Training for Different Language and Culture

Many instructional designers make the mistake of only thinking in their primary language, and forgetting that some things are simply not translatable. I try to keep simplicity in my course design so as to avoid the additional challenge that multiple languages creates. Designing only with English in mind is clearly a mistake when someone lives and works in a country like Canada. Here in Canada we have two official languages, English and French. Geographical speaking the majority of Canada speaks English, while French is mostly spoken in the province of Quebec.

A lesson designed for a new hire course revolved around the famous “Who is On First” routine by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. This lesson illustrated how easy it is to misinterpret what someone is saying. Using tasteful humour such as this example can be very effective in training, however because this comedy routine was never translated nor performed in any other language except for English, it could not be used in French speaking Canada. To do so would create more initial work for the designer, and creating a break in continuity between versions. This would also create additional work in maintaining future updates as well.

In cases where lesson material is designed only for learners whose first language is English, many learners who first language is something other than English will often fall behind the rest of the class. The reasons for this are many; however some examples might be they:
  • Only have a basic understanding of the language
  • Do not share a cultural background and will miss certain references
  • Are not familiar with technical terms or jargon

Like as in language, you should be very careful with humour when it comes to cultural differences. A humorous video may seem harmless, yet it may completely go against the grain of another culture. The resulting offense to another culture can detract from the purpose of training and force you to spend time putting out unnecessary fires.

The following things to avoid in your training may seem obvious; however you would be surprised how often people break with these rules. Avoid opinion or discussion that includes...
  • Profanity of any kind
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Cultural stereotypes
  • Sexuality
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Ethnic or racists remarks

There are several things you can do to ensure you don’t cross any lines. If you are unsure and think that a piece of material may be questionable, play it safe and simply leave it out. In this case it’s far better to avoid a potential problem with language and culture then to try and recover from it later.

Secondly you should always conduct a pilot or your training with a safe group of your peers. Try to include a culturally diverse group or bilingual group when possible, they certainly can point out problems that you may miss or may simply not be aware of.