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Top 10 Tips for Effective e-Learning Localization

At a time of global lockdown, e-learning has suddenly become without doubt the world’s most important employee training tool. 

For businesses needing to engage and train huge numbers of employees forced to work at home, e-learning is not just a good option in a difficult situation. It’s the only one. But, across different territories, how do you adapt e-learning materials for different languages and cultures?

Why do you need to localize e-learning?

Managing change is always a challenge. Amidst the current uncertainty, it becomes business critical. If your business has a workforce spanning multiple markets and working in different languages, effective e-learning materials by themselves are not enough.  You’ll need to localize them too.

But isn’t just translating them sufficient? The simple answer is: no. While getting the translation of linguistic content right is crucial, it’s far from being the only consideration.

From the type of font you use to the style of the imagery and graphics you include, there is a huge range of technical and cultural considerations to take into account if you want to make e-learning work for local audiences. 

Why? Of course, we know that employees always prefer to learn in their native language. But, on top of that, time and again it has been proven that if you really connect with the local culture of employees and adapt training materials accordingly, retention, acquisition and – most importantly – behavioural changes are vastly improved. 

That’s why we call it localization not translation – it’s about much more than just language.

So how can you get it right? In fact, the best way is to start right at the beginning: when you create your e-learning materials in the first place. If you understand the key localization issues when you create your original e-learning materials in the source language, you can save time, money and, ultimately, improve learner outcomes when adapting for different audiences.

So, with that in mind, here are our top 10 tips for producing materials for effective e-learning localization.

  1. Choose a versatile font

When you’re localizing e-learning materials, selecting a font isn’t just an aesthetic choice. It’s a functional one too. Not all fonts are supported in all languages. Check first which target languages you require and whether your preferred font supports them. If not, you might be looking at costly redesigns further down the line.

2. Allow room to grow

Put simply, many languages take up more space than English. Typographically, Spanish, French and Portuguese texts are around 20-25% longer than their English equivalents. German, with its huge compound words, is often up to one third longer. So it’s a good idea to ensure that your original text (if it is in English) is not packed too densely into the design. Allow space for translation expansion and you’ll be thanking yourself further down the line.

3. Be culturally aware with visuals

Images, symbols and colours can have vastly different interpretations across different cultures. For example, the colour red symbolises love and passion in Europe and America; in Nigeria and South Africa, however, it is associated with death. In Japan, meanwhile, a Buddhist temple has been traditionally noted on maps with a symbol that evokes horror to many in the West: the swastika. When there is potential for cross-cultural misinterpretation, it pays to have in-market knowledge of visual as well as linguistic connotations of your e-learning content.

4. Keep it simple

Some parts of language are more difficult (and therefore more time-consuming, costly and error-prone) to translate than others. While you don’t want your content to be entirely lifeless, it’s worth remembering that idioms (non-literal phrases such as “learn the ropes”), acronyms (such as “SMART” goals) and humour often do not translate easily into other languages. Keeping it simple from the start is a sound localization strategy.

5. Provide editable graphics

As well as being culturally aware, you should always make your graphics editable so that a designer can adjust them, perhaps to accommodate text overflow or other localization requirements. It also makes sense to keep text and graphics separate where possible, as translations can be difficult to position within the original design.

6. Leave space for subtitles

OK, so this one is not rocket science. But it’s still important. If you are creating e-learning materials with audio content (and you don’t intend to overdub in the target language), then leave the bottom third of the screen free for subtitles. They’re much harder to read when not on a neutral background.

7. Minimize audio sync points

If you are looking to sync audio and text, it’s a good idea to keep this very simple. If the audio and the text content has very precise and complex timings (for example, content appearing and disappearing multiple times on the same page), it is much harder for the translator and audio engineer to get the synchronization right.

8. Recognise diversity

It is important when you use imagery of people in your e-learning materials that you reflect the diversity not only of the society of the source language, but of all your target languages too. For example, trying to engage Japanese employees with materials that exclusively feature European faces is unlikely to have maximum effect. If you are using graphic icons or imagery for humans, try to make them neutral and non-race specific – Vodafone’s zoo-zoos are a good example.

9. Plan ahead for mobile

Now more than ever, users will be looking to access e-learning on their mobiles. If you’re localizing into multiple languages, issues such as text expansion become even more critical. For mobile users, try using icons rather than text wherever possible. And always test in your target languages – a clean interface in one language can become an unusable mess without proper localization.

10. Choose your localization provider wisely

Admittedly, we would say this. But we know from working on lots of e-learning projects that when it comes to localization, there is no substitute for experience. A provider that understands the e-learning process can help you to plan the best way to create materials that can be easily adapted across different cultures whilst always reflecting your core brand values and e-learning messages. You’ll need a provider with the audiovisual and multimedia technical capabilities to match your needs. And a provider that uses translation technologies such as translation memories and term glossaries which can save you time, money and improve quality.

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Those are our top ten tips for planning effective e-learning localization. 

If you are thinking of how to connect better with a multilingual workforce that is forced to work remotely, we know there’s a lot to consider right now. We’d like to see if we could help. Please email us at lifestyle@thisisalpha.com