The Keys to Multi-Language Content in eLearning

Imagine being the content creator for an internationally distributed global workforce and having to write online training programs that are translation friendly. The task can seem overwhelming but necessary in the world today as so many people work in dispersed and remote work environments all over the world. Whether you are a small company or a Fortune 500, the likelihood of learners knowing and speaking a language other than English is great. Therefore, the crucial things to consider when creating courses in multiple languages is cultural context, expert translation, and simplicity.

Turning a training program into a multi-lingual presentation requires content creator to assess the culture in which they are delivering the information. Culture, as defined by Geert Hofstede, a Dutch Social Psychologist who did a pioneering study of cultures across modern nations, is "the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”; it is the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Therefore, when approaching the creation of content in another language, it is not just the translation of the words that needs to happen, it is the translation of cultural context. In eLearning, this is called localization — the process of adapting content to a different culture or specific region of the world. The cultural context must be examined and the training program become “culturally” appropriate.

Secondly, expert translation is crucial as languages are not translated word-for-word and scenarios are not always generalizable to all languages. An expert translator will know how to work with the specificities of syntax and and offer native insights as to the appropriate lexicon of the language. These experts much approach the translation as somewhat of a puzzle in both supporting the cultural aspects implicit in the source text and of fitting in or finding the most appropriate words and language to successfully covey the message in the target language.

Finally, simplicity of the content is key. Instructional designers need to ensure simplicity in the script, visual interface design, graphics, and as well as over all usability of the program and learning platform. You can still apply universal design for learning concepts, but it's important not to use colloquialisms or slang and all industry jargon needs to be spelled out whenever appropriate. Content creators need to also avoid idioms, specific cultural references, abbreviations, acronyms, metaphors, and similes, all of which may pose a challenge in translation or simply not be translatable. It is advisable to have a translation-friendly instructional and visual design strategy from the start of the project so there is not the need to re-work the reprogram after it is already written.

Teaching to a global audience is challenging, and understanding the critical pieces to creating multi-language content is key. An internationally distributed workforce needs the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue as it helps to reduce anxiety, facilitate comprehension, and shows that the learning managers and company itself cares about the learners’ needs.

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