Translating elearning into other languages: 6 tips

Learning designers who only start thinking about the translation of an elearning solution when the original language has been released face unnecessary additional costs and, potentially, a lengthy list of minor corrections that will lead to an inconsistent, expensive, hard to maintain solution. Here are some recommendations for designers who want to minimize cost and hassle when creating elearning that will be translated into other languages:

  1. Would learning goals change? Subjects usually covered by elearning modules such as compliance are likely to change slightly or a lot depending on the country or region. Do all the goals still hold in all the geographies and legal contexts where the solution will be deployed? If not, bring these back to the design board and look at ways to integrate them seamlessly at all stages, from course catalog filtering to navigation to assessment.
  2. Are your elearning platform and design truly global? Typical platform limitations that may
    Writing text from right to left changes the layout of menus, navigation and other interface elements

    Writing text from right to left changes the layout of menus, navigation and other interface elements

    give you a headache, or even prevent you from offering a solution in a specific language are the inability to display right-to-left text, navigation bars and menus (languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are right-to-left), the inability to handle multiple character sets in a single module, and lack of flexibility in handling formats such as time, date and currency according to the rules of the target language. Typical design limitations include the inability to allow for longer terms and sentences (for example, by stretching button sizes or text boxes) and assumptions with a language component -such as puns, grammar construction and metaphors- that are embedded into visual interfaces or activities.

  3. Have you included personas that fit the target language? Personas describe your audience
    Image representing a persona document

    Personas describe your learners in rich detail

    in rich detail, and this description informs the design process. An elearning design that does not include personas in all target languages may not be a complete solution, as you may be overseeing important factors. You can learn more about personas in this post.

  4. Is the content culturally acceptable? Gestures, flags, pictures, maps, colors, popular sayings and many other things we believe to be harmless can be highly offensive in other cultures. Don’t forget those day-to-day objects that people usually remember by brand, such as Sharpies and Post-Its, and measurement expectations, such as inches and centimeters, gallons and liters, etc.
  5. Are you creating text-dependent videos? If you are shooting real-life scenes that rely heavily on the text that appears on screen, have a clear description of what has to be filmed again in a target language and be aware of the cost. For software, even though capture solutions such as Camtasia make it very easy to translate and rebuild the video in very little time, consider what is being captured too. For example, if translating into French, will you need a French version of the operating system and application you are capturing? Text can also be your friend: subtitling is an acceptable alternative to fully translated video, although in some countries you will find that regulations call for a full translation.
  6. Have you estimated and included translation cost and effort into the overall project plan? Video translations with native actors, voiceovers, text translation, system builds and applications in native languages… have a complete inventory and explore options beyond giving everything to the same provider – sometimes you can get text translated by a vendor that specializes in the terminology of your field, while another one can get better quality media translations.

Rather than thinking about “translating elearning”, it’s best to “design elearning for translation”. You will save time on the long run as your designs remain stable while your company grows to reach new countries and audiences. For more tips, go to elearningindustry, yourlearningworld and learndash.

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