Last updated: 05.04.18

Translation versus localisation and impacts on e-learning content development

As technology advances, so does our ability to access eLearning. A growing requirement for companies is to make content accessible for learners worldwide, including non-native speakers. Understanding how to approach the project can be one of the most challenging phases. Here we will look at some key considerations and how we can ensure that the quality and meaning of our words aren’t lost during the translation process.

What should you consider?

An important consideration is how you plan to approach the writing/collating of the content. Basic translation involves rendering the text into another language to match the meaning, whilst localisation focuses more on the process of adapting the content to suit any specific cultural requirements for that country.

The earlier the planning starts the better. If the requirement is just to translate the English content, you should be mindful of the amount of text on screen as certain languages like German and Russian have a tendency to contain long words which could result in there been limited space on screen. Also, if translating the English content, be aware of how the meaning of words or sentences could change.

Translating the piece once it’s completed in English is usually the quickest way but not always the most accurate. The tone of the content may be lost and the learning may be restricted due to the fear of writing with too many cultures in mind. With this you may have to consider the localisation route.

Think about the learner

It is almost impossible to create a course that will be perfect for every person in every culture, but there are things you can do to make it as accessible as possible to the target audience. The first is simply do your research. The more we understand about the purpose of the module and who will be doing it, the more chance we have of creating something useful for all. Localisation isn’t just about content; images, formatting and colours also have to be considered.

If you are doing a module that is going to be rolled out in the Middle East, for example, you will need to consider the use of characters (gender equality is still an issue in some countries meaning that you may have to avoid using or even referencing women). Also, be mindful of any cultural differences; for example, green is seen as the colour of Islam and if that colour or even the country’s flag is used out of context, it could potentially offend the learner.

How to minimise the impact on development

The use of graphics and videos is a fantastic way to explain a concept and it works in all languages too. Think about the point you are trying to convey, can it be explained in visuals? This often cuts down on text and translation work but as mentioned previously, be aware of cultural issues that may affect visuals.

Having someone who is from the country or region that you are writing the content for is also an advantage as they can not only supply you with tips and advice on how to approach the module but also quality check the translated version

Either way, creating eLearning for many different nationalities is an exciting challenge that should be embraced rather than feared.

For more information on localisation projects and bespoke content Virtual College has created for our clients, please contact Sophie Thornton at We’d love to hear from you.