Elearning for other cultures

I thought it couldn’t be too hard to design and develop an elearning module for a Chinese client in English and then translate it. I had no clue what was involved. Along the way, I found out that translating the text wasn’t all that was required. Let me share my learnings with you, so you can hit the ground running.

1. Imagery

This was a funny moment. I was lucky enough to travel to China and walk through the first draft with the HR Manager. One scenario of the module was based in a park where 2 characters were talking about the woman’s new job (it was an induction module). As soon as the HR Manager saw the image of the park, she said: “Parks in China don’t look like that.” I hadn’t thought about it. Luckily most photos were taken in their factory, so that was a quick fix. At least, be aware that in other cultures your images might be inappropriate or are not showing the right environment.

2. Writing style

We have a certain style for writing content in elearning. We’re very direct, use active language and try to keep the text to a minimum. When designing and writing content for an audience with another cultural background, ask a native speaker to check the language to make sure it matches their culture. They might use less direct language and are more descriptive

3. Local knowledge

When my Australian friends are talking about some music bands or tv shows or they’re using slang and idioms, I sometimes don’t know what it’s about as I didn’t grow up here. This might be similar for your overseas audience: they don’t have this local knowledge, don’t know background stories or major Australian events. You need to check with a native speaker whether these referrals or words make sense to them or even better, avoid them.

factory worker with face mask at assembly line

4. Limit characters

The use of characters with audio can add engagement to your elearning module. In case you have to translate your module to another or maybe even several languages, you have to be aware that all these characters have their own voice-over that needs to be translated. That can be quite costly. Only translating the transcript or adding subtitles would decrease the engagement that audio brings in learning and should be avoided. You’re better off limiting the number of characters.

5. Avoid text in images

You might want to add great images including text or graphs and infographics to your online learning. When your course needs to be translated, do realise that you also need to translate the text in your images. Text in images can’t be exported to be translated, so it’s quite time-consuming to update your images, graphs etc. with other languages. Try to avoid this or factor in the extra time it will take to do this manually.

6. Choose the right font

Not all fonts show well in a language that uses different characters, like my course in Chinese. When I added the translated text, it looked like some parts of the text were bold and others weren’t. This was caused by the chosen font and after choosing another font (I changed to SimHei), all looked fine again. You might encounter similar issues with the Arabic script.

7. Allow more space for text

I was lucky with the text that was translated into Cantonese as it took less or similar space. You must be prepared that some languages need more space than others. So, in your slide design, allow more space for text. This prevents you from changing all the text blocks after translating because the text might no longer fit in the designated space.

8. Translate after approval

You better make sure that the elearning module has been approved by your client before you have the course translated. It’s much harder to make (even minor) changes to a course that has been changed into a language that you don’t speak (let alone with different characters), especially when you’ve turned on the ‘shuffle answers’ option.

9. Use translation features

It’s not all trouble! Articulate 360 has the option to translate all the standard instructions and labels to a language of choice, just by ticking a box (Player Properties>Text Labels). So, error messages, feedback layers and alike can be translated quickly without effort. There is also the option of exporting the slide content to a Word document or an XLIFF file (File>Translation). The XLIFF is used by translating companies. For the Chinese course, I exported to Word, had all the text translated by my client, and then uploaded the Cantonese translation. That was a painless exercise. Just check, when you’re testing the module, that all the text including menu, feedback and error messages have been translated.

10. Provide separate translation document

One more thing: don’t forget to give the translator a separate document with all the text that is not included in the file export (e.g. captions) or will be translated by your authoring tool, like text used in images, graphs, infographics and for voice-overs.

Off you go

For me, it was an interesting (e)learning experience to work on a module for a different culture and in a different language. It’s all about thinking ahead to avoid costs and time-consuming manual changes. I hope these tips about designing and developing elearning will help you to avoid some of my mistakes. Good luck!

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