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4 Things to Consider Before Translating Your eLearning for a Global Audience

hello in multiple languages

As Instructional Designers we are always looking for creative ways to engage learners and teach content within a training. One of our (the team at Endurance Learning’s) proud moments of brilliance came in the form of a crossword puzzle. The idea: Define a few concepts and then assess the learner by having them complete a crossword puzzle to see if they can match the term to the definition.

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It was super cool!

Until the client told us they needed it translated into Spanish.

Because, guess what? The 11 letter word “engineering” that fit nicely into 4 across is not an 11 letter word when translated into Spanish…

Here are four lessons we learned the hard way and that you may want to consider before translating for a global audience.

Consideration 1: Idioms

  • “Let’s play a game to break the ice”
  • “The sky is the limit”
  • “It’s raining cats and dogs”
  • “That was a piece of cake!”

Have you ever thought about how strange some of the common English sayings are?

These are all examples of idioms. Idioms are a group of words that have an established meaning outside of the meaning of the individual words. Idioms are often not something we think too much about as we speak and as we write, yet, for a non-native speaker, they may either have to seek help to interpret the idiom or it may just not make sense to them.

When working on a training project for a global audience that will require localizations, idioms generally don’t translate well, so it’s best to avoid them entirely. It can help to have someone else review your writing with an eye for idioms, colloquial expressions, slogans, etc.

Consideration 2: Names and Job Titles

  • The main character in an eLearning module is named “Mary”. Should she be “Maria” in the Portuguese translation? Or does she remain “Mary”?
  • A character’s job title is “Monitoring & Evaluation Subject Matter Expert”, but that title doesn’t exist in the East Africa country office. Do you keep that job title in the Swahili localization? Or does the character get a new job title?

These were real situations we had to wrestle with as we worked through localizations. The “right” answer is going to vary by client and by project. However, in general, we have found that by taking the time to consider cultural context and adequately represent your learners, the names and job titles should be diverse enough to remain the same through all localizations. And most importantly, these decisions should be made before localizations begin so that you can reduce confusion, frustration, and time spent re-working a module.   

Consideration 3: Copyrights

Copyrights can get tricky. Here are questions we now ask ourselves when it comes to copyrights:

  • Do we translate the copyright symbol? 
  • If we don’t, do we leave the American form of the symbol even if it has no meaning in the localized language? 
  • Or do we omit the symbol altogether? 

We learned in the midst of one particular project that the copyright symbol is different in other languages and many symbols even have alternate meanings in different countries. Similarly, the registered trademark symbol, ®, or the copyright symbol, ©, are U.S. trademarks and the copyright protection is for American English only. For this particular client, since we did not translate the phrase that was copyrighted into a different language, and the registered copyright protection was for U.S. English, we ended up deciding to leave the U.S. symbol in the module. 

The lesson learned? Consider these distinctions early on in the translation phase so you can be consistent with all your localizations.

Consideration 4: Acronyms

Another important consideration when it comes to writing for a global audience is acronyms. Acronyms are wonderful mnemonic devices to help us remember the first letter of items in a list. In the English language, we use them often and we see them used frequently in professional settings to teach or train. But the problem is that they don’t translate. For example: S.M.A.R.T. goals. Not only does each letter stand for a word that can be part of a goal setting process (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound), but the acronym as a word has meaning. The word SMART immediately makes us think of synonyms – intelligent, clever, brilliant. But then you translate it into a different language and problems abound.

1 – The word that the acronym spells does not translate.

2 – The spelling of the word is different.

3 – The first letters for each word no longer work as a mnemonic device.

For example: “SMART” in Spanish is “INTELIGENTE”. Inteligente is more than five letters and no longer helps us remember “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound”.

“Ok, but what should we do with acronyms?”

This was what we asked ourselves in a recent project. Our first piece of advice is to discuss how acronyms will be handled during localization early on in the project. In the example we are referring to, we decided to keep the acronym and the words that made up the acronym in English for the localized version. We included the translation in parentheses and (in the local language) explained that it would remain in English so that the acronym could retain its meaning.

So, what do idioms, names and job titles, copyrights, and acronyms all have in common? They make up four things that should be considered before translating for a global audience. And don’t miss this post, if you want to read 5 other lessons we’ve learned when writing for a global audience.

Need some help with your elearning project (or elearning strategy)? Drop us a line and let’s grab virtual coffee so we can bounce some ideas around for what might be the best way to create an amazing learning experience!

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