This post was origianlly published on TrainingZone, on July 27th.
A growing number of companies — mostly multinational giants, but also medium-sized and even smaller ones — are riding the wave of globalization and expanding overseas. This means that they already employ or consider employing talent across regions and continents.
Employing a global workforce may lead a company to faster growth, improved productivity, and higher profits. While these business outcomes can be reached, it doesn’t mean they are easy to achieve.
A global workforce is still made of people, and people need support and training in order to develop professionally, increase their productivity rates and eventually contribute to profits. Thankfully, there are plenty of technological tools that can successfully support this process.
Why the global workforce benefits from multilingual training courses
Inevitably, employees from different geographical regions will speak various languages. Depending on where the mother company is based, its official language may be English, Chinese, Spanish, German, Japanese, or other. Generally, all employees, however, are likely to be able to communicate in the official language of their company, although they may not always have the highest level of language competency.
According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, there are six language levels, from A1: Beginner to C2: Proficient. In order to qualify for most jobs, global candidates need to prove they are at least at level B2: Upper Intermediate, on this global scale. However, there are significant differences between levels B2 and C2.
Depending on what types of jobs these employees will perform, communication mishaps based on language differences can vary from embarrassing blunders (like confusing the SEO person with the company CEO) to life loss and other serious casualties.
The riskier the job, the higher the need for companies to keep the level of linguistic miscommunication as low as possible.
That’s why company training programs should be delivered in the native language of employees — especially in the case of those performing high-risk jobs. But also to create a strong organisational culture.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. — Nelson Mandela
Companies that want to attract the best talent, to retain the best employees, to help them grow professionally, and to make them want to go the proverbial extra mile and be loyal need to reach not only these people’s rational heads but also their hearts.
This, in fact, stands true not only for training but for the entire employer-employee relationship.
How to make multilingual training courses relevant for your global employees
A successful training program must be relevant to employees and be aligned with both organizational and individual learning needs. Simply creating training courses in more than one language or translating existing ones will only get you so far.
There are a few things that need to be addressed in all stages of a training course’s design if you want your learners of different native languages to find them relevant:
Know your target audience
The first step course creators should take is to gather as much information as possible about the multilingual employees.
Good research will shine light upon things like the number of employees who speak different languages, what target languages the training courses should be created or translated in, and most of all, what cultural barriers might need to be overcome.
Trainers need to be on the same page with learners.
Don’t treat them differently
No matter where people are born and raised, their brains work the same when learning: new neural synapses are being created, others are being strengthened, yet others are getting weaker.
If one training technique or another has great results for the employees in the mother company, it will probably work for those in other countries or regions as well. Different tactics might prove more or less successful, but at the end of the day, the learning process is the same.
Fine-tune the visuals
All humans understand the world from many visual cues. Training courses for people of different cultures should adapt color combinations.
For example, Chinese or Latin-Americans are known to prefer bright colors and high contrast, while Nordics would rather see cooler colors and lower contrast. (This assumption may get you nowhere if you don’t do your research right though.)
Course creators also need to pay attention to the images they use in lessons, which should let people identify themselves with what they see. So if the training program is supposed to teach employees how to use a piece of heavy machinery, pictures with men in suits should be avoided.
Localize. Localise. Localize
The s-z-s from above was on purpose. Localization is a good idea even if you don’t have to translate courses.
People in the UK, the US, and Australia all speak English, right? Well, they might actually have an argument over what “barbie” means. (It may be the doll, it may be not.) Likewise, Spaniards’ Spanish is different than Mexicans’ Spanish, which is different again from Argentinians’ Spanish.
These tiny details will actually make a big difference for learners.
Make sure the localized training content is relevant
Allow me to repeat myself: a successful training program must be relevant to employees and be aligned with both organizational and individual learning needs.
You can spend many resources on creating or translating courses, localizing them, and making sure they are culturally appropriate. But if the learning materials are not relevant to the specific job or department, nobody will bat an eye to it.
Organizations that break geographical barriers do this because they know how much potential a global workforce can bring to the table. Thanks to globalization, the risks are getting lower, and the outcomes are getting more and more attractive.
But a global workforce needs training too, and there are a few details that can make or break a training program for multilingual employees. Besides translating courses, localizing them, adapting them to the various cultural differences, the most important aspect when determining the success of a multilingual training course is its relevance and alignment with both individual and organizational learning needs.
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and MATRIX. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author, and educator.