eLearning Translation: An Integrated Approach From Day One Makes a Huge Difference
Updated: Sep 24
When you’ve worked as a translator for several years, you start to see translation everywhere. When I was on vacation in Mexico this summer, I saw lots of examples of what I’d call “afterthought” localization: you already have your sign painted up and then decide to stick on a translation at the last minute… just in case. But this isn’t just something that happens on signs and menus—it’s something we see all the time as a translation partner. Lately we’ve been working more and more on eLearning translation projects, helping to develop multilingual training materials.
We might receive a beautiful, well-written course in English, which is then passed off to us for the “final touch” of translation… as an afterthought. On the other hand, some of the best eLearning courses we’ve seen—the kinds of courses we’d like to take ourselves—are the courses where localization is taken into account from the very beginning, as a part of the process rather than one-last-thing-before-this-project-is-over-with-already. By making translation an integrated part of content development, eLearning companies can maximize the impact of their learning across all languages. Here are some of the ways we’ve encouraged our partners to embrace the localization process and optimize their in-language learning potential.
Viewing translation as part of the development process: internationalization
Internationalization is the process of making proactive choices about source content to set it up for translation success. In software, it means leaving room in your program for German UI strings to expand like crazy. In Market Research, it’s asking localized questions for the target market… and not piping in pronouns to do so. In eLearning translation, it’s everything. Internationalization means looking at your source content and identifying how you’ll make a French learner gain an equivalent experience to your English learners. This means optimizing source design and providing high-quality translations and voiceover.
It almost always means rethinking the mnemonic devices and acronyms that might work great in English but become a jumbled mess in Japanese. One of the marks of effective eLearning content is that the learner feels like the content was made for him or her. You wouldn’t serve hot dogs at a black-tie gala—why would you serve eLearning customized for someone else? By involving a translation partner in the development process, eLearning content developers can ensure that their Russian content hits just as hard as the original—because internationalization and localization makes the translations as original as the original itself by recreating experience rather than converting language.
Selling localization as part of the package
Producing great localized eLearning doesn’t just include the developers and translation provider—it takes buy-in from the end client as well. Why should they localize their content? Why not just add subtitles to the English? Or send a translated PDF out with the video? In order to reproduce the source language experience, the end client needs to be aware of the value that quality localization adds to the content, which means being transparent about what this step adds. Translation shouldn’t be pitched as an add-on item, but as a vital part of the eLearning suite. If the goal is to reach all learners with quality content, the end client needs to understand how important it is to the process.
The main way an end client can contribute to eLearning translation success is by participating in the client review process. This is the step where someone from the end client’s team has the chance to customize the translations for their organization’s learners. Will company X’s engineers in country Y call their supervisor a “manager” or a “director”? Will they know what you’re talking about? End-client feedback can be incredibly useful to ensure that the target courses seem like the original—as if they were written in the language rather than translated into it. (We’ve written more about client-side translation review here. And here!) In the same way that eLearning content developers work with subject matter experts, translators work with in-country reviewers to get their facts right and target the learning as much as possible.
Planning and communicating
The final component I’d add (as usual) is that planning is key. In order to have a truly integrated localization process, the localization partner should work as a seamless part of the eLearning development team. By keeping your partner in the loop, you help them anticipate changes and their impact, and plan ahead for localization needs. Involving the partner early helps them secure the best possible linguists who are subject-matter experts in a particular field, find voiceover talents who are perfect for the role, and then turn projects around more quickly by having everything lined up in advance. This is true of any project, but with all the moving pieces of eLearning, there’s so much more opportunity for optimization.
eLearning projects are inherently complex and require collaboration from all sides to create meaningful output. By making localization part of the development process, eLearning companies can elevate their offering to reach multiple language groups and increase the return on their content. To get the most out of your content, the localization value-add shouldn’t be a last-minute addition, but an integrated part of the whole.