Localization for Learning and Development

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Localization improves user experience and having your content localized helps you to tailor content to learners by using their colloquialisms and avoiding any cultural sensitivities.

Google Translate Doesn’t Work

Google translate may not work for many years to provide the kind of localization you really need. In a quick pinch if you need a rough translation Google Translate can sometimes work okay, but you have to be careful. For example the French phrase, Se taper “le cul par terre”, means to laugh uproariously, but if you plug that into Google Translate it means, “ass banging on the floor.” I find that to be hilarious, but it wouldn’t fly (English slang) in most educational uses.

Language is so complex that it may be a while until algorithms are available to us that catch things cross culturally like metaphors, slang, and dialects. Even in the human translation world it is important to use translators who understand slang.

Culture Clashes

Cultural differences are apparent anywhere and everywhere in the world. In commercial training many of the big brands have employees all over the world and there is pride for their individual organization’s culture as a brand. English is the most common language of these big brands. The individuals living all over the world who work for them are important as well, and much of the training is designed within the boundaries of an internal communications criteria.

I have learned, as a general rule, that the British hate something that they think was created for Americans and translated for them. Consequently, it is important to get the Queen’s English correct. But it is also important to understand culturally that in the UK training is seen as a bit formal. The feedback I received when localizing content to UK English is, we don’t use the word “mate” or “cheers” when we are doing business (right. I am pretty sure I have heard those words on every business call I have ever had with the British). What they mean is, don’t use those words while presenting training to them.

The Right Approach to Localization

The more we can be aware and make simple accommodations in diversity the better the presentation. For instance, if the training for Japanese seems like it was created for Americans and then haphazardly translated for Japanese, this can affect moral, alluding that the Japanese employee is not as important.

When localizing content for big brand training in Japanese, the in-country person providing verification had this feedback, “the font looks like it is for a child’s book.” True story, so the translation itself made great sense but it was not in a professional font-face in our courseware. What if I wrote this entire blog in comic sans? Stencil? Yes it is even important to find out the pro font faces in the languages you are translating for. Luckily, in HTML5 we can use “locale” to default to the web browser fonts being used in the language. I can expand more on that in future blogs if there is interest.  If you are still using an XML driven Flash courseware model, you need to load the font for the language.

For Riptide Elements, “locale” is very important to us in our language selector functionality. Expansion and contraction of language is also something we think about problematically. Responsive layouts do not just handle this stuff out of the box per se. English to German translation has a better than 20% expansion rate. Expansion and contraction means the space the language takes up in your page layout is going to expand and contract. As a software product we want to be careful not to have to create character counts, or worse, tell an educator how verbose they can or cannot be in any given element of their course. English to Spanish expansion is 20%, the character sets Japanese, Chinese, Cantonese, often contract.

Our course ware has rules programmed in that adjust the font sizes as well. Some of the character based languages have developed a preference for either right or left reading probably due to early globalization and limits in technology. In our courseware, we elegantly flip the view for right reading languages and that was not easy to do. I endeavor to use the latest in technology to solve this problems around localization because it is not just a technology issue it is a people issue that is constant in that we don’t understand each other’s languages in the world. It can be cost effective and easy to provide accurate translation if you stick to a simple process and you have the right tools. Technology is moving so fast, you may have a better solution available to you now.

Tips to Localize Content for L&D

  • Shop around for a fair price, usually based on word count. Some languages are more expensive to translate.
  • Be sure to find a translator who has people in country to verify translations.
  • Try to set up a workflow that allows you to drop the translations into your product. This third point requires that you work with the translator to set up templates for you (JSON or XML). This should be no extra cost if they want to keep you as a client.

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