translating learning and development content

Why you’re not translating L&D content

translating learning and development content

You’re not alone if your business isn’t translating Learning and Development content. Many multinational companies are in the same position. However, if you’re reading this blog post, I know you’re interested in L&D translations, and I can hazard a guess as to why.

If you recently downloaded our guide “Making the case for translating and localising L&D programmes” (get your copy here if you’ve missed out), you’ll know that there are good reasons for investing in L&D translations.

Content translated into your target audience’s native language can reduce employee churn, improve productivity, increase engagement, enhance employee skills development and maintain ‘process efficiency’ for all employees. But still, many multinational L&D teams are missing out on these benefits because embarking on a translation project can feel like a big step into the unknown.

That’s where I hope this blog can help. Here I will explain how you can get the benefits of translating learning and training programmes and minimise any risks.

Is translating Learning & Development programmes risky?

It shouldn’t be. However, some things can go wrong if you don’t have the right processes and support in place. There may also be a few things that are making you nervous about outsourcing your L&D content to a translation service provider.

3 common reasons multinationals don’t invest in L&D translations

  1. I don’t speak the language! How do I know if the final translations are of high quality?

You’re right! How will you know that your translated content is high quality and will deliver all the benefits we’ve been talking about?

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to check that your translation team can deliver the quality you require. The following 5 points will help:

  1. Don’t use non-linguists – it may be tempting to ask a bilingual colleague to translate your content and save money, but if they’re not a linguist they may struggle to deliver a translation that has the same impact as the original content. Remember too, that time is money: an inexperienced translator will take much longer than someone who works as a professional linguist.
  2. Use native-speaking linguists – while your linguist must have an excellent understanding of English (or the language your original content is in), they must have an even better understanding of the target language. That’s why we only use native-speaking translators.
  3. Look for subject matter expertise – work with linguists who have experience in your sector, and experience translating L&D programmes. They’ll bring their market expertise to the project and ensure your translated content has the best chance of engaging global employees.
  4. Ask for and check references – this is a vital quality control check, but often overlooked.
  5. Work with providers with quality assurance certifications – translation service providers that put quality at the heart of their businesses are very process led. Work with providers who have quality controls in place and relevant certifications, including ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 17100:2015.

If you have people in your team or decision-makers that are particularly concerned about quality checks, please point them in the direction of this article that provides a more detailed overview – How can I be confident in my learning and training translations?

  1. Proving that localising programmes will deliver a Return on Investment (ROI)

It’s not always easy to be 100% sure that translating programmes will deliver positive ROI. However, all the evidence suggests it should.

Until you actually invest in translation and localisation, you won’t have any metrics to measure learner engagement, learning outcomes or other important L&D metrics. Although when you do localise a programme, you’ll be able to use your English language version as a benchmark for the localised versions or perform a split-test in your target markets.

If you want to get an idea of the expected ROI now, you can take a different approach and measure how your non-localised (English) L&D programmes are performing in different markets. Using the UK as a benchmark, you’ll be able to see how engagement levels, employee satisfaction scores and other measurements compare. If you find that your local markets are consistently underperforming against these metrics, you’ll have a compelling case for localisation.

This is also a useful way of prioritising which types of learning and training programmes are localised. For example, if you find that poor learner engagement is having a detrimental impact on productivity, that could be a clear reason to localise a specific training programme.

Once you start translating and localising your programmes, the way you calculate ROI will depend on the metrics you have available and the objectives for your content. If you’re using feedback forms, surveys and post-training quizzes to collate this data, make sure you localise this content too. Otherwise, you might find that employees don’t engage with your feedback processes, even when they’ve engaged with the learning content.

For more insights into measuring ROI and discovering whether non-translated programmes are underperforming, please read my blog post: How do I know I’ll get ROI from translating L&D programmes?

  1. Lack of buy-in from local markets

Another reason that some L&D teams find it challenging to roll out multilingual training and learning programmes is that they get push back from local markets. Often local markets have handled the training needs of their local employees themselves and feel that they know them best. The local market may also have previously looked after all the translations, but you are now looking to centralise the process.

Getting buy-in is much easier if you involve the local markets from the offset. Here at Comtec, we will often work with our client at the centre to engage with local teams early on to listen to their concerns and understand their specific needs. We advocate a collaborative approach. After all, local market teams will be responsible for reviewing and signing off the translated content, so their involvement is critical.

I find that it’s easier to get support from local market colleagues when they’re convinced of the value of handling the translations centrally. It will make their lives easier and reduce their workloads, as well as ensure that their local employees are being given the same opportunities as their colleagues in other markets.

Your choice of a translation team is an integral part of building trust with local markets. Using an experienced provider that understands learning and development in their market and who is willing to work with your local teams goes a long way. At Comtec, we work hard to develop good relationships with local market review teams to build trust. When they realise we’re on their side and understand their concerns, we soon find they welcome our support and a lighter workload!

To learn more about how we work with local markets and help you manage any push back from your local market colleagues, please click here.

Next steps: selecting and onboarding a translation team

You may have a few other questions or ‘pain points’ to address before you’re ready to start handling translations. Every organisation is different, so please get in touch if you would like to discuss these. But once you have worked through any barriers to translation and are ready to invest in multilingual L&D content, what happens next?

Generally, the first step is to put your translation requirements out to tender and shortlist suitable providers. One of our clients, Insights, a leading learning and development company – talked me through the processes and selection criteria they used when looking to switch providers. You can read about this in more detail here.

I believe that finding a translation partner that shares your organisation’s values is fundamental. The translation process will need your L&D, local market and translation teams to all be working together to deliver a streamlined and stress-free translation project. So having a good cultural fit is just as crucial as having expert translation skills.

I also think that a partnership approach is much more effective than a transactional relationship. Successful L&D translations require the translation team to really understand your organisation, culture, employer brand, ethos and business objectives. Look for translation service providers that ask the right questions and want to get under the skin of your organisation.

If I were outsourcing translations to an agency, my criteria would include the following:

  • L&D translation and project management expertise,
  • Native-speaking linguists with experience of translating training and learning programmes,
  • Shared values and cultural fit,
  • Strategic partnership approach and a desire to be an extension of my team,
  • Willingness to tailor their services to my needs and align their systems and processes with mine,
  • Methods to help me manage the translation project and reduce my workload,
  • Responsive and communicative. An agency that will provide regular updates and is quick to answer your questions; one that employs staff that are client-centric and lovely people to work with.

No prizes for guessing who I’m thinking of!

I hope you’ve found this introduction into the world of learning and development translations useful. It really doesn’t have to be a risky decision to start translating your programmes and handling translations from your central L&D department. Many global organisations and multinationals are doing it successfully and getting all the benefits of a more engaged and productive workforce. With the right support, you can too!

Please get in touch if you have any questions about the subjects covered in this blog post or learning and development translations in general. Call me on +44 (0)1926 335 681 (ext: 214) or email

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