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5 Lessons Learned Writing Training for a Global Audience

writing for an international audience

We’ve been pretty busy over the past few years developing both instructor-led and elearning for a variety of organizations that are doing work around the world. As we’ve expanded projects with learners across the globe, we’ve learned a number of design lessons ourselves in the process.

If you happen to be working on training or learning projects with a global audience, perhaps these 5 lessons learned, as summarized by my colleagues Lauren Wescott and Erin Clarke, will help your projects move forward more smoothly.

Can you spot the difference between these two images?

Image Comparison without box

Perhaps you can save yourself from embarrassment, frustration, and time consuming re-work, while also learning from our mistakes when it comes to writing for a global audience. Read on for the answers to this “spot the difference” and to learn why it even matters.

Lesson 1: Start with the end in mind.

Starting with the end in mind when it comes to a global project with localizations (translations) is key to avoiding the unexpected at the end of a project. During the project kickoff, identify which languages will be used. And be specific. Is it French or French Canadian? Mandarin Chinese or Simple Chinese? American English or Global English? It matters. How you spell and pronounce the word favorite vs. favourite can change the translation and the pronunciations when it comes to voiceover. 

Starting with the end in mind also means asking lots of questions and discussing anticipated needs with the client. 

  • Do they have someone who can review the translation for accuracy?
    • If so, how much notice does that SME need? 
  • Will the training launch before all localizations are complete?
    • Or will it launch as each one is complete? 
  • What happens if a SME is unavailable for translation review?
    • How will you move forward? 

Answering questions like these can save lots of time, not to mention frustration, in the long run.

Lesson 2: Visually represent your learners.

“Those people are pretty, and they look nice, but…. they don’t look like OUR people.” 

Oof. This was actual feedback we got from a client when reviewing a storyboard. And here is the tricky thing—most stock images are of beautiful people. Being relatable is especially important for global contexts. The client who gave us that feedback about all of the people looking like models specifically asked for images of people who were older (meaning gray hair and wrinkles were good!), didn’t have perfect model bodies, and even had the occasional tattoo or colored hair as that more closely matched their learners. When choosing images, it’s important to represent all learners visually. This includes age, body type, abilities, skin color, and how they dress.  

Below are some stock photo & illustration sites we like that offer more diverse imagery:

Lesson 3: Diversify names of characters.

“We would like more African names used in this module.”

Similarly to how it’s important to represent the learners visually, it’s important to represent learners with the character names we choose. This means knowing the names that are commonly used in the localized languages. If you are not familiar with names, Google can be your friend. Many baby name sites offer popular names for various ethnicities and may also share nicknames, gender, or alternate spellings.

Lesson 4: Understand cultural context and values.

One client told us their work environment was mostly outdoor and all of their workers dressed in a casual style. So, we found images of people working outside in shorts and tank tops. After a few more conversations we learned, due to some religious considerations, images of people could not include bare shoulders, and they needed to be covered. It was an easy swap, but one that we could have avoided by understanding the cultural context and values of our global audience. It’s important to respect the cultural values of the learners who will be taking the training. 

Lesson 5: Avoid cultural stereotypes.

Remember the “spot the difference” images above? Did you spot the difference? It’s ok if you didn’t. The one difference was pretty subtle, although it had huge implications.

Image Comparison with box

We originally procured this image of a character with chopsticks in her hair. The image floated around through a number of review cycles until a SME pointed out that it probably wasn’t the best idea to depict someone with chopsticks in their hair due to cultural stereotypes. We’ve learned that it’s a delicate balance between representation and diversity and overdoing that by promoting stereotypes. This includes cultural, social, racial, gender, and religious stereotypes. When writing for a global audience, educate yourself about different cultures and groups and ask a peer to review your work. 

Writing a storyboard or a script for a training module is challenging and time consuming. When writing for a global audience, there’s just a little more detailed work to consider, but the dividends will make the investment worth it.

Do you have any lessons learned from writing for a global audience? Please share in the comments section so we can learn with you!

Do you have a project – instructor-led or elearning – that involves helping learners around the world build knowledge or skills? Not sure where to start or perhaps you need an extra set of hands? Drop us a line, and we’d love to brainstorm some ideas that might help get you on your way. If you need someone to help you develop the project, we can help with that too!

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