Everything you need to know about translating your eLearning training


re you thinking about translating an eLearning project into another language?

There are many reasons you might be. Perhaps you live in a country where a large demographic speaks a second language, such as Spanish speakers in the United States, or French speakers in Canada.

You might also work for a company with offices around the world, and you’re planning to roll your training out to one or more of those offices.

Or your audience might be a group of people in the general public for whom their language is very culturally significant, such as a First Nations people. Reaching out to these people in their language can be important for building trust and understanding.

Whatever your reason, there are both many benefits and challenges to translating eLearning training, as well as many factors to prepare for before you even begin your project. So if you’re planning to translate your eLearning, here’s what you need to know.

The benefits of eLearning translation

Translating your training can be extremely beneficial.

Many bilingual people can tell you how exhausting it is to read, listen and speak in a second language every day, particularly if they did not grow up in a bilingual household. The phenomenon of accidentally slipping back into your first language and not even realizing it when you’re tired is well known among bilingual speakers!

A screenshot from the TV show Modern Family. A Mexican-American character exclaims "Do you know how frustrating it is to have to translate everything in my head before I say it? Do you even know how smart I am in Spanish?"

By translating training into an employee’s first language, you can lighten their mental load considerably, freeing up far more of their working memory to focus on the learning content, instead on translation.

Perhaps even more importantly, you can show your learners that you value them by knowing and caring for their needs!

Translating your content can also ensure that your learners do not miss critical concepts if you have used words that they don’t recognise or understand.

The challenges of eLearning translation

As beneficial as eLearning translation is, it’s not a walk in the park. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be weighing the pros and cons! You’d just dive straight in.

Unless you or your team have free access to a native speaker/writer in your second or other languages, translation will add to the cost of your project as you will need to hire a translation service of some kind.

It is best if you can build a relationship with a translator you trust and if possible, to have a second speaker/reader verify the quality of the translation.

Translating your eLearning will also add time to the length of your project. Not only do you need to factor in the time to send and receive your translation from your translator, but you also need to carefully prepare your content for translation to ensure the best results.

A man and a woman sit opposite in a booth in an office working at laptops. They are bumping fists and grinning over the table.

How to prepare your eLearning for translation

It is best to commit to translation as early in the project as possible. Why? There are many ways that translation can influence the design of your eLearning that can produce lengthy project delays if the decision is made late in the project.

#1 Reduce culturally specific language

If you’ve ever seen text that’s been translated by an AI tool into another language and then back again (yes, we’re talking about Google Translate) then you’ll have a healthy appreciation for the concept of “lost in translation”.

On a basic level, it is rare to be able to take a word in one language and find an exact match for it in another language. More often, the “translation” is a word that is mostly similar, but might have a different nuance, or you may even need two or three words to achieve the same meaning.

Why is it important to be aware of this? You might not realize just how much culturally-specific language you are using in your training that completely loses its meaning in another language.

Culturally specific language includes slang, colloquialisms, acronyms, idioms and even terms that only your company or team uses.

While an exceptional translator may be able to understand and translate the spirit of your writing, often it might just not be possible, or they might misinterpret your meaning. As the following video by Vox shows, translating cultural content is no easy feat.

By being aware of this challenge from the beginning of your project, you can shape the language of your eLearning to be more culturally neutral, reducing translation risks and delays down the track.

#2 Consider translation length

It’s a fact of eLearning that the length of a piece of text can often influence the design of a page. A very long section of text may require the learner to scroll the page awkwardly, and so might be split into two columns past a certain length, which might see a decorative image removed for lack of space. 

A long section of text might even be split into two pages, or we might revise our phrasing to see if it can be made shorter. 

If your text is influencing your design like this, you might be in for considerable design changes when your finished translations are returned. Why? Any of the following reasons:

  • Translation is rarely word-for-word, and you may need more words in one language than another to convey the same meaning. 
  • Languages that use wider or more detailed characters may need more space on a page.
  • Some languages are read right-to-left, such as Arabic.

It is not the translator’s job to refine your text to keep the length within your design parameters, nor is it their job to alter the or even recommend alterations to your course design just to fit their translations. Their job is to deliver a faithful translation, no matter the length.

As a result, you may want to order your translations when all scripts and text is finalized, but before the visual design of the course has begun.

#3 Minimize text in images

Is your course filled with images that contain a lot of text, such as labels, signs, speech bubbles or diagrams?

Text-heavy images are rarely a good idea, as they can require complex or excessive alt text to ensure they are accessible for visually impaired users. 

They can also add painful delays to the translation process. For every image that contains text, you will need a new version that has been translated. This can be a challenge for your graphic artists, who will likely need to contend with the issues mentioned in the previous tip.

Therefore, keep text in images to a minimum!

A photo of a dark studio. Silhouettes of producers and a boom mic operator stand in front of a white screen for filming. Other filming equipment is visible.

#4 Allow for different pacing in videos

If your eLearning contains videos, you will need two translations: first, you need to translate the closed captions and transcript, and secondly, you may need to order a new voice over.

Like alt text for images, closed captions and transcripts are critical tools for ensuring your visual content remains accessible for everyone. Therefore, they must be translated just like the rest of your written content.

If your project is strapped for budget, you may be able to get away with just translating the subtitles, but if you have the time and budget for it, it’s great to also get any voice overs spoken in the same language.

Like with written translations, spoken translations may vary in speaking time. Therefore, if you choose to translate your voice overs, it is wise to order the translated version before the animation or editing of the video begins. 

Ask your translator to provide a phrase-against-phrase version of the script. This will allow your animator or videographer to pace the scenes and shots of your video so that they fit will all provided translations of the voice over, not just the original.

#5 Choose the right eLearning authoring tool

When it comes to producing eLearning in multiple languages, not all authoring tools are created equal.

If you are planning to design a large number of courses in more than one language, or know that translation will be a regular part of all your projects, looking for a learning platform designed to handle eLearning translation will likely make your job easier. 

At a basic level, your authoring tool should be able to support different character types, including in alt text, transcripts and closed captions. 

More sophisticated features can include language-based file management and incorporated AI translation.

Need eLearning translation you can trust?

The HowToo Xpert team has extensive experience in designing digital learning experiences for multiple languages. We have established relationships with trusted translation providers and can manage all the back-and-forth for you. Whether you’re looking to translate existing content, or begin a new, multilingual project, the Xpert team can support you every step of the way.

Sep 7, 2022
Learning Design

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