6 Tips for Academic eLearning Translation

The world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and college and university students are becoming more diverse — and that includes language diversity.

As a higher education institution, you have a responsibility to provide students from a wide range of backgrounds, languages, and cultures with equal learning opportunities. In today’s tech-enabled education landscape, that means ensuring eLearning content is available in multiple languages.

In this post, we’ll offer six tips for how to successfully translate and/or localize eLearning content to maximize student engagement and comprehension. 

1. Make your materials translation-friendly from the start.

If your institution creates original eLearning content, it’s vital to set yourself up for translation success even before the translation process begins. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind as you create eLearning content in English:

  • Design and spacing. Not all languages take up equal space in a document or on a webpage; in some cases, a translation will take up more space than the original content. To accommodate, you should include extra space in your design and/or allow for smaller font sizes to be used. 
  • Slang, jargon, and jokes. While these may add flavor to your content in its original language, they often lose their meaning — or even become offensive — when translated. Keep your content straightforward to avoid these issues down the line. 
  • Frequently-used terms. In college courses, there are often specific terms that come up again and again. To keep things consistent across an entire course, create a glossary of these terms and their meanings, and provide it to your eLearning translation provider. This will help them make more accurate, consistent word choices.

By creating content that follows these guidelines from the beginning, you’ll make the translation process more streamlined and end up with more accurate translations.

2. Be consistent with tone, style, and formats.

The best eLearning courses include multiple types of content (videos, worksheets, interactive web pages, etc.), but if they all have vastly different tones and styles, that will distract from their meaning, particularly when they’re translated.

Content within each media type should also be formatted consistently. For example, maybe your videos all consist of an introduction, lesson content, conclusion, and summary of main points, while your quizzes will follow a different — but still consistent — format.

Keeping things consistent across the board will aid in the translation process and allow students to focus on the content being presented without being distracted by inconsistencies.

No matter which tone, style, and format you choose for your course materials, provide your translators with a style guide. This will help them maintain the tone and style of the original content while keeping it culturally appropriate for the target language.

3. Localize, don’t just translate.

While translation alone works well for certain course materials, eLearning courses often require some amount of localization as well.

Translation vs. localization: What’s the difference?

Translation is the process of translating words or text from one language into another, and does not account for details like tone or cultural nuances. 

Localization, on the other hand, goes a step further than translation. Localization is the process of translating content from one language into another in a way that maintains tone, nuance, and context.

Media like images, videos (including closed captions and audio narration), and graphs — as well as components like dates, measurements, currency, and numbers — can be challenging to translate in a way that retains the original meaning, so translating eLearning content is usually not enough to guarantee that it will be effective in the target language.

Localization is also important for eLearning content because:

  • eLearning software user interfaces (e.g. buttons, navigation, icons) need to make sense in the target language.
  • Tone, non-verbal cues, and body language can have a significant impact on students’ understanding of eLearning video content. 
  • Regardless of format or medium, higher education eLearning content often covers complex topics that require context and subject matter expertise.

4. Keep cultural context in mind.

Culturally relevant words, phrases, and references can keep learners engaged, prevent them from feeling alienated, and help them better understand course material. However, these cultural components of language can vary widely between languages and regions and are rarely universally applicable (for example, cultural references that resonate with students in the US might not resonate in the UK, and vice versa).

This is another reason to opt for localization rather than just translation. With localization, you can use cultural references that enhance understanding and engagement in the target language, not just in the original language. 

5. Test eLearning materials before rolling them out.

Before your translated/localized content is made available for all students, test the materials to ensure they meet the standards of your organization and enable students to grasp the course material. 

This quality assurance (QA) step allows you to catch errors and make adjustments before rolling out your eLearning course. If you work with a language services provider, they will guide you through their QA process and make recommendations for how your institution can QA on your end.

It’s also important to note that QA isn’t a one-and-done process — you’ll also want to regularly review your content to make sure that it is all still accurate, relevant, and aligned with course learning objectives.

6. Create a strategy that works for your organization.

If you’re looking to translate and/or localize your higher education eLearning content, you have a few options, including working with freelance translators, hiring an in-house localization team, or working with a language services provider.

When you’re choosing a strategy, keep in mind things like your budget, your desired timeline, the volume and complexity of your content, and how many target languages you have. Individual freelancers are limited in the number of languages they cover and the speed at which they can work, while in-house teams can be expensive and resource-intensive to source. 

On the other hand, an eLearning translation services provider like Dynamic Language can translate educational documents and eLearning content into hundreds of languages on a timeline that works for your institution.