So you want to translate your online learning program. . .
Translating your training is a great way to increase the effectiveness globally, and it can help your target audience feel included and supported. This is an important step toward global inclusivity. As a bonus, some steps for preparing a course for translation (such as adding closed captioning) also support accessibility.
So you want to translate your course?! Great!
Before you get started, you need to have realistic expectations about what translation looks like.
Translation is NOT:
You: Here is my course to translate!
Vendor: Great! Here is your translated course!
A process! Even with a reputable translation vendor, translating a course is a process that involves multiple decisions up front as well as review checkpoints throughout. It requires planning and oversight. It should also fit into the long-term strategy for course maintenance.
It can be intimidating, but the key is planning ahead! Planning allows you to make smart decisions during design and development that will save you time and money.
When you translate eLearning, here are some key decisions you’ll face:
What languages are you translating your content into?
How will the content be built, and will it include multimedia and audio?
What parts of the course will be translated?
How should the designers and developers prepare for translation?
Who will support the translation process?
How will the files be stored and maintained?
Let’s look at each of these questions in more detail.
1. What languages are you translating your content into?
Now, this seems like an easy question, and depending on how well you know your audience, it might be. Need to translate your course into Spanish to reach more employees? You already know that most of this audience is from Latin America? Great! Latin American Spanish it is!
However, you might not know your audience that well. In that case, it’s a good idea to find out as much as you can before you make a decision as to which language, dialect, or accent should be used.
In most cases this isn’t a huge issue, but if your audience is located in a country that has a history of colonization, has multiple ethnic groups, has contested borders, or just has multiple languages, it’s important to do your research. If you mistakenly choose the wrong language for your audience, in some cases, it could be a political statement.
Real Life Example: Is your target audience in an office in Ukraine? It’s best to get specifics about your audience’s location and preferred language before you choose.
Budget Tip: Different languages have different translation costs. More common languages like Spanish or Mandarin will generally be cheaper than languages that are less common. Plan for this early on if price is part of your decision-making process.
2. How will the content be built, and will it include multimedia and audio?
This question is important because the development decisions you make have a huge impact on translation costs and timelines.
Rule of Thumb: Avoid unnecessary complexity.
Keep development as simple as possible to meet the project’s educational objectives.
Avoid using obscure or expensive tools or plugins.
When in doubt about files, tools, or unique features, check with the translation vendor before proceeding.
Selecting eLearning development programs that include a feature to import & export translation text can speed up the translation process. Choose the most simple/common tool that is a match for the educational objectives.
Tools Tip: Tools like Rise or Adapt are great for text-based modules, but most modern eLearning development tools do have a translation import and export feature built in.
Budget Tip: If you are using cloud-based or other so-called rapid tools, ask the vendor if they have developers on staff with the necessary subscriptions. For cloud-based video tools, will they have the subscription tier that allows file sharing and publishing, or will you have to step in and facilitate this? Do you need to pad your budget to include the time required for this?
3. What parts of the course will be translated?
Just because you choose to have audio and video content in your course doesn’t mean you have to translate every aspect or modality. If a video supports your learning objectives, but you don’t have a huge translation budget, you can choose to add subtitles, instead of also translating the audio.
Here are a few options:
Translate everything. Screen text, resources, audio, video, etc.
Translate just the screen text and add closed captioning in the target language where audio is used. (No translated audio.)
...Or something in between. If you’re on a limited budget, and your audience is proficient in English, you can even choose to translate strategic assets from your course.
When you are deciding what gets translated, check in with your audience for their preference. (Ideally, check in with your actual audience, not their manager, or manager’s manager, etc.)
It can be difficult or impossible to translate content you don’t own. Keep this in mind when selecting external resources to support your course. You may need to locate alternate resources in the target language to have the same effectiveness.
A related side note: If you are launching your course in a country with censored internet, such as Mainland China, be sure to check your external resources to make sure they are accessible there.
Consider whether the examples in your course will relate to your audience or cause confusion. There also may be times where you’ll want to tailor the examples to best fit your audience’s experience.
Real Life Example: If your course uses pet daycare as an example, you may want to swap that before launching in a region where that concept doesn’t exist. It could cause learners to get distracted and lose focus.
4. How should the designers and developers build for translation?
So you have decided on your language and development tools and have a plan around what will get translated. Next, you want to think about what your designers and developers can do for an easy translation process.
File Management is the first key theme here.
All finalized source files that contain text need to be provided to the translation team at the start of the translation project. To facilitate this, it is important to:
Keep files organized throughout the development process.
