Translation. It’s what everyone wants to talk about. When I was doing the conference circuit, about 25% of the questions I was asked were about translation. And that’s not the topic I was there to present! There are more and more companies popping up whose business model is solely based on translation and foreign language audio recording (all saying they specialize in preparing audio for eLearning). And, even today, I received an email from Articulate talking about the ease of translation in Storyline.

It’s easy to make translation look easy. And I agree with that after looking into Storyline’s translation ability; they have a nice system in place to help translation along. But after working on several translation projects to this point, I have learned, very clearly, that translation is a lot more than turning “yes” into “oui.” Especially where eLearning is concerned.

There are layers to translation projects. Not all projects need all of these layers, but as you begin it is important to consider them all in relation to your project objectives to avoid surprises later and make sure you’re getting the outcome you truly want. It’s also important to recognize and plan for how these layers impact each other and how you will sew them together in your final product.

Here are the five layers I’ve defined so far. As I continue to work in this field, I have no doubt that I will continue to define and refine this list:

  • Language—literal translation of text or voice over
  • Content—changing phrases, names, measurements, differences of instructions, etc. for accuracy and understanding.
  • Design—changing images, graphics, etc. to match content or for better localization.
  • Technical—the plan for how translation will be put back into the course and QA testing, as well as thinking about any other objectives for the course use.
  • Foundational/Organizational—turning a storyboard and/or other supporting documents into a roadmap for translation. The roadmap prepares the language for translation in a way that insures the developers can trace it back to exactly where it needs to go.

It’s easy to get stuck thinking of translation as just the Language Layer. But, I think, after looking at the layers above, you can start to see the importance of each and how they fit together.

In the end, my one and only message is simply, translation projects are not always complicated, but they certainly require a lot more than just sending things to a translator. And with more and more translation needs arising, it’s important to educate ourselves and our clients (internal and/or external) about the entire scope of translation so that our projects can be smooth, accurate, and, ultimately, a resounding success.

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