The Training Paradox: Internationalizing and Localizing Training Materials

By Emmanuel Margetic, Marketing Director, MultiLing Corporation

Localization of training materials can be quite different from localizing the product manuals and support materials most of us are used to. In this article, Emmanuel Margetic (Multiling International) discusses some of the issues that can face developers of training materials as they try to extend their reach globally.

You say tomāto, I say tomăto. You say tomāto, I say mafia.

Did you know that in Russia the word tomato not only means a fruit or vegetable (I’m definitely not going to tackle that produce argument) but it is also a slang term for the mafia?

Legitimate businesses generally try to stay as far away from the mafia as possible. But what if they were accidentally incorporating them into their training materials?

Assembling a successful line-up of training materials involves many different considerations and must be designed to be entertaining, multi-faceted and educational. Once a plan has been created to accommodate all of those aspects, they need to be drafted, approved, presented and distributed. Then, after all this work, the audience can enjoy the presentation, learn what they need to learn and receive some resources which will fundamentally improve their skills—unless they don’t speak English.

The world is steadily shrinking, particularly with the growing popularity and convenience of e-learning. Companies with the capability to go international are doing so, and companies without that capability are looking for the tools that will enable them to get a piece of the global economic pie. They may not, however, be totally aware of what they are saying as they go through that process.

Translating Training

One of the most important elements for a company to consider when expanding internationally is the translation of its materials, which range from legal documents and marketing campaigns to instruction manuals and training presentations. Translating any of these can be tricky, but translating e-learning and training presentations pose a unique set of problems. To do this effectively without losing the power of the presentation, there is a two-part process companies need to follow. They need to find someone to both internationalize and localize their documents. Those two concepts seem to contradict each other, but they are both necessary for a company to successfully make the shift to other cultures.


Internationalizing e-learning and training documentation includes removing idioms and other culturally sensitive elements to make it more broadly understandable. For example, if a training book had a section labeled, “Thinking Outside the Box,” people from other cultures who aren’t familiar with that phrase would need some background, or a different title altogether. While this eliminates some of the more powerful analogies, it prepares the presentation for a global audience and allows for culturally specific teaching examples to be added based on the audience.

Unfortunately, most training materials are not originally written with this in mind. Their creators are generally focused on their current market and don’t necessarily think about expanding internationally, and even if they were focused on it, they most likely be unable to identify everything that is culturally sensitive. As a result, adjusting for an international audience is an afterthought and occurs once the trainings have already gained a foothold in the primary language. This means that when they begin looking at other markets, they have to backtrack and complete this step before they can effectively move forward with the translation. Fortunately, some translation vendors have experience with this and can help the company move forward quickly. This is particularly valuable, since company personnel usually don’t have the time or knowledge needed.

The need to internationalize written material is just a start. When a speaker tries to make a training course applicable, he or she uses personal examples and interactions to help drive a point home. People don’t usually think twice about our interactions with people, but these relationships can have drastically different dynamics in other cultures. These differences can also extend into any number of commonplace activities or traditions. For example, if a presenter was training on communication and wanted to use a football analogy, he would probably confuse many international audiences because football is the term for soccer outside the United States.


Once e-learning or other training presentations are internationalized, they need to be localized so they resonate with the target market. Depending on the language, dialect, slang and culture of the place receiving the materials, the internationalized material needs to be modified so phrasing is appropriate and effective. For example, many people in Finland use saunas, to the point that it has become part of their culture. However, if someone gave a training course in Finland and referred to saunas, they would have to be careful about which phrases they used. Saying something as simple as “throwing water on the rocks,” referring to creating steam for the sauna, doesn’t have the same meaning it does in English. In Finnish, the above phrase, “heittää vettä,” would be culturally translated, “urinating on the rocks.” The correct phrase in this case would be, “heittää löylyä.”

Simply translating the text is one thing but ensuring the translated words have consistent cultural meaning and maintain the potency needed for effective training classes is entirely different. Even within a country, multiple languages, or different dialects of a language are spoken. Spain, for instance, has multiple states that are independent to the point of placing state allegiance over country allegiance. So, for a company to expand to that country, they need to find someone with the expertise to account for each of the ten or so languages, dialects and cultures.

Collaborating to Cross Cultures

While taking all these factors into consideration can be nearly impossible for one company, translation vendors can provide this expertise to help these organizations bridge cultural and linguistic divides. Whether or not a company decides to approach this process with a translation vendor, they should make sure the process is thorough, since the risks of poor translation range from losing a client to losing credibility in an entire market.

Rounding Up All the Training Materials

Most e-learning and other training courses are not simply an outline and a workbook. Several mediums go into a full training course, including: CDs, videos, participant manuals, workbooks, online applications, posters, books, slides and presenter’s guides. For the training to be successful, all of these components have to be completely consistent. If the workbook text differs from the steps covered in the video presentation, the audience will have trouble following along and understanding the concepts.

This requires a collaboration of Herculean proportions. Translators tasked with localizing these materials have to triple check each piece, continually going back and forth to ensure complete consistency. That’s more thorough than Santa Claus, who only checks his list twice.

Unfortunately, most businesses do not have the necessary expertise to accomplish this while maintaining the efficacy of the original training concepts. As a result, companies need to plan budget into this process to ensure they have the right resources involved, whether that be an increased commitment internally or the utilization of a translation vendor.

Reaching the Intended Audience

As companies work through this process correctly, they become more aware of what needs to happen and are able to think ahead and streamline their procedures, making it easier for everyone involved. If, however, they don’t take the steps necessary to ensure quality training and e-learning resources, they will not only have an increasingly difficult time on subsequent projects, but they will also struggle to generate interest with the resulting materials in their target markets.

International expansion is an exciting prospect, particularly in a time when the economy has fertile worldwide options. To be effective, the intended audience should be the key factor in deciding the best way to train. For foreign audiences, internationalizing and localizing paves the way for them to truly internalize and absorb the training the way it was originally intended.

Emmanuel Margetic is the director of marketing and sales for MultiLing Corporation and has been working in the translation industry for more than 12 years. Margetic has in-depth experience helping clients achieve international status and brand recognition through effective, localized communication and documentation. His role at MultiLing allows him to interface directly with companies, giving him a firsthand look at the challenges and successes of international business. Margetic graduated with an MBA from Brigham Young University.