People are actually planning to go on Mars. If the minimum distance between Earth and Mars is about 54.6 million kilometers — and people are seriously considering this journey — then the distance of 19,996 Km between Rosario, Argentina and Xinghua, China (the world’s farthest-apart city pair) is a joke.

Geographical distance is rather an inconvenience than an insurmountable obstacle. People travel all the time now and they do this for two main reasons: leasure or business. Let’s focus on business.

Opening a company office in a country other than that of the headquarters is not something only corporations can do nowadays. In fact, many small-ish and medium-sized businesses go for this approach. Sometimes it just makes more sense to work with talent from other regions of the globe.

Technology also plays a crucial role in this. Communication tools, video conferencing tools, or work flow management tools are all part of a smooth collaboration between the members of a multi-national company, that work across continents and time-zones.

So people mobility and technology have offered the possibility for many businesses to open new branches overseas and grow exponentially.

Training a global workforce

Company growth is based a lot on employee development, and this often means some sort of training. And if we’re talking about a diverse workforce in more than one location on the globe, cultural differences and language variety have the potential to become serious challenges. So company training programs need to be targeted to each group of employees, and their native language should be an important variable.

Perhaps translating training courses is not the case for each and every company expanding overseas — it all comes down to the domain of activity and the internal communication language of your organizations.

But any highly technical and/or risky job should allow no room for error. It’s one thing to chat with colleagues about everyone’s vacation plans, and a totally different thing to read and understand a manual of a heavy machine that can cause serious damage if handled improperly. English is the world’s second language, but conversational English — which may be enough for employment — is certainly not enough for understanding and communicating all aspects of highly technical and/or risky jobs.

So training offered in the native language of each employee performing these kind of jobs will decrease their chances of making costly errors.

What are your options when creating multilingual training courses?

If creating courses for company training in more than one language is a must for the well-functioning of your organization, what are the options for your L&D team?

Well, there are at least three: 1) technology, 2) people, and 3) a combination of these.

  1. Use translation technology

    The most obvious example is Google Translate, but there are plenty of other translation software of the market.

    Why go for this option?

    • It’s the fastest one. You just have to copy and paste the text from the input language to the output one.
    • It offers many language pairs and it continues to add more and more; the limits are farther and farther.
    • It can be embedded within your company LMS. This means you can have your existing courses translated with a few clicks, without leaving your training software.
    • It constantly improves. Google Translate is just one example of Artificial Intelligence that gets smarter and smarter over time.

    Why hold back on this option?

    • It’s still not as smart as we would want it to be. Automated translation blunders should not be a part of any training material, no matter their impact on employees.
    • It’s not exactly the most secure way. Google Translate stores all the input data. It uses this data to improve its automatic translation algorithm, but your confidential training information is not that confidential anymore.
  2. Consider professional translators

    These people are either freelancers or collaborate with a translation agency. Native speakers of your target language could be your best bet, as long as they have proven experience translating documents in your specific vertical.

    Why go for this option?

    • It usually offers better quality. This happens because human translators have a knack for understanding context and can express complicated ideas in the most fluent way.
    • It ensures the security of your training information. You can actually sign confidentiality agreements with these people.
    • It offers a higher degree of specialization. Technical translations can be too much for translation software and they definitely shouldn’t be handled by amateurs.

    Why hold back on this option?

    • It’s definitely more expensive. Because, you know, you have to pay those people with amazing brains to convey your training materials from one language to another — and do this right.
    • It takes more time. Translators’ brains may be amazing, but they still get tired and need time to perform this type of work.
  3. Combine technology with professional translators

    This is because you can have the cake and eat it too. Translation is just another industry being transformed by technology. It shouldn’t be people versus machines; it should be people to the power of machines.

    Why go for this option?

    • It’s the middle way in terms of money. You mostly pay professional translators to revise the output of the translation software, not to translate something from scratch.
    • It’s the middle way in terms of turnaround time. Because, again, human translators don’t have to do all the work, they just have to intervene where necessary to ensure the quality of the document.

    Why hold back on this option?

    • It’s not that perfect yet. The quality of automated translation is based on big data. If the data is not that big, the algorithm can’t make educated guesses, so the outcome is bound to be littered with gibberish.Also, some translators may refuse to work on an automated translated document, feeling that it takes more time to mend each paragraph than to do it all from scratch.

If your language pair is English<>Spanish or English<>French and your training materials are rather general, Google Translate could really solve your pain of translating training courses for your global workforce.

But if your employees speak a more exotic language (say, Filipino or Yiddish) and your training materials are technical, turning to professional translators might be a better idea.

In order to assess if translation technology can really support the work of translators, you definitely need o present your case in front of professional translators to get a targeted answer to this question.

Wrapping up

If your company has — or is working towards opening — at least one office in a different country, training all employees should remain a top priority. If the employees from that office perform highly technical or risky jobs, your L&D team should seriously consider translating training courses in the native language of those employees, even if they speak your internal communication language at a conversational level. For this, you could turn to translation software, professional translators, or opt for a combination of these.

Author: Livia M

Livia is one of the online voices of MATRIX by CYPHER LEARNING. She writes about workplace learning and L&D strategies for businesses, as well as other training and e-learning related subjects.