I was talking with my 19th month old daughter and smiling at the gestures and facial expressions she was using to get across her point. I smiled at my own stepped down vocabulary in order to hold a "meaningful" conversation with her. It's funny how kids find words to express themselves. For her, hurt is "boo boo", walk is "walkie walkie", biscuit is "bickit", twinkle twinkle is "tinkle tinkle", and love is "yove". I sort of enjoy her vocabulary and with her expressions and hands flying all over in the air, she manages to communicate quite beautifully.
To another person (particularly, a nonparent), this might seem funny but when I speak with my daughter, what I'm trying to do is talk the talk so that we are on the same platform and understand each other. This is the essence of eLearning. The ability to connect with your audience via words and language is important for transmission of learning.
We often talk about performing audience analysis before starting work on an eLearning course. Some of the points one needs to consider include age, language, and other demographics; educational background; experience level; subject matter skills; and so on. All this is important. However, in addition to taking care of all these factors, it is important to be conscious and considerate of various cultures and subcultures.
If you ever chance to go to a casino and listen to some of the conversations among players on the poker table, you will probably have a tough time (if you are not a poker fan like me) trying to figure out what they are talking about. A player likely to lose money becomes an "apple" or a "fish", to bet an additional amount is called a "bump", the king is a "cowboy" and the queen a "lady", all the money bet by the players in one hand is a "pot", and the money taken out from a pot is the "juice". Interesting!
What if you were to prepare a course on poker rules or a Web site on casino games? Unless you know what an apple or a fish or juice actually is, you might put them under menu items. (I doubt if they serve apple or juice in a casino : ).
Whether it's a slang or subject matter specific to a particular category of audience, you need to speak your audience's language. Though it is not recommended to use slangs in your courseware, you need to talk to your audience using language, words, and examples they understand. For instance, when teaching shapes to my daughter, I would probably compare an orange with a ball and tell her it's a circle like a ball. I would not bestow her with information on radius or diameter or compare it with the earth. Similarly, when talking to your adult audience about earth, you would probably talk about the equator and circumference and not compare it with an orange or a ball.
If you can get yourself to share your audience's interests and talk in their language, it becomes easier to get through them. That is why localization and internationalism are going strong. When you create one generalized product that is sold across different countries, you often get user complaints that stress on the need of culturally sensitive eLearning. Sometimes the users who are used to a particular style of language or terminology might assume that the course is full of spelling mistakes, typos, and unfamiliar words.
One standard method of developing a culturally strong material is to first write the content in plain English. For example, if you are writing a courseware to be published in both US and UK, first write the basic content using either American or British English spelling, vocabulary, and concepts; whatever you are comfortable with. Whatever language you use, stick to it through the entire length of your course. Varying language is going to cause confusion.
Suppose you have used American English spelling and vocabulary in your courseware. After your content is finalized, your next step is to adapt it for suit your UK audience. To do this, you change the spelling to match British English and tweak your text to incorporate examples and context matching your UK audience. So color becomes colour, math becomes maths, favorite becomes favourite, localize becomes localise, zipcode becomes area code, baggage becomes luggage, eraser becomes rubber, tan becomes beige, truck becomes lorry, and gas becomes petrol. You will also need to adapt other elements culturally, like names of food, sports, or brands. Working on the same example, you will need to change soccer to football and baseball to cricket. When talking about food, change okra to lady finger, candy to sweet, green pepper to capsicum, and burger to fish and chips. Similarly, Walmart, Publix, or Shoprite becomes Sainsbury or Tesco, TJ Maxx becomes TK Maxx, Macy's becomes Marks and Spencer or Zara.
Of course, you can always take care to use global brands in your text. For example, McDonalds, Nescafe, Dominos etc. control their ingredients stringently, but change their packaging and promotion policy to suit local markets. Game shows like "The Treasure Hunt", "The X Factor", "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", "Dancing with the Starts", or "The Weakest Link" have a standard set of rules and set-up but vary slightly in terms of greeting or tone to appeal local audience. There are other shows that have the same setting and rules but are named differently. For example, "Family Feud" is "Family Fortunes" and "Deal or No Deal" is "Take Your Pick" in UK. Brands like Swatch, Panasonic, LG etc. make slight modifications in their model looks keeping the functionality same. The trick is to know the differences and incorporate in your text.
We talk about globalizing eLearning all the time. For eLearning to become international, we need to just remember the ground rule that cultural differences must be respected in order to minimize the user dropout rates.
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