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6 Best Practices for Translating eLearning Courses

23 March 2021 / By ustranslation
Person hand pointing at the word: E-Learning

6 Best Practices for Translating eLearning Courses

Organizations need to get their eLearning translations right if they are to train and educate multilingual learners. Read on to learn the best practices for improving your eLearning translation.

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2019, approximately 67.3 million U.S. residents in 2018 (about 20% of the total population) didn’t speak English as their first language. A different survey showed that immigrants made up to 16% of the UK’s employed population in the 3rd quarter of 2020. These statistics confirm one thing: That in a world where employers have to meet skill gaps and staffing needs by hiring foreign workers, the need for eLearning translation can never be overemphasized. Furthermore, with regards to safety training, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highlights language barrier as the leading cause of workplace injuries in high-risk industries such as oil and gas exploration, construction, and manufacturing. Language proficiency could be the difference between life and death in this case.

It is clearly essential that your eLearning Localization be exhaustively comprehensible in the target languages. That is why you need to understand and follow these best practices when translating your existing elearning courses.


  1. Create translation-friendly eLearning courses

Convoluted eLearning courses are susceptible to misinterpretations even by English native speakers. The damage they can cause upon translation is beyond measure. That is why you should develop clear and succinct source materials for easier and accurate translations. Avoid redundant and superfluous words that make your sentences excessively long and complicated. Put only one idea per sentence and skip any non-essential information in as far as the subject matter is concerned.

Avoid sayings and idioms when writing your source material. Of course, figurative expressions can make your course more colorful and interesting, but their translations can be extremely challenging. As a matter of fact, most native speakers misinterpret the very idioms they use. For example, many people use “nip in the butt” instead of “nip in the bud” when explaining the need to curb undesired behavior at infancy. If there already are confusions in the source language, imagine the chaos idioms can precipitate when translated.

Finally, it is advisable to avoid regional references such as sports, landmarks, politics, and cities in your eLearning translation. Most of the references you might use may not make sense to an audience that resides halfway across the world.


  1. Do not design multiple eLearning courses in multiple languages simultaneously

Focus on developing a comprehensive course in English first (or whichever your source language is) and then translate the final approved version into the languages you need. The danger of developing one course in multiple languages simultaneously is that, if you make a mistake in either the content or the structure, you will have to make corrections in every single version.


When developing the first version, spare no effort in interrogating your instructional design processes with the help of stakeholders and your L&D team. Take time to determine your learning objectives, to choose the most appropriate content for your ideal learner, to identify the right instructional strategies, and to develop a foolproof assessment approach. Have a clear line of sight from the top-priority objectives to the precise skills and knowledge that you need to impart on each trainee. All the translations you make after that will be pitch-perfect.


  1. Embrace cultural diversity

This must be the most important best practice for not only eLearning translation but for all workplace-related interactions. Societies across the globe are getting more culturally diverse every year and for this reason, your translated training materials need to be culturally inclusive and sensitive to be cognizant of all the major aspects of a learner’s identity, perceptions, and attitudes.

You need to target trainees not only based on their nationality and language but also on their cultural preferences. While at it, try to be as neutral as possible by avoiding words and phrases that could be offensive or confusing to a section of your target audience. For example, people may share a common language and nationality but due to differences in race, religion, or ethnicity, their behaviors and expectations during the training could vary greatly. A trainee’s sexual orientation too can become a point of conflict if ignored.


  1. Leverage Computer-Assisted Translations (CAT) tools

If your organization- and the target audience for that matter- is to get the most and best of your eLearning translation, you need to prioritize accuracy, fluency, and speed in the entire translation process. That is where CAT tools come in. The core components of CAT tools are translation memory and quality assurance tools.

Translation memory tools create databases (and give translators access to these databases) of translated words, phrases, sentences, and segments from previous translations for reuse in ongoing and future translation processes. All that happens in real-time. They guarantee consistency in the use of terminologies and minimize the time and money wasted translating the same jargon over and over. For example, in the construction sector, industry-specific jargon such as ‘Beam’, ‘backfilling’ ‘Drywall’, ‘Insulation’, etc., are repeated in almost every training course. Translating them every time only inflates the translation budget and slows down the process.

Quality assurance tools check for inconsistencies between the source document and the translated text. They automatically capture errors in spellings, punctuations, and abbreviations, consequently eliminating human errors in the final courses.


  1. Account for syntax differences between the source and target language

Most languages need more space than English for the same eLearning course. For example, a piece of information can expand by up to 25 percent when translated from English to Spanish. German, on the other hand, is longer than English by up to 23 percent. Some Latin languages are up to 3 times longer than English. With that in mind, when designing slides and screens for your translated course, it is critical that you provide extra space for the expanded text. Furthermore, develop flexible text holders (menus, navigation bars, etc.) to ensure that they function smoothly even when the text expands.


It is important to remember that not all languages conform to the horizontal left-to-right text direction like is the case in English. Zhuyin in Taiwanese Chinese, for example is written vertically from left to right. Arabic and Hebrew, on the other hand, are written horizontally from right to left. You need to account for these differences too. Other important considerations to make in regards to the source vis-à-vis the translated languages include fonts and typefaces, hyphens and line breaks, and text alignment.


  1. Leverage rapid authoring tools

There are many rapid authoring tools that translators can leverage to develop and deliver eLearning materials in a timely, convenient fashion. The tools that stand out from the crowd are 4: Lectora Inspire, Articulate Storyline 360 and Rise 360, and Adobe Captivate.

Lectora Inspire is a product of Trivantis Corporation. After developing your training material, you can use this tool to export the original text to a RTF file, and to later import the translated files back to your preferred file format. RTF is a universal document file format that’s compatible with most common word processors. Through its strict filtering feature, RTF rids your translated content of unwanted characters, formatting codes, and symbols. Lectora also has multi-language publishing abilities that you can utilize when publishing different chapters and landing pages in different languages.

Articulate Storyline 360 and Rise 360 also has a reliable export/import feature, but the feature that makes it truly stand out is its built-in set of 28 languages. Languages here are categorized by region; for example, there is a section for French (Canada) and a different section for French (France). Another example is different Portuguese sections for Brazilians and Portugal natives. Also, with minor manual readjustment, the tool supports left-to-right horizontal text (for Arabic and Hebrew translations).

Adobe Captivate is a product of Adobe Systems. You can use it to convert your eLearning translation to mobile-friendly formats. It also has an Export/Import feature like the other 2 tools. The feature that makes it stand out, however, has to be the geo-location feature that helps developers to target their eLearning courses and assessments to specific locations. Trainees in this case can only access the content that’s designed for their city or country. That feature is available in Adobe Captivate 9 version.


Final word

Work with a centralized translation system for the best, consistent results. What makes eLearning translation different from other translations, as you would know, is that it doesn’t end with translating text. You might have to translate other elements such as subtitles, audio script, and voiceover alongside the text. Using different translators can be chaotic, expensive, and most often give undesired results. Thus why finding a trusted translation company and partner is critical to globalizing your eLearning courses.

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