Today is your first day in a new role at a multinational organization. Your team is dispersed across the globe, and many of your co-workers don’t speak your native language. After making the proper introductions, your supervisor asks you to complete an online training course — which also isn’t in your native language. You manage to fumble your way through the course but, since you don’t understand the content, finish it feeling more confused than when you started.

While this scenario may seem extreme, it’s a reality for the many employees around the world who must attempt to learn in a non-native language. Kara Davis, client relations director at Multilingual Connections, says that if organizations don’t consider the importance of translation and training materials for non- or limited-English speaking audiences, critical information can be “lost in the process.”

“You need to meet people where they are, in the language in which they are most comfortable learning in, in order to see effective training results,” Davis says — but this is easier said than done. There’s currently 350 languages spoken in the U.S. and 7,111 languages spoken around the world. However, by harnessing the power of technology, L&D professionals can bridge language barriers in global training programs and set learners — and organizations — up for success.

Bridging Barriers

When training global audiences, “Persistent language barriers can affect the meaning of the training content, diminish the user experience and negatively impact company morale,” says Annemieke Scott, director of marketing at Acclaro, a translation and localization services company. Further, she says, language barriers can be a “demotivating force” for employees trying to earn certifications or complete exams. Technology can combat these barriers and ensure that learners across borders have the chance to learn and grow.

Technology has played a role in translation for some time now, but it’s constantly evolving as new technologies, such as neural machine translation (NMT) and automatic speech recognition, have emerged. “Technology is always changing and advancing,” Davis says. “Having the ability to host cloud-based e-learning trainings for people — anywhere, anytime, speaking any language — shows how technology gains can help bridge language barriers for corporate training programs.”

Stepes, a cloud translation platform, leverages artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and machine learning (ML). Alex Matsikas, client service manager at Stepes, says, “Instead of translating a course from scratch, we pre-process the content using AI and machine translation.” Then, Stepes’ professional linguists review and edit it. This process is cost-effective, Matsikas says, because machine translations are improving.

ZELENKA, a translation and localization services company, also uses emerging technologies, including computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. Michael Borkovec, head of projects at ZELENKA, says, “Using CAT tools increases consistency, reduces the risk of human error, increases flexibility and overall quality, and, last but not least, positively impacts rates and prices.”

Automating part of the translation process can also yield significant time savings, which is important, because Borkovec says the “most problematic” part of the translation process is time —how quickly a certain piece of content can be localized and delivered. Technology can speed up the translation process — without sacrificing quality.

Acclaro uses CAT tools with translation memory and terminology management functionalities to ensure consistency, quality and cost savings. Although managing and translating content across languages, platforms and channels is not easy, “Technology makes it easier and more efficient,” Scott says. “It empowers real-time language solutions that are compatible with desktop, mobile and web-based platforms, enabling cross-functional — and cross-cultural — collaboration.”

Jonathan Ha, director of distance learning at TransPerfect, agrees, noting that technology is critical in ensuring that the “more complex” course elements (e.g., interactive features, animation, video and audio) remain high-quality after translation. For example, TransPerfect’s Media.NEXT suite of services and technologies uses AI for a more efficient subtitling and dubbing process when translating video content.

Delivering impactful learning experiences is a challenge in and of itself, but delivering impactful multilingual learning experiences presents a “number of additional challenges,” Ha says. Innovative technologies offer learning leaders a way to overcome these challenges and deliver impactful global training initiatives.

The Future of Translation

Translation will continue to transform as new technologies emerge. Scott predicts that neural machine translation will gradually become a critical piece of the “translator toolbox.” She explains, “NMT engines can be trained to learn the corporate terminology and style, saving time and money in the translation process.” She also notes that eCloud-based translation management systems (TMSs), which are essentially “next-generation” CAT tools, along with purpose-built plugins/extensions that enable sophisticated multilingual content.

What do innovative translation technologies mean for human translators in the future of work? It’s unlikely that automation will fully replace the need for human translators in the near future. However, their roles will likely shift. Borkovec says human translators will have to be trained on machine technology post-editing (MTPE) to thoroughly understand “state-of-the-art” translation technologies. In other words, there may be a “significant decline” in the demand for human translation but a rise in the demand for MTPE, he explains.

Translation is largely a partnership between human skills and automation. For example, Multilingual Connections pairs “human capability” (e.g. professional linguists, fully-bilingual desktop publishing specialists, voiceover actors, and project managers specializing in multimedia and e-learning localization services) with technology (e.g. CAT tools, cloud-based project management systems and video) to provide quality language services, Davis says. At ZELENKA, Borkovec says, “open and human communication” with clients and vendors in addition to machine translation (MT) are necessary to provide quality language services on tight deadlines.

Building Connection

In the end, organizations can use technology “to connect people that otherwise wouldn’t be connected,” as Davis says. By using innovative technologies — paired with human skills — to translate content, there’s no limit to whom global training programs can reach.