a storyline that was general enough to capture the imagination of executives in the corporate environments worldwide without creating a sense of location that would be distracting or alienating. We also included illustrated characters from several cultural backgrounds to create a sense of cultural diversity. Visually, we designed abstract backgrounds (rather than localized with a specific environment) with silhouettes of people (rather than distinct facial features) so that learners could envision themselves in the scenario rather than being distracted by a detailed setting or characters.
Do you have stories to share? How do you communicate through text, audio, visuals, and scenarios in ways that reach across cultures? Let us hear from you!