Save source files and keep them up-to-date throughout the development process.
Pay special attention to keeping audio scripts up-to-date throughout the development process.
If small edits are made to the audio during reviews, ensure that they are reflected in the slide notes and/or master script so that the translation vendors do not need to transcribe the audio.
Only begin the translation after the original version is officially signed off.
Designing for Translation is another key theme.
Here are some best practices.
If we say it once, we will say it 1000x. Avoid unnecessary complexity. If you have a bit of necessary complexity or novel functionality in your course, talk to your translation vendor about how this can be supported.
Create designs that have room for text expansion.
Translated text can be 20-40% longer than its equivalent, so it’s important to ensure that there is room for this expansion.
Developers can reduce the size of the text to ensure that it fits, but consider how this will affect the item’s usability on a small device such as a tablet or smartphone.
Avoid embedding text in images.
If text needs to be added directly into an image, be sure to save the source file for the asset so that translation developers do not need to rebuild the image to create the translated version.
Complex or fast-paced kinetic text animations should be avoided as translated text may not be completely readable given the extended length.
Try to avoid or reduce text within videos where possible if the screen text is not being translated.
When using lip sync in animation for items with translated audio, sync to the amplitude or loudness of the audio vs the phonetic sounds. Consider how the asset will appear in the other languages.
For systems training, re-recording the system screens in the target language can be more efficient than translating the English screens. Consider this at the start of your project.
For embedded web content select links, link shorteners, or equivalent content that is accessible in the target countries.
If your course will be launched in a place that does not have reliable high speed internet, consider file size and loading times in the design process.
5. Who will support the translation process?
When you launch a course, you need support. For example, you may rely on content reviewers, LMS administrators, QA testers, and even developers for troubleshooting. Launching the translated version is no exception. Here we want to call out a few necessary roles you should plan for.
The first obvious role is your translation vendor.
This team usually includes translators, developers (sometimes called engineers), audio talent, etc. If your project is large or especially complex you may also have a project manager that coordinates all the work. When working with a new vendor it can be best to start with a small asset to make sure the translation quality is to your standards. You can also start with a smaller project as well to achieve this.
You will need translation reviewers/validators.
Translation vendors probably won’t know your culture or technical industry initially. (That knowledge can be developed over time, though.) Because of this, it’s important to have an internal reviewer who speaks the language complete the QA process. In most cases, vendors will require this at different stages of the process. This role may also be called a validator.
You may want to reach out to and get commitments from these people as you plan your translation project. You’ll want to outline what they are responsible for in the review and how much time they should plan for. Like most eLearning projects, there can be limits as to what type of feedback is in scope for each round of review, so setting expectations up front with your reviewers can save you from headaches during your project.
Tip: Your reviewers can also be helpful in up-front decisions like choosing audio talent with the desired accent for the audience. Remember that example about choosing Latin American Spanish? Your reviewers will be the ones to help you choose the best accent for your audience. There are a lot of variations.
Side Note: We don’t believe in “neutral” accents. For example, what is thought of as a neutral American English accent is usually Midwestern. Everyone has an accent. The same is often true of other languages, and your reviewers can help you decide when you have multiple voice talents to choose from.
You might need developers.
This doesn’t always happen, but if the translated versions have a bug that the vendor can’t solve, you may need to reach out to a developer for troubleshooting. Keep this in mind when budgeting.
6. How will the files be stored and maintained?
We talked about the importance of organized file management during the development process, but it doesn’t stop there. Once the translation is complete, it’s important to collect all the files from your translation vendor. Storing your files in an organized manner up front will allow you to make necessary updates. Even eLearning modules with stable content sometimes need to be republished to ensure they function correctly as the browsers update.
1. How long does translation take?
The process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on the length of the content, number of assets, and reviewer turnaround time. Setting expectations with your reviewers around review scheduling to prevent review delays can help keep your project on schedule.
2. Do I really have to have internal reviewers/validators?
For the most accurate translations that also fit your company culture and stay true to the original, you will need internal reviewers that know your content in their local language.
3. Some development tools offer automatic Google translation. Can I use this?
While translation technology is improving constantly, we don’t currently recommend this as an option for professional, native-sounding translations.
4. What if I don’t have all my source files?
Translation vendors can still translate your content without source files, but:
If they have to scrub/erase the text and add new text on images, there could be an obvious quality loss.
It can dramatically increase the price and timeline if the translation vendor has to recreate assets where source files don’t exist.