You want to create a new exciting online course that will be taken by hundreds - or even thousands - of participants from all over the world. You want your project to have the greatest possible impact and reach, and to do so, the course needs to be available in different languages. But how do you go about it?

Translating an online course to different languages can seem like a daunting task. This article will give you a quick introduction to the processes involved so that you can tackle your multilingual project successfully. 

Why translate online courses?

Translations are part of an inclusive design strategy that focuses on reaching the full potential of each and every learner. 

Let’s take a look at the following scenario. Imagine you are creating an online course in English. Your target audience is international and most of them have an intermediate level of English. You estimate that, in theory, they should be able to complete the course in English. In this scenario, you may ask yourself: is it worth the investment to translate the course? The question to ask here is not whether non-native English participants can understand the course content, but whether they can benefit from the English course as well as a native or fluent English speaker could. In most cases, the answer will be negative. 

Delivering the training in the participants' preferred language will reduce cognitive barriers and ensure that they benefit from the course as much as any other native or fluent English-speaking participant. In other words, translating a course contributes to equal access to learning opportunities. 

It is worth noting that to ensure equal access to learning, more needs to be done in addition to adapting the course to the audience’s languages. If you are interested in mainstreaming inclusivity throughout your course, be sure to consult the UNITAR Inclusivity Framework for practical guidance on how to achieve this. 

Because the translation of an online course is a design strategy, it needs to be planned from the beginning of the project, as it will have an impact on the design and development of the course and on the production schedule. As a course production phase, it is often underestimated. But it is absolutely pivotal.

Translation alone is not enough!

Translating word for word to a different language is not an appropriate approach. The best way to ensure an inclusive course translation is to never skip the localisation phase. Localisation refers to adapting the content of the course so that it is linguistically and culturally accurate for the context of a specific target audience. This process may include the adaptation of simple cultural details that require minor changes to the written content. For example, a course created in English that uses the imperial system of measurement would need to be localised to use the metric system for an international audience. 

However, localisation of content can go beyond simple cultural elements and involve more significant changes. Content localisation focuses not only on written text but also on any other symbolic content that appears in the course, such as visual or multimedia elements. For example, colours or symbols are contextually situated and need to be adjusted.

Creating a course in different languages requires the translation and localisation of the text and other symbolic elements of the course. These two phases take place after the original course is fully designed and developed. They are usually carried out by professional translators and subject matter experts who know the vocabulary used in different contexts and geographical locations. To implement these technical changes, you will need the help of an eLearning developer.

Localisation is more than symbolic. It is also technical.

This technical localisation phase includes making sure that the translation documents are successfully imported into the translated versions of the course, but also making sure that all necessary edits are being done so that the localisation is complete.

This phase also includes adjusting the digital layout to suit the translated text. For example, Roman languages typically use more words than Anglo-Saxon languages to convey the same meaning. This changes the way the content is visually represented on the screen.

Translating a course also implies multiple adjustments for numerous core elements such as audios, videos, links and subtitles to make sure that the entire course is fully intelligible for the target audience. This also often includes modifying text formatting and object placement in the slides or screens to make the digital experience more compatible with the right-to-left languages. 

The number of technical changes needed will depend on the language into which the course is translated, the development tool used, and the amount of audio and external resources used. It will therefore vary on a case-by-case basis. 

Final words

Translation is a design strategy that, to be inclusive, must be more than just a word-for-word translation from one language to another, but must also be symbolically localised for specific target audiences. 

Making a course available in different languages is a time-consuming task that requires the collaboration of professional translators, subject matter experts and eLearning developers. Therefore, it should be planned from the very beginning of the project conceptualisation phase.

If you have any questions about this process, do not hesitate to contact the Learning Solutions team of UNITAR’s Division for Peace, who are experienced in translating and localising online courses to realise the full potential of multilingual target audiences

Share with