Things to consider when training a group from overseas.

Training Overseas

Facilitating an activity with participants from another country and culture brings additional challenges to an activity in the UK. As well as obvious barriers such as language and interpersonal relations, there are more subtle differences that you should be aware of. By making yourself aware of these you will deliver a more effective training. This section covers the following:


Understand the regional and local context

Once you understand the context you will be better prepared and be able to reflect this in your training.

Context means many things, including the environment, politics, culture and customs. Some of these factors will influence the content whilst others might influence the design or implementation of your training. Think about who will be in the room; which groups they represent and if you need to consider splitting people up. Consider whether women will feel less able to speak if the room is dominated by men. Similarly for young people when there are senior party elders in the training.


Always remember:
The training should reflect the participants' world, not your own.

When designing your training, try to incorporate local examples or case studies; this might mean that you invite some of the participants to give a presentation. We will let you know when this is appropriate and link you up with the local trainers, if necessary. Using local trainers helps build capacity and ownership which lasts long after you leave. It will also help deal with any issues about the role played by senior party members present.

Bear in mind religious events and customs. We will advise what days you should avoid and the best time for starting and ending. If people need to pray at certain times, take this into account when designing the timetable.

If English is not the first language of the participants, keep words and phrases simple and use more visual material to help get your key messages across. You might consider getting your slides, handouts and other materials translated in advance (see section on 'working with an interpreter' below).

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What to consider

Think of the following measures when designing and delivering your training:

  • Verbal behaviour
    • Clear, slow, speech. Do not use acronyms or colloquial expressions.
    • Repetition. Repeat each important idea using different words to explain the same concept.
    • Simple sentences. Avoid long sentences.
    • Active verbs. Avoid passive verbs.
  • Non-verbal behaviour
    • Visual restatements. Use as many pictures, graphs, tables and slides as you can.
    • Gestures. Use more facial and hand gestures to emphasise a point or the meaning of words.
    • Demonstration. Act out as many themes as possible.
    • Pauses. Pause more frequently.
    • Summaries. Hand out written summaries of your verbal presentation (at the end, not before)
  • Attribution
    • Silence. When there is silence, wait. Do not jump in.
    • Intelligence. Do not equate poor grammar or mispronunciation with lack of intelligence; it is more likely down to language barriers.
    • Differences. If unsure, assume difference, not similarity.
  • Comprehension
    • Understanding. Do not just assume the participants' understand.
    • Check comprehension. Have participants give their understanding of the material back to you, do not just ask if they understand.
  • Design
    • Breaks. Take more frequent breaks. Working in a second language is exhausting.
    • Small modules. Divide the materials into smaller modules.
    • Longer timings. Allocate more time for each module than you would usually. If you expect a module to take 30 minutes, allocate 45.
  • Motivation
    • Encouragement. Verbally and non-verbally encourage participation by all participants.
    • Drawing out. Explicitly draw out marginal and passive participants.
    • Reinforcement. Do not embarrass novice speakers.

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Working with an interpreter

Working with interpretersIf your activity involves an interpreter, then there are three key disadvantages that you must consider.

Firstly, it will immediately have an impact on the length and structure of the programme as everything spoken will need to be said twice. Second, much of the direct interaction between you and the participants will be lost. Third, the use of an interpreter can hinder the development of a relaxed and informal environment and it limits your ability to understand what the participants are saying to each other.

You should bear in mind that the level of English spoken by each member of the group will vary and some may understand more than they are comfortable with speaking. Others will be more fluent and they can help by correcting any mistakes made by the interpreters.

If you suspect that an interpreter has misquoted you, or translated something incorrectly, it is best to take a friendly but firm attitude. You must ensure that you remain in charge of the workshop or activity. For the same reason, if at any point you feel lost or cannot follow the discussion, do not be afraid to stop the discussion and ask for clarification.

It is always wise to develop a good working relationship with the interpreter(s). Practical steps to do this include:

  • Take time to meet with the interpreter(s) in advance to ensure he/she understands what you want to achieve. This can take place over breakfast or the night before if necessary.
  • Discuss difficult terminology with the interpreter to ensure they understand the meaning – for example, ‘marginal seats’ or ‘Constituency Labour Party’.
  • Take an interest in the interpreter’s background – for example, how they learnt English and whether they have ever visited the UK.
  • Interpretation is an intensive and exhausting activity so always thank the interpreter at the end of each day – preferably in front of the rest of the group.
  • Invite the interpreter(s) to any social event so that they feel part of the group.

In terms of the participants, it is important that you reinforce ground rules which should always apply but are essential when working in two or more languages:

  • There should be only one discussion with only one person speaking at any time. Side-discussions are distracting and all the more difficult to follow if not all participants understand the language.
  • All participants should speak clearly and slowly so that the interpreters can follow and translate accordingly
  • Ensure participants understand that the breaks are also for the interpreter. Participants often wish to continue a discussion during breaks which requires interpretation. Set ground rules so that participants know when this is and is not appropriate.

Finally, consider the implications of using interpreters when splitting into smaller working-groups. Best practice dictates that you should observe each working group, but bear in mind that following multiple discussions will be exhausting for the interpreter - factor this into the number of groups you have.

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Now read How adults learn

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