Beyond Translation

By Laroche, Lionel; Bing, John et al. | Training & Development, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Beyond Translation


Laroche, Lionel, Bing, John, Bing, Catherine Mercer, Training & Development


It's dangerous to assume that a program that's effective at home can simply he translated into the languages represented by the other cultures.

With more companies going global, their HR infrastructures must follow as quickly as possible. Launching global training, however, requires more than just translating existing programs into new languages. As companies acquire other companies or divisions or merge across country boundaries, it's critical to understand cultural differences.

Designing any kind of training requires a good knowledge of the audience, but it becomes more important when the cultural backgrounds of the audiences differ and when there are multiple cultures within a single session. It's dangerous to assume that a program that's effective at home can simply be translated into the languages represented by the other cultures. A translated program may become ineffective abroad because the audience expects different processes or examples or because the style of the exercises might not fit participants' comfort zones regarding learning.

In fact, the definition of a good training program varies in specific ways from country to country. Some of the most common differences are applicability of the training, training style preferences, use of technology, and examples used in the program.

Applicability. Certain types of training are more applicable to some audiences than to others. For example, English as a Second Language training is often not needed in The Netherlands, where most people born after World War II speak English well. In contrast, ESL training is more applicable to French and German audiences.

Different cultures also regard some skills as more important than others. For example, French workers consider leadership to be a must-have skill, even over management skills. The consequence is often over-led, under-managed teams. American leadership training, on the other hand, often starts from the assumption that teams are under-led and over-managed. Therefore, American leadership programs often miss the mark when delivered to French participants because the U.S. programs focus on such leadership skills as vision, goal definition, and how to motivate people, rather than on management skills such as tracking figures and defining specific tasks. The already well-led French team or French team leader may think that's a waste of their time or, at best, the wrong emphasis.

TIP: Conduct a multiple-country needs assessment to detect differing participant needs before determining the training content.

Training style. Training style preferences vary greatly from country to country. In countries with cultural preferences for hierarchy, such as Japan and France, good training tends to be defined as a transfer of information and knowledge from the professor to the students, with limited responses from the students.

TIP: Training programs developed in hierarchical countries tend to have a high proportion of lectures.

In hierarchical countries, the teacher or trainer commands more respect than in other countries. Participants expect a great difference in power and knowledge between them and the instructor.

TIP: A facilitator from an egalitarian culture who tries to become close to participants from a hierarchical culture may be viewed negatively for being too informal.

In hierarchical countries, the power discrepancy between the instructor and the participants can affect the number of questions they feel comfortable asking. In some Far Eastern nations, for example, participants may not feel comfortable asking any questions. …

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