Tips for E-Learning Translation

In the last year or so, Artisan E-Learning has translated many of our clients’ courses into other languages. We’ve spent a lot of time refining our translation process, and we thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learned. For additional tips, check out Rod’s blog post from May about Arabic Translation in Storyline.

Project Management

Decide who is doing what.

There are three parts to the translation process: translating the text and narration script, recording the audio (if applicable), and incorporating the new language into the authoring tool.  Depending on the project, some or all of the tasks are done by a translation vendor, by the customer, or by us.  You’ll need to decide who is doing what.  When the budget allows, it is helpful when a translation vendor can provide an end-to-end solution, especially for languages that don’t use the Roman alphabet.

Be mindful of your timeline.

The more time you can build in, the better. Everything takes longer than you think.  (This is a good rule of thumb for e-learning in general, but seems to be especially true of translation.)  We recently translated a 20-minute course for a retail project into 11 languages.  Because it needed to get out to the field before the busy holiday season, we weren’t able to use a vendor for the whole process, as that would have taken two months.  Had we started sooner, that might have been an option.

Get more than one quote if possible.

As with anything in business, having multiple options for translation vendors is just good practice.

Course Design

Limit text in graphics.

We often have wonderful looking graphics that have text built into them. However, this text is not included in the authoring tool’s translation export, so it cannot be exported, translated, and reimported as easily as the rest of the text. Try to keep as much of your text in the actual authoring tool as possible.

Be mindful of font choice.

A lot of fonts do not have characters for anything other than the Roman alphabet. We sometimes use a client’s proprietary font when creating their course, but have found that when translating to languages like Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, these fonts will not display the text correctly. In these cases, we’ve needed to switch to something like Arial Unicode MS or another Unicode font.

Simplify on-screen timing if you can.

With all of the wonderful authoring tools on the market now, it’s very easy to create courses with text synced to appear as the narrator talks about it. It might look really great to have text on a screen come in word-by-word. When you bring in audio in another language, the length will be different, meaning every element will need to be retimed.  If you are concerned about timeline and budget, it may be better to make the text all come up at once, especially languages you don’t recognize.

Content preparation

Ask the client for preferred translation of any industry-specific terms.

With industry-specific terms and acronyms, it helps to create a table explaining how they’d like certain terms to be translated. For example, a course we recently developed referred to the World Health Organization, often using the acronym WHO. In Spanish, however, they use a completely different acronym–OSM (Organizacion de salud mundial). Be mindful of terms like this BEFORE audio recording.  One tip is to find out if any related documents have been translated previously.  Providing the translators with a translated policy manual, for example, can help the translators match language.

And be sure to build in a client review of the translated text before recording audio.  For example, in a course we recently created for the American Red Cross, the vendor we used for translation chose a different Spanish word for “shelter” than the one that the Red Cross normally uses. If we went straight to audio, then it all would have needed to be re-recorded.

Get time stamps associated with onscreen transitions.

If you have elements timed to audio (as described in #6), you’ll need to know when the elements should appear in the new language.  One technique that has worked for us is to highlight the narration script whenever there is a transition.  Then, when the audio is recorded, they give us the time stamp for that point in the audio.  That way we can time without knowing the language.  You’ll probably need to ask for this specifically and the vendor may charge extra for it.

Incorporating the translated content

Work on languages you know (or are familiar with) first.

Working out the kinks and finding all the issues in languages you’re familiar with can be extremely helpful when you move on to languages you couldn’t begin to navigate. We used this approach with a very large translation project we worked on recently, and it helped us identify areas for concern. One example of this type of concern is a textbox that was timed to come in by first level paragraph – the final line of text did not appear on the screen. Finding this issue in Spanish made it much easier to keep an eye out for problems like this in languages we do not understand. Even if you don’t know any of the languages, pick languages using the Roman alphabet first.

Keep the style-guide in mind when reviewing.

Hopefully you were very careful to follow the style-guide when building the course in English. Having a serial comma or periods at the end of bullet points can be something that’s very important to the client. But if you don’t communicate this to the translation vendor, the text could come back to you without these important items.  Also be aware that different languages have different style norms.  For example, in Spanish, title case isn’t normally used for slide headings.

Review side-by-side with the English version.

Even if you don’t speak the language you are working on, you can still do some quality control.  Having the course open in the English version right next to the translated version can help you to catch small things, like a word that did not appear on the screen when it should have or a bullet that doesn’t appear.

Let us know if you have any additional tips that have worked for you.


Nick Elkins

One Response to “Tips for E-Learning Translation

    6 years ago

    Translating the e-learning course to your national language is good. Because in this way the students or participants will fully understand the course. They can get it easier, but make sure that you translate the course really good and don’t change that topic or idea.

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