Looking for Your Advice and Opinions on Working with Foreign (ex-US) Experts


The topics for this blog often come from you. Usually a conversation or an email results in ideas, and commonly the same issue will surface a few times within a week or so. This week, several American colleagues mentioned challenges in working with foreign experts who speak a primary language other than English.

As a result, I am going to try something new and start a discussion around the challenges in these situations by creating two hypothetical case studies for you to consider. The readers here have similar interests, so please share your advice, recommendations and opinions with others. Sometimes you respond with comments on the website, other times I hear back personally from you responding to me in email. Either way, if you’d like me to share your comments with other readers, let me know. Hopefully, we’ll all benefit as we learn from the wisdom of the Working With SMEs crowd.

Case Studies To Consider

Case #1: An American English-speaking training company is dealing with Japanese experts in Japan and working remotely with them using Zoom, so they are seeing each other and sharing slides. The training company has a team consisting of a designer and writer both on the calls. The Japanese experts have English skills and the American training team has no Japanese. The trainers are having difficulty understanding the experts’ accents, and the experts present their slides written in Japanese.

Consider: Taking the situation’s perspective from either the training company or the Japanese company, what would be your next move and how would you salvage this relationship so it results in an effective training outcome?

Case #2: An English speaking training company based in the UK with offices in the US has been contracted to build a series of training modules for a company of 150,000 employees located in 75 countries. Many of the employees speak English as a second language. The training company has been hired due to their strength in visual training modalities. They are excited at the opportunity to work with this global corporation and to explore the potential of their cutting edge technology.

Consider: What are some of the first steps you would take to ensure a smooth process? Who should be at the table from the training company and its client company? What kind of safeguards and procedures would you put in place so language and cultural sensitivity is built into the process at each phase?

General Questions to Consider

When an English-speaking American is working with foreign-speaking experts, whether within the U.S. or in another country, how do you build cultural and language supports into your training development?

Do you:

Hire cultural competency experts to ensure sensitivity and eliminate cultural bias?

Hire foreign language or translation experts to assist with non-native English speakers?

Provide cultural or language education for your English-speaking, Western-based training team?

Prefer to work in person as often as possible to develop and strengthen relationships?

Explore the issues openly with clients at the beginning of your relationship, looking for places where you can establish processes and provide additional supports to reduce cultural and language differences or misunderstandings?

Specialize in working with non-native English speakers or outsource your work to training companies that do?

Wisdom of the Working with SMEs Crowd

Instead of our usual offering of advice and opinion, we are turning the tables on you this week. We have a lot of questions. If you have opinions or experiences to share – or even other related questions and issues – we look forward to hearing from you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Looking for Your Advice and Opinions on Working with Foreign (ex-US) Experts

  1. Hi, Peggy, As you know, I’ve had quite a bit of experience in this area. My answer to your general questions would be “all of the above.” In terms of individual country presentations, however, it is NOT a “one size fits all” world. If you are training a team to perform more technical tasks(e.g. how to use PeopleSoft, how to clear a paper jam in a copier, how to replace a hard drive, etc.), those are pretty universal, and language voiceovers or translated subtitles in videos would go a long way. With respect to sales, customer service, employment practices, developing communication skills at various levels of an organization, those require a more tailored approach for the audience country. One of the most valuable parts of my on-boarding training at the US subsidiary of an Asian company was a day devoted to how to deal with Asian expatriates in the US, and when working with colleagues in the Asian office. For example, we had a block devoted to the art of presenting and receiving business cards. Frankly, your client in #2 would have an easier time of it, because some visuals are universal, and are often a much better way to get the point across.

    • Thanks for your input, Helen. Great insights, and I agree that the visual tech opportunity is a good one. Peggy

  2. Hi Peggy,
    This is a great topic and a complicated one at that. I’ve had a recent bit of experience working with SMEs in Asia and was told from the outset that their time was extremely limited. Basically, we got one shot with them to gather some content. It was painful due to the language barrier. Fortunately, there were 2 pleasant surprises. First, one of the SMEs misunderstood our directions. We had sent our questions ahead of time only to allow them to think about their answers. However, one SME thought we wanted the answers written out and she submitted them ahead of time. If it had not been for the written material (which was much easier to understand than his spoken English) we would have gotten very little out of the call. Second, the SMEs offered to help us throughout the project despite the fact that we were told they would not have time. This will be an enormous help as we gather region-specific content. Knowing what I know now, I will boldly ask for answers ahead of time in writing.
    Thanks for a great blog!

    • Hi Esther,

      Thank you for these great takeaways! You put your requests in writing in advance, and you gave them a chance to think about them and respond in writing before your interviews. For their part, they made themselves available as much as needed. This is great customer relationship management and focus on your part, something where you and your company excel! Your input is greatly appreciated.