With the rise of cross-border mergers and acquisitions resulting from globalization trends, employees are asked to process and learn from content not written in their native language. Written corporate documents include corporate policies, operating procedures, product specifications and specific training materials that must be followed for health, safety or compliance.

Research data

Research supports the common sense belief that for adults learning in a second language is more difficult than learning in their native language. In addition, research raises the issue that there could be serious consequences for businesses that maintain a monolingual approach to training and communication. Researchers at the Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta Georgia documented the difficulties learners experience when reading in a second language.

Among these difficulties, one can find:

  • The lack of knowledge of English grammar and syntax may result in lower overall comprehension.
  • Difficulty with complex and compound sentences may result in a loss of the relationships between concepts and ideas.
  • Because conceptual frameworks and symbols may differ among different language and cultures, the reader may inaccurately identify what is important and what can be ignored.

Another interesting fact is that learners in a second language consistently fail to realize how much they actually don’t understand (based on Paul Nation’s 1997 article, see sources).

Start with an international audience in mind

Given the above findings, it is generally accepted that e-learning should be localized to ensure that it is linguistically and culturally appropriate in the country where training and learning will take place. Learning is one of the most culturally sensitive of all human activities. Content creation in English and within an American cultural context will simply not be appropriate, accepted or fully absorbed by non-native learners.

The most common method of creating training resources for multinational corporations is as follows:

Once a requirement for a new course is identified, internal instructional designers and/or outsourced third-party courseware developers create the material for an English-speaking audience. The course is then rolled out to the rest of the company after it is translated by either the courseware developer or an outsourced language services provider or local in-country personnel.

With that process, rework will mostly definitely occur because even though the content may be linguistically accurate, multilingual content needs to be analyzed in terms of graphical design, tone, symbolism and its cultural fit.

Graphic design

The expansion rule between English and other languages (both European and Asian) will impact dialog boxes, comic strip bubbles and Power Point text boxes as well as the audio narration that has to keep up with the display.


The tone of written text or speech is particularly relevant when dealing with customer relations and human-resources training. The U.S. tone is rather informal but it may be perceived as patronizing or disrespectful in certain countries and cultures.


As an example, remember that a checkmark may indicate that a task has been completed – or that the work has been done incorrectly. A four-leaf clover is meaningless for those who do not associate it with good luck.

Cultural fit

Logos, brand names need to be carefully reviewed to ensure that the words, color, symbolism are meaningful and not baffling or insulting.

The above considerations demonstrate that localization of e-learning content is more than translating the words. If the international audience is not integrated in the initial courseware development then it is often too late to prevent considerable investment in time and expense.

Partner with your language services provider

The optimal solution is to develop a strong partnership with your language service provider as you embark in the development of content for an international audience. The translation partner will help overcome cultural and language barriers by creating effective multilingual content. One recommended first step is to use a controlled vocabulary; being a set of standardized, simplified words that are translatable uniformly, the “controlled vocabulary” will reduce misunderstanding and complexities in the source content. Another recommendation is to select a language services vendor able to manage clients’ glossary(ies) and use translation memory to increase accuracy and reusability of previous translated materials.

Globalization trends and the importance of educating employees, suppliers and customers as rapidly and effectively as possible suggest that it is critical to consider the benefits of multilingual learning. Having access to information in one’s native language is key to ensuring that learning is taking place and that knowledge is efficiently communicated throughout the organization. By selecting a language services vendor that understands the cultural nuances and uses the state-of-the-art computer-aided translation tools, corporations will turn this challenge into a competitive advantage.

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