Training That Travels Well

By Reynolds, Angus | Training & Development Journal, September 1990 | Go to article overview

Training That Travels Well


Reynolds, Angus, Training & Development Journal


Training That Travels Well

"I'd like one of the singing dogs, please!"

I never heard anyone say this, but as I rode to work on the train each day in Japan I often imagined just such a scene. A large sign on a building near Kamakura proclaimed in English, "Singing Bird and Dog Sale."

That harmless translation pales beside a famous mistake involving President Nixon. His translator rendered a comment of the Prime Minister of Japan as "I'll take care of it." A better translation would have been "I'll take it under advisement." That one created a major international incident.

The late 1950s saw the increasingly successful introduction of high-quality Japanese consumer products. Americans embraced these modestly priced, well-engineered products. But the quality of the goods was hardly matched by the instructions that accompanied them. Some user manuals (think training here) were almost unbelievable.

I have a stamp pad from that period. It was a remarkable product at a time when stamp pads had to be re-inked every few days - a messy job. But the instructions begin with, "Good for 1,000 stamp on face of abroad," and go downhill from there.

Fortunately, the Japanese have since made big improvements in adapting material for foreign use.

Training, like well-engineered products, will succeed when it is well designed and developed. But if automated training materials are to be exported, good design must include appropriate adaptation. It is both figuratively and literally the price of success. And while correct translation is certainly important, it's only one part of adapting training programs for use by foreigners.

Automated materials versus seminars

Many organizations export training seminars to non-English speaking countries, and they seem to survive the trip. Why would automated training be any different?

Only the most naive HRD professionals would believe that even seminar-based training can be presented "as is" on foreign soil. It can't and it isn't. No trainer wants to look like a fool by presenting inappropriate material, so the local national who delivers the imported seminar tends to provide more than a simple translation. He or she adapts the material, whether in advance or on the spot, to fit the local culture.

I once asked the director of training of Xerox do Brazil (the subsidiary in Brazil) how he uses training packages sent from Xerox's U.S. headquarters. Xerox packages were, and are, well done. He replied, "We never use them as they arrive. We always have to adapt them to fit in with our own circumstances."

With automated training programs, no local trainer can offer on-the-spot modifications. This type of training includes multimedia self-study packages, computer assisted instruction (CAI), and interactive video. In most cases, local subsidiaries or customers lack the technical capability to adapt such materials; the only recourse is to modify the materials before they are sent overseas.

Translation isn't enough

As we have seen from the Japanese singing dog, literal translation is rarely the best kind. John Eldridge, an automated courseware development consultant, says, "The problem is not to translate the words, but to convey the ideas across cultures. Employ a writer from the other culture to write your idea in the local language."

Translation can include aspects that sometimes elude parochial Americans. For example, in translating a CAI program into Spanish, a problem arose: Which dialect should be used? Depending on the subtleties of the language, the final product could be branded Cuban, Puerto Rican, or Mexican, rather than the desired "generic Western Hemisphere Spanish."

"Translation into Chinese" isn't sufficient. Which Chinese? The one spoken in Hong Kong (Cantonese) or in Beijing (Mandarin)? And that doesn't even address the problem that written Chinese characters in Beijing are not quite the same as in Taiwan. …

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