The truth about translation in online courses

What can get lost when you localize your online courses

In an era of global business, translation is an increasingly important part of any online course. Website localization is a booming industry and there are many examples of it being done both well and badly. It’s particularly important to make sure localization is done effectively in online courses, though, because the users are relying on the course to train them in something new. They therefore often lack the context and background knowledge to deal with the slight lapses in accuracy that they may overlook in a regular website. With any learning content localization, there are specific areas that we need to focus on to make sure nothing is lost.

The first of these areas are language-specific. Making sure any idioms are translated according to the meaning of the whole idiom and not just the meanings of the individual words is best practice in any area of translation but particularly important in online learning. Mistranslation of an idiom can render a whole paragraph impossible to understand or even change its meaning, which can have a very negative effect on a course.

Connotation is also important to consider. For example, take the words ‘skinny’, ‘thin’ and ‘slim’. The first has a negative connotation, the second is relatively neutral and the last is positive. Making sure to match the connotation of a word in the target language is especially important for any course involving communication techniques or other soft skills where the subtleties of language is important.

Corporate tone is another area that can get lost, especially in a large localization project using multiple translators. This is where quality control is important and having a style guide written in the target language is a really useful investment. When the translators know what kind of tone they are aiming for, they can ensure consistency and less time will be needed for rewrites of the online courses content.

While consistency is one of our usual goals in delivering a learning program, consideration of local culture is also important. With courses that deal with soft skills such as management and dealing with people, there may need to be differences in the actual content delivered between different localizations of the course. Remember, localization isn’t just about direct translations of the content, it also means making that content is suited to the audience.

If we do it right, localization of online courses can have massive benefits to the learner. It’s important to be aware of making sure the subtleties of the course aren’t lost, but taking the time to do this can mean that rather than losing out, we gain from localizing online course content.

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