Creating Multilingual Courses: Mind Your Language
In the late 1990s Cadbury Schweppes introduced a bevy of new beverages to India. While these beverages were hugely popular across many geographies, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, it was quite new to an Indian audience. Amongst the drinks was Sunkist, a tangy orange drink that suited the tropical climate of the country quite perfectly. However, despite the apparently good fit, this drink did not fare as well as expected in the Indian market, and today isn’t among the available drinks. Some experts claim that one possible reason was that the name of the drink did not resonate with the populace of a country that already got too much sun. A sunny, summer day is all well and good in the British Isles but, if anything, the people in India want to run away from the sun and not to it.
This little story shows us how important it is to keep local sentiments and sensitivities in mind if we want a product or service to gain acceptance and eventually succeed in a foreign location. eLearning is no different. As the world is becoming smaller and more connected, there is a continuous blurring of geographical boundaries. Education, whether it is academic or professional, is now accessible to anyone across the globe owing to the vast acceptance of eLearning. The learner of today wants to consume education anytime, anywhere at his convenience through the device of his/her choice. These constantly evolving education needs are prompting eLearning providers to develop eLearning multilingual courses and ensure that high-quality instructional content is being pushed out beyond the language barrier. But are there any considerations you should keep in mind when creating multilingual courses? Yes; here are 5 of them.
- Requirement analysis.
When developing an eLearning course, it is first essential to assess the geo-specific course requirements to ensure that the instructional content developed is relevant and of high quality. This is most important in cases where the course concerns areas impacted by local rules and regulations. Some examples of such areas are accounting, regulatory and tax compliance, labor laws and even in fields of study related to healthcare. Audience analysis, determining learning objectives, outlining the content, designing instructional strategy and defining assessment approach and critical performance areas form the core of an effective multilingual eLearning course.
- Identifying the right tool.
The starting point of an eLearning course will be developing it in English. However, when a multilingual course needs to be developed, eLearning content providers have to ensure that they use the right set of tools to develop the course in English so that the required language versions can be supported easily. For example, if a course needs to be developed in a right-to-left language or a bi-directional script such as Arabic, the eLearning provider has to ensure that this translation can be done easily without compromising on the design element and the UI and that there is minimal additional work on localization engineering. An extension of this is also UI design – people used to reading from right to left may well be attuned to consume visual content also differently and this would impact interactivity design and picture placements.
- Geo-specific terminology.
Just like every other industry, the use of automation tools for translations are quite prevalent in the eLearning industry as well. However, to build good multilingual courses, it is essential to ensure that not only is the text translated well, but that it uses geo-specific terminology. The output received from a software translation tool is not going to be the same as that from high-quality translation specialist who will be able to incorporate industry-specific terminology with ease within the course and will translate the course down to the last detail including the interface buttons. You don’t want your course being treated as trash, or garbage if you are in the UK!
- Being culturally sensitive.
While it is important to develop eLearning courses that can be readily adapted to different languages and locales, it is equally essential to ensure that the content developed is culturally sensitive and uses the right examples for explanations that are relevant to the specific geography. This means that there has to be room for adaptation to different culture – specific information, alternate currency, number and date formats, and use of the right jargon and word plays. Reviewing content with the help of native speakers or people who have a clear idea of the cultural sensitivities of the geographical location makes the content relevant and hence, easier to consume to ensure the successful outcome of an eLearning course. For example, a baseball reference would be relevant for a course designed for the USA, but would fall flat in a country like China where the game is not as popular. Here using a football analogy would yield much better results.
- Technical and functional needs.
It is also essential to identify the technology needs and preferences of the user when developing multilingual courses. Using a particular type of media or technology that the users of the geography are comfortable with will ensure that the learner’s attention is appropriately captured and retained. Thus defining the technical and functional needs of the target audience, which includes taking into consideration the available internet bandwidth, technology preference, options of voice overs versus subtitles or vice versa etc. become relevant and important.
To effectively develop multilingual courses it is also essential to conduct third-party linguistic testing of translations to validate that the course content has been translated well and appropriately. This will ensure that the course developed is suited to the requirements of the target audience and also to identify if the course needs more local references. Following these protocols will ensure that the designed multilingual course will effectively engage the diverse audience and ensure the successful outcome of the program.
Anthony Burgess said, “Translation is not a matter of words only, it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture”. You could say that about a whole eLearning course too!