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Four eLearning localization challenges

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Navigating cultural subtleties and communication practices in a time- and cost-efficient way poses a unique set of hurdles that must be overcome.

More than eight in ten employees believe that employers should provide learning opportunities. In particular, Millennial workers value ongoing learning.

Delivering on employee expectations and remaining competitive in the global marketplace is no easy task. Here are four challenges organizations face when shaping their eLearning localization strategy:

Challenge 1: Selecting the language for your training program

English is the most spoken language in the world, and although most English speakers are not native, it is still a highly accessible option – especially in higher proficiency, mature markets. According to the English Proficiency Index, Scandinavia, areas of Western Europe, Singapore, and South Africa boast the highest level of non-native English proficiency.

However, as more organizations expand into emerging markets with low English proficiency, the challenge remains: which language is best? The answer is a simple one: the local language.

In lower proficiency markets, do not be tempted to present your learning materials in English, as staff may spend more time and effort improving their English skills than learning their core duties and developing critical skills.

Emerging markets include:

  • Indonesia
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Some Latin American countries
  • Some Middle Eastern countries

Challenge 2: Meeting audience expectations without sacrificing effective eLearning materials

Consider the elements of your eLearning materials – think beyond the text to features like images, people, stories, and graphics. These additional elements must be tailored to meet the cultural needs of your audience without reducing their impact or changing their meaning.

Areas that may require tweaking to address cultural sensitivities include the following:

  • Color choice – Some regions associate different colors with different moods, events, or connotations.
  • Gender – Some countries or regions are more open-minded than others when it comes to gender.
  • Pop culture references – Mickey Mouse and Elvis Presley might be ingrained cultural icons in the United States. But in other parts of the world, pop culture references may not resonate or may offend.
  • Humor – Be cautious when making jokes – what is funny in one part of the world may be offensive in another. It is understandable that you want to make the courseware fun or that you feel like using colloquial language to boost your users’ engagement. But humor is culture-specific, not international at all, so be prepared for your inspiration to be neutralized – literally and figuratively. That is not to say you should not use humor at all to delight employees, you just have to make it more generic and make sure to localize it for the target audience. One study found that humor reduces learner stress, makes a course more engaging, and improves information recall.
  • Business hierarchies – Businesses are structured differently worldwide, and the people in specific roles and how those roles are depicted vary, too. Typically, Westerners adopt a top-down management style. In East Asian countries, for example, mid-level management consensus is the norm. What’s more, context-conscious cultures prefer clear rules and unambiguous leadership styles.
  • Dates – Calendar and date/time formats depend on the locale and the religion. Besides the Gregorian calendar used in most countries of the West, there are also the Japanese, the Hijri, the Taiwanese, the Hebrew lunar and the Japanese calendars; you’ve probably heard about the Chinese New Year, which is nowhere close to January 1st. However, even in the same calendar, there are countries where the first day of the week differs, such as in the Arab-speaking world where Friday and Saturday are non-working days, but Sunday is the first day of the working week.
  • Numbers – When it comes to numbers, the thousand and decimal separator is the most common issue, but then you should also keep in mind the negatives, the shape, and the grouping of numbers.

Challenge 3: Keeping eLearning costs in check

The more complicated your eLearning materials, the greater the investment required to localize the content. Here are three golden rules of keeping your costs in check and achieving a scalable eLearning localization strategy:

  1. Wait until your source content is complete – that means no further edits – before you begin the localization process. If you need to make changes to your original content, those changes must be repeated in all localized versions, too, a process that takes time and costs money.
  2. Always provide native editable files. To analyze and localize any file, your localization partners need to be able to edit the text in your native documents. For example, even though text could be extracted from PDFs, it requires extra formatting work that also brings additional charges. Also, avoid including text in your images, as this can complicate the translation and localization process. Texts within the images may increase cost and time affecting the eLearning localization process, as there is a certain amount of extra work involved in the extraction and import of the text.
  3. Decide between subtitling and voice-over. Adapting multimedia content for another country is a complex procedure that involves a lot more than simply translating the language. One of the most important decisions one must make is between using subtitles or voice over. Subtitling requires less time and money, however when deciding which method to follow one needs to also consider other parameters.
  • What is the purpose of the video and the visibility?

Example: A message from the CEO may be best conveyed if it is dubbed, but a training video can meet its purpose with subtitles only.

  • How much on-screen text is there?

Example: If your video or interactive presentation is heavy on text, then subtitles may not be a good option as your audience will need to rush through both and thus attention and focus may be impaired.

  • Which is the target country or locale?

Example: In Spain almost all foreign-language video is dubbed while Greece has traditionally used subtitles in most multimedia content

  • What is your available budget?

This can be the most important factor as the cost for subtitling can be up to 15 times less than that for voice-over.

However, no matter which approach you decide on, there are still some technicalities you will need to be mindful of.

If you are subtitling:

  • Subtitles need to stay close to audio but there will also be cases where sentences may be adjusted in translation to convey the required concept without sacrificing viewers’ experience (eg. display time and reading speed).
  • Be mindful of display mode and time. Subtitles need to stay long enough on screen so that readers can read it through while keeping up with the video. Display mode should also be considered. You can select the font and you can add background and color to subtitles to facilitate reading, depending on the color of the slides/screens. You can even select where to position subtitles depending on where your on-screen text is.
  • Choose between soft-coded or hard-coded subs. The number of languages you need to deliver your multimedia content in as well as the technology or platform you are using to deliver it will play a role in this decision as it may support one or the other type.

If you are dubbing:

  • Select appropriate voice talents that match your training characters. It’s not always just a matter of selecting a male or female voice. Depending on your training content, you may also need to consider accent, warmth, articulation etc.
  • Validate your script before recording. If you realize changes in the script are required after recording it, costs will be high.

Challenge 4: Not all language companies have L&D experience

Localization is not always a straightforward process – it requires both a nuanced understanding of cultural differences and up-to-date eLearning best practices.

Not all language companies possess the multi-dimensional skill set, in-country linguists and tool set required to successfully localize learning content, a process that may require animation adaptation, video recording, voiceover, and other specialized capabilities. What’s more, all localized content must then be re-integrated into the L&D authoring tool or platform, which might be off-the-shelf or custom-built.

Want to learn more about eLearning localization? Then download our “Ultimate eLearning Localization Guide for L&D Professionals” for free! 

Read also:

What Is eLearning Localization? How Is It Different from Translation?

Closing the Corporate Communications Gap With Localization

7 Ways to Successfully Manage International Teams

Measuring the Localization ROI in Corporate Training

8 Tips for eLearning Localization

The Benefits of Localization for Your Global Training Strategy

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