Three factors to consider when translating learning content

The opportunities that arise from online courses that are available in different languages are endless. As are the ways we can tackle the task at hand. It’s best to start by setting your expectations. These questions will get you straight to the point.

There are a variety of approaches available for translating online trainings. And some reasons to do it. You could start with using machine translation to translate individual modules, and finish up with localizing the program navigation or coming up with new names for the avatars. To ensure that the results meet your expectations and avoid any disappointment, it helps to be crystal clear on a few points in advance.

Language quality: How far should the localization go?

Let’s start with the most strategic question: what do you expect from the quality, style and authenticity of your translations? Authentic learning may be all well and good, but you need to figure out if it actually pays off. A few questions can help you get closer to this decision:

  • What do I want to achieve with my educational content? For example, do you want to communicate information, create understanding, use it as a branding tool, etc.
  • Is the online course intended for internal use, such as IT or workplace training, or external purposes, such as explanatory videos for customers?
  • How wide is the reach? How many people will actually see the content?
  • How much time should people spend working on the course?

This results in a variety of approaches – from straightforward machine translation and clean specialist translation to culturally adapted and eloquent transcreation. In general, the more meaningful the content and the audience, the more authentic the natural learning environment has to be. However, the decision also depends on the content itself. If the text contains regional terms and phrases, for example, these need more attention if they are to work in another language.

Images and program design: What needs to be done to the visual elements?

Online courses don’t just include text, but are usually designed in combination with images, videos, animations and many other elements. Depending on how far the localization goes, the following points merit more attention.

Graphics and images

The majority of images work in different cultures. But not all of them. Anyone who goes all-in with localizing their training content needs to take a close look at its visuals to see which places, situations and people they represent, and whether this still fits the target market. Do they depict familiar areas, familiar learning situations or culturally appropriate people? If not, they need to be swapped out.

In quiz questions or tutorials, avatars or figures often appear – for example, to guide you through the program. This raises the question of whether your characters will work well in different target countries as they are, because they fit visually and have international names such as “Sofia” and “Tom” or whether you also want to tailor them to the target culture.

Texts in videos and animations

Text embedded in graphics and animations is another prime example, and usually results in you having to re-create that content. Anything that’s integrated into an image or video has to be reproduced for fully localized content. In the case of spoken texts in videos, subtitles, text overlays or voiceovers ensure that the content can be understood in other languages. Once again, what you decide to do depends on your content requirements. You can refer back to the first point for more information.

Symbols and icons

If you work with conventional online learning tools, you’ve probably already come across certain icons. For example, the stop or exit sign in the navigation bar, or thumbs up for correct answers. It’s self-explanatory for a US audience, but not necessarily in other cultures. Localization can also detect these kinds of symbols and check if they are appropriate. Spoiler: few are universal.

Translation process: what do my tools and processes look like?

You have now defined which elements need to be localized and which approach to take. Congratulations – that’s the first step. Now all you have to do is think about how you want to do the localization.

The main question here is whether the translation is more of a one-off thing or whether you regularly produce multilingual e-learning modules. In the first case, a freelancer could work directly in your tool and save the translated texts there. In the second case, consider a long-term collaboration with a full-service language service provider like Supertext. They are well positioned in terms of availability, can process large volumes of text in a short space of time and have experience with various tools.

From a technical point of view, it’s best to check in advance whether your tool is configured for multilingualism at all, and whether it can handle different text lengths. Depending on the language, text length can differ by up to 40%. Tip: English, Chinese and Korean are among the more compact languages, while Arabic and Greek generally tend to produce texts that are longer. Depending on the target language, it is worth consulting with designers or program managers in good time.

It’s time to go the extra mile – we’re happy to support you with translating your online course – from the strategy to implementation. Tell us about your target audience and we’ll do the rest.

Cover image via Unsplash

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