Interpreting needs: in-house training vs. outsourced language services

By Patricia Wallinger, Ottawa, Canada

Corporate Language Training: Knowledge Production


Corporations often hire interpreters for projects that require working in two or more languages. However, few interpreters have corporate training or knowledge, so each task must be assigned to two people: the corporate representative and the interpreter, often incurring added costs and delays. In these instances, it is often advisable to consider language training for corporate employees. Language training also incurs additional costs and delays, but they can be reduced by approaching language training from the same perspective as any production cycle, applying well-known, lean management principles to design and manage language training projects.


Language training and business management


If you have experience in project management, you are likely familiar with the core concepts of lean project management. What you may not be aware of, however, is the connection between business management and language training — both use the same tools. This means that many of the project management concepts you use every day can be applied to language training to bring efficiency and efficacy.


Let’s consider that a language training project is simply a production process, in this case, producing knowledge. The intangible nature of knowledge production need not be an impediment to a systematic and rigorous business approach. On the contrary, it can bring innovative and cost-effective solutions to corporate language training problems.


Interestingly, both the instructional design and business management fields emerged around the same time — the early 1900s.  And although they each evolved into complex and very different disciplines , they  both share some simple and similar core concepts: Plan – Do – Check. For example, one of the most popular instructional models, ADDIE, has five phases : Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation.   At the same time, Six Sigma, one of the latest and most popular models in management, has a similar, five phase approach: Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control. It’s very easy to see the similarity in the basic approach.


It is not about applying Six Sigma to a language training program, but the concepts which lean management styles bring to the table are worth exploring. Their perspective on minimizing waste, for example, can  help us  make better training decisions, which in turn help to avoid disappointing results for employees, training professionals, human resources staff, and ultimately the company which  invested in training.


Instructional Design is defined as “a systematic process that is employed to develop education and training programs in a consistent and reliable fashion” (Reiser & Dempsey, 2007). It encompasses the entire process, from gathering data and  analysing training needs, through designing and developing programs, to evaluating the training process itself. In other words, it is a process that brings efficiency and efficacy to a training project. There are various models of Instructional Design one can follow and each will have their own variation of five main phases necessary to complete the process.


1. Needs Assessment: Determining necessary information, gathering and analysing it to guide decisions regarding training.

2. Program Design: Planning of training program, including goals, duration, budget, participants, class size, and constraints.

3. Development: Planning and preparation of specifics regarding curriculum, class materials, instructors, and other resources needed to run the training.

4. Implementation: Launching of the program.

5. Evaluation: Assessing of the program, in stages and as a whole, in terms of efficacy and efficiency.


Determining Your Best Option


The decision   to run a training program or not will be based on the information gathered in the first phase of the process and the thorough analysis of this data. This means that the ID process begins  before a decision to conduct training is made.  It may well be that at the end of the Needs Assessment phase it is determined that running a training program is not the best option and the ID process ends there, before a single lesson is taught.


A very common mistake is to start an ID process with the assumption that a training program is needed.   But it’s important to make the distinction between wants and needs. The Needs Assessment should be carried out by  a neutral party that has no vested interest in the outcome; whether it is to move forward with the ID process or to discard the training prospect.  Just like W. Buffett brilliantly summarized this common incentive-bias in his well known quote: “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut”, don’t ask the trainer if you need training.


Defining Measurable Outcomes


Defining a desired and measurable outcome is as important to training as defining a specific production outcome is to business. “Speak English” is not an easily measurable outcome just like in the automobile industry; “Make a Car” is not an adequately defined outcome. The production department needs to know exactly what car to build and their success or failure will be measured based on the specifications given. In Language training, well defined outcomes will take into account metrics such as rate of fluency, errors per structure, and linguistic functions employed. You can think of it as a language performance equivalent of setting your metrics for production in DPU (Defect Per Unit) or OY (Operational Yield)


Having a clear vision of your language training goals and developing a strategy to reach them will return the greatest benefits for your company. Investing in the Instructional Design process allows you to bring lean management concepts to corporate language training, providing clear measurements of success while minimizing waste .






Profile of the Author:

Patricia Wallinger works as a consultant in the design and development of training programs. She has over ten years of experience in adult education, including training and evaluation of interpreters. She is a certified tester with the Center for Foreign Languages of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. She is co-founder of “The Good Collector”an initiative to promote solidarity and sustainable projects.


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