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Localisation and learning

This post on localisation and learning was written by Sarah Yau and first appeared on the Epic blog on 20th December 2012.

A photo of a set of hands from various parts of the world

One of my roles as a learning designer is to help create localisations of courses that will be used all over the world. I find it fascinating and immersive, and once I finish work for the day, my brain is often still in ‘work-mode’ as I respond to other things in my life.

For example, I was sitting with my husband one evening and we were about to eat dinner when he said, “I don’t understand the Hank Marvin thing…”. I thought about that for a moment and then asked what he meant. He had heard someone say they were ‘Hank Marvin’ and just didn’t get it.

What did it mean? I explained that Hank Marvin is Cockney rhyming slang for starving, so if someone says they’re Hank Marvin, they’re hungry. He understandably thought it was odd; why not just say you’re hungry?

But of course, he’s right. We frequently use terms or words which simply don’t make sense unless you were brought up in a culture where this type of language is used. How would you know what a term like ‘Hank Marvin’ meant unless someone told you?

This brings me to an important point: how do you plan and write effective elearning that speaks to users from all over the world? Is it just a matter of translating the text or do you need to consider anything else?

From my experience, you need to think about the culture too. For example, in most Asian countries white is considered to be the colour of mourning, whereas red and gold represent luck and fortune, and are used more frequently. When my husband and I got married, we had an intimate gathering of close friends and family from Chinese, English, Italian and German backgrounds.

We researched our respective traditions and fused our cultures together by setting a strict dress code – no one was allowed to wear white, green, blue or black because they have negative connotations in Chinese culture, or red, because that’s what I would wear.

If I step back and think about it, we take a similar approach with course localisations, tailoring the content of the course to the learners’ needs in each country. For Deloitte, we created a large learning suite to actively develop and test knowledge on international accounting standards which included examples set in scenarios all over the world.

We worked closely with their offices in each country to make sure we got the tone and content of the learning right for that country. We’ve even created a localisation for a course in Australian! I know, I’m writing in English, which, of course, is the native language of Australia. But some terminology, images and references didn’t make sense to Australian learners. We had to develop a version that engaged this particular audience.

The learner has to see the subject of their learning in a context that make sense to them. If you make the learning relevant to the user, it makes the content easier to develop an association with and really embeds the knowledge you’re trying to deliver.

Want to read more? Click here for LEO Learning’s tips on when to consider localisation