10 top tips for translation of eLearning content

10 top tips for translation of eLearning content

Gaining Revenues and Reducing Risk

Our clients have many reasons for translating and localizing their eLearning content, but two of them stand out: Gaining Revenues and Reducing Risk.

Gains in revenue come from penetrating a new overseas market, gaining a competitive edge, or simply selling more product in the US by effectively reaching non-native-English speakers.

Other factors are involved, of course: new product lines, new leadership, or external events. But whatever is driving the need, here are some guidelines to consider before starting the translation process.

1. Build a Glossary of Terms

This is a great way to avoid frustration and reduce costs, although it requires some up-front effort. Be sure to build a glossary, particularly industry or specialized terms, and their translations. It also helps ensure consistency and saves time. Your language services provider (LSP) can help with this.

2. Identify All the Materials

It can happen. In the heat of battle, deadlines looming … Stuff gets missed! eLearning programs can have a lot of moving parts:

  • Audio
  • Graphics
  • Scripts for narration
  • Documents
  • Onscreen text
  • Player interfaces (such as e-learning)
  • LMS or other web interfaces
  • Applications.
A good LSP will swing with the punches and accommodate last minute additions and changes, but it might not mean avoiding increased costs.

3. Lose the Jargon…

…and write concisely, with translation in mind. One of our larger clients likes to pepper their content with US-centric allusions such as “hit the ball out of the park” or “hit the nail on the head” and these can cause very poor and inaccurate translations. We’ve worked extensively with them to find idioms that match in the target languages, but avoiding them entirely makes a lot of sense. This client now creates a ‘master English’ file, in which the writing is deliberately neutral. They then localize it for each target market, including the US, and make good use of transcreation. Plus, when paying by the word, using less of them makes sense. But that doesn’t mean you need to over-simplify or omit anything.

4. Design your Materials for Translation

Often overlooked, especially when trying to control costs, is the affect certain images or colors can have in the target market. In the US, green is the color of safety, of nature, of good environmental practices. Take a look at this Shutterstock advisory, for example:

“Green has traditionally been forbidden in Indonesia, whereas in Mexico it’s a national color that stands for independence. In the Middle East green represents fertility, luck, and wealth, and it’s considered the traditional color of Islam. In Eastern cultures green symbolizes youth, fertility, and new life, but it can also mean infidelity. In fact, in China,green hats are taboo for men because it signals that their wives have committed adultery!”


It also helps to implement best practices for images. Try to minimize text in screenshots, use culturally-neutral images and be careful when using images such as dollar signs for money, or pictures of people making gestures.

Likewise, consider the perspective of your audience. If you’ve translated into Latin American Spanish, for example, US-Hispanics may feel excluded. Smilarly with trying to make do with European French in Canada.

5. Avoid embedding text in graphics.

Text embedded in images can’t be extracted and means a lot more manual effort, and therefore expense. If text is placed on top of a graphic or photo, retouching might be required to restore the graphic background after removing the text.

Also, try to avoid embedding localizable content in script code like Javascript or VBScript. Strings embedded in script code might require your localization provider to develop special parsers to identify and filter them out for localization. OR…

6. …Build on “Unicode.”

Any apps with localizable content should support the characters of your target languages. We recommend implementing Unicode. Use the UTF-8 character set to avoid text being displayed as so-called “tofu boxes” or question-marked diamonds.

7. Bundle your text strings.

If you need to insert text strings in your script, make sure your translation partner will be able to find them. You can either bundle them together as variables in an external “resources” file, or you can collect them at the top of your file as a collection of variables, flagged as translatable.

8. “Internationalize”

Bear in mind that text expands and contracts for each language. For example, ENG to GER results in about a 30% expansion. ENG to CHS shrinks it by 20%. That can pose a challenge! Danger zones for this include sidebars and navigation bars: anywhere there us limited space in which to expand.

9. Avoid string concatenation.

If you can, avoid language constructions that contain fragments of text combined with variables. Other languages might need to have those pieces in a different order, or the translation of certain pieces might be different depending on the variable. For example: ”Page X of Y total page(s)”, where “X” and “Y” are variables. Instead, try to use a construction like “Page: X/Y”.

10. Keep it gender-neutral.

Again, one of our clients has a solution for this. They avoid using images of humans wherever there’s a need for a voice-over. That way, depending upon locale, they can dub-in whatever they feel is appropriate. Also, If you have content created in different formats, with different technologies, such as audio that’s time-synched or video with sub-titles to avoid integrating them. The more complex the creation process of those elements, the more complex the localization process is going to be!
We hope this is useful.
MondragonLingua helps clients open new gateways to the world. We translate, localize and transcreate content for the world’s leading brands. If you’d like to know more, reach out to me here!