Nine Ways to Simplify E-learning Localization
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Nine Ways to Simplify E-learning Localization

Whether you’re a student or in the working world, you have probably taken a class online. And more and more people will in the future: the global e-learning market is set to hit $325 billion in the next five years, with close to 80% of businesses in the US using online learning.

It’s a simple fact that training conducted in a foreign language forces employees to work harder to get things right. It can reinforce a feeling that they aren’t as important as other workers or that the training topic is not critical, leading to low engagement and poor retention.

And yet, deciding whether to localize e-learning depends on a variety of factors, including how much your ROI might improve if training is offered in local languages. But there are other questions to consider. Do you have the budget available for every region? How much training material will be retained if it is conducted in someone’s second or third language?

Of course, these decisions are a balancing act, but the long-term benefits cannot be ignored in terms of both morale and organizational effectiveness. As a global business, localizing your e-learning is a sensible way to ensure your training is as effective as possible everywhere.

Here are some tips to help make the localization process smoother.

1. Optimize your source content

If you’re working with a language service provider (LSP), it always makes sense to involve them in content development as early as possible. Bring them into the e-learning project planning phase. They can make sure your content was written for localization—in clear, simple language—and can also point out any references or images that might need to be changed for the target cultures.

2. Terminology matters

As with any type of global training, consistency is key. Agree on your stylistic and terminology preferences from the start. Your LSP can guide you through creating a list of terms that are already being used by your company. Make sure technical terminology is consistent throughout your e-learning content and try to avoid synonyms for the same concept. To prevent inconsistencies, only use acronyms and abbreviations that have been previously approved and include them in a glossary for reference, along with non-translatable terms and proper names.

3. Use local imagery and cultural references

Localization applies to your imagery just as much as to your text, and includes both adapting images to suit the culture and inserting localized screenshots of any apps, software or websites. For example, if you’re using a picture of your headquarters, make sure you also have images of the buildings in your other locations.

You also need to create the right context for your e-learning courses, which involves locale adaptation—converting culturally specific concepts and topics into ones that better fit the location. For example, law, history and socio-political issues are very country-specific, and as a result, may need to be tweaked to be more relatable and understandable by local audiences. Even when approached in the best of faith, this can lead to confusion and variable outcomes.

4. Ensure flexible layouts

No sentence is the same length in a different language. Make sure to leave enough space for text expansion in your e-learning content and bear in mind the different layouts needed to accommodate other writing orientations, such as right-to-left for Arabic or vertical for Japanese.

It is also best practice to use text boxes and fields to lay out your text as separate sections. Do not use blank spaces or tabs to spread your content across a page, as it will be instantly distorted in another language.

Finally, make sure all text is ‘selectable.’ If you embed text in images, it cannot be retrieved to be translated, adding time and unnecessary complexity to the job.

5. Apply the right cultural context

Idioms are the enemy of localization, as there are rarely equivalents in every language. Avoid unnecessary idiomatic expressions or cultural references in your source text and evaluate the tone of your content. In some cultures, informal means unprofessional.

Cultural responses are also different when it comes to images. Make sure you’ve localized any references to icons, places or people in your pictures. Even common metaphors need serious thought. For example, road signs don’t necessarily have the same connotations in different languages.

6. Prepare your multimedia

Just like text expansion occurs when translating content to other languages, more time might also be needed to speak longer sentences. If you’re preparing video content, leave enough time for voice expansion so other languages don’t sound hurried. Your videos are also much easier to edit if you separate your voice audio tracks from any music or sound effects.

Imagery in video needs to be localized, too, so place any portions that need to be adapted in separate files. The same rule for text in images applies here as well, so don’t embed anything and make sure your text is ‘selectable.’

7. Stretch your video budget

Video is the most effective way to provide bite-sized, product-related content to your users to improve their experience and reduce live support costs. Often, companies shy away from localizing video content because of its perceived expense, but there are simple techniques that can make it far more affordable.

Instead of using voiceover, for example, you can look at translating your script and using subtitles. Replace live-action demonstrations with animations, and you can even show angles and closeups that are impossible in live video.

For the right types of content, cost-saving production techniques are a great way to extend the value of your multimedia investments without sacrificing professional quality or breaking the bank. Talk to your LSP’s production team to understand other ways to cut video localization costs.

8. Do you subtitle or voiceover?

With the Korean film “Parasite” becoming the first foreign-language film to win the Best Picture Oscar, it seems that subtitles are suddenly cool. In fact, the popularity of foreign shows on platforms like Netflix means audiences are more used to subtitles and dubbing than ever before.

Subtitles are more effective at conveying humor and can also help with learning a language, thanks to the ability to hear the original dialogue while reading the equivalent in the audience’s language. However, voiceovers allow the viewer to focus their attention on the action, instead of on the words on the screen, allowing for less strain on the eyes.

The choice between subtitling and voiceover can often be a matter of cost, but ideally, the viewer should get to choose. Research has shown that offering a choice is the best option to engage the widest range of audiences.

9. Consider MT

Machine translation can be an important tool to help manage the cost-effectiveness of your e-learning project, but only if it’s used in the right way.

Here it can be useful to apply the concept of emotional weight. For example, social media comments and reviews on product sites carry very low emotional weight. Your audience doesn’t need to be invested in the content. And because they just want to get the gist of what’s being said, it’s fine to rely on machine translation to do the job.

At the other end of the scale, any text designed to influence a direct action, such as advertising and sales material, carries a high amount of emotional weight and should be left to humans to translate, transcreate or write from scratch for each target market.

Broadly speaking, e-learning sits in the middle of the spectrum, meaning machine translation can be used to do the bulk of the work, with human translators then reviewing and editing the content where necessary. MT can result in a much more efficient use of your budget for high volumes.


E-learning localization makes enormous sense for global companies looking to deliver more consistent and effective training, regardless of whether it’s internal or customer-facing. For hands-on and personalized support for your e-learning localization project, contact one of our specialist teams today.