June 28


best practices for translating your online course

  • Grassy field with hill and buildings

My father immigrated to the United States from Spain in the 1960s to work on a sheep ranch in California. He is one of many people who dreamed about a different life, away from life under a fascist dictator hell-bent on crushing any opposition. He wasn’t able to finish high school, because his family was too poor and needed him to work. When he immigrated, he spoke Basque and Spanish fluently – but not a word of English. Some of the men who worked with him were also Basque, so he wasn’t alone. But he (and they) were lost in a sea of English-speakers who made no effort to speak their language. They learned English the hard way – by listening to the radio and fumbling through conversations with their supervisors.  If online learning had been invented when my dad was younger, he likely would have earned multiple degrees in agriculture and animal husbandry.

The majority of open enrollment online courses are created in English, by native English speakers. Some platforms, like Coursera, have account settings that offer a few different languages, so English-as-a-second-language (ESL) learners can understand the courses. However, these are often crowd-sourced or computer-generated translations, and can contain a multitude of errors. As our global community grows closer and the need to upskill increases, we need to think about empowering learners to benefit from the incredible opportunities online learning provides.

Google is taking the lead on this. Edios is working with Grow with Google to translate their Career Certificates (6 and counting!) into over a dozen different languages. Localizing each certificate is a challenge, as each of them contain highly technical language and were created in English. There is text everywhere – in the videos, the readings, the discussion prompts. It’s been a learning process for us to tackle this project in a way that provides high-quality translations for all languages.If you’re thinking about localizing your courses or certificates, here are some things to consider:

Who is doing the translation? And who verifies that it’s “correct?” Machine translation is faster and cheaper, but human translation has far fewer errors. Translations are subjective. While some translators are objectively better than others, most translation discrepancies are NOT a matter of “right” or “wrong.” Language preferences play a big role. What terms stay in English? Do you use formal or informal terms to address the learner? Which dialect of the language are you using? Our clients verify the translations we are providing word-by-word and provide glossaries and style guides to help us hit the ground running. 

How much should you start with? Start small. We usually start with a few documents and SRT files, so that the translators can provide a sample of their work.  That is then validated by our stakeholders to determine if they approve of the decisions the translators are making. They can also use this time to provide global feedback that is applied to all the work moving forward.

What are the platform limitations for languages? Arabic is one of a handful of languages that reads right to left. Ukrainian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Turkish uses a Latin-script language. Japanese can be written left to right but also top to bottom, using either Japanese characters or the English alphabet. Does the LMS platform you are using allow for your preference? 

Are your examples made for a global audience? Sports metaphors are used a lot in English examples. But no one outside the United States cares about (or even understands) American football or baseball. Soccer (in the US, known as football everywhere else on the planet) is a great example to use if you need it. Keep a global mind when coming up with examples and metaphors, and stay away from colloquial language or American-centric idioms. Speaking of which…

Are you relying too heavily on idioms to express your ideas? Every language uses idioms. In English we say “when pigs fly.” In European Spanish that’s “when frogs dance the Flamenco,” and in French it’s “when chickens have teeth.” Machine translations of most English idioms will not make sense to international learners. Use simple language to help make your courses accessible to all learners.

My dad wanted his family to have a better start in life than he did. He made it clear that we were going to get the education he wasn’t able to. He spoke English in our home growing up, because he didn’t want us to struggle like he had to. There are millions of parents just like him across the world. I’m so proud to be a part of bringing the opportunity of education to those learners, in languages they can understand, so that I can be a tiny part of their success. 

If you’d like to discuss the cost or process for localizing one of your courses, please drop us a line at [email protected]

If you’d like to take a closer look at a localized certificate, check out these on Coursera:

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