Our client, a global manufacturer, needed translation and localization of e-learning courses on business ethics into Chinese (Simplified), French, German, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), and Spanish (Latin American). The English version had been authored using Articulate Storyline 360.

The English training module totaled about 11,000 words with 35 minutes of recorded narration. We had 4 weeks to deliver the finished modules in 6 languages, with a deadline of January 8. It’s always a challenge to staff complex localization projects over the winter holidays, because many of our global partners take vacations, and those who remain available have packed work schedules.

Executing the elements of e-learning localization requires both linguistic and technical skills. E-learning projects typically require

  • Professional translation by subject matter experts
  • Bilingual review and proofreading by professional linguists
  • Foreign language voice-over recording and editing
  • Audio integration and synchronization with animations
  • Text re-formatting and localization of graphics
  • QA and pre-live testing by native-language users

We assembled a qualified team of 12 linguists, 6 voice talents and 6 integrators who worked in close coordination thanks to the skills and oversight of our Project Manager, Ken Farrall. For a project of this size, the translation phase alone would take approximately 6 to 8 business days, under a standard production schedule. With a turnaround time of 18 business days, careful planning and execution were critical for an on-time delivery.

Here’s a step-by-step description of how we did it. Our experience with complex projects gave us the tools and the confidence to execute this project flawlessly.

Source preparation

The project manager assessed the structure and content of the source module for word count, complexity, and localization readiness. The design choices and synchronization between animations and audio were evaluated to see how they might impact the integration workload. (The more “sync points” between audio and animations, the longer integration tasks will take). Imagery (in both words and pictures) was evaluated to identify any US-specific references that the client might need to change in order to create a culture-neutral source module.

The project manager also ran a pseudo-translation of the source module to help anticipate text expansion and formatting issues as well as to ensure all translatable text would be extracted and loaded into translation tools. As a final step, the project manager confirmed the clients’ preferences for pronunciation of names and treatment of acronyms in foreign languages.

Translation, editing, and proofreading

The onscreen text and narration scripts were loaded into the translation management tool to facilitate the work of linguists and to ensure that consistent terminology is used across all parts of the module.

One of the major challenges of e-learning translation and localization is text expansion. It can take as many as 30-40% more characters (and 30-40% more audio time) to say something in Spanish, for example, than it does in English. This fact impacts most translation projects, but it causes particular problems for e-learning:

  • Training sessions need to be kept within the same general time limits. A one-hour training session in English could end up being much longer in a western European language.
  • If text appears in on-screen graphics, the graphics may need to be resized to accommodate additional characters.
  • Voice-over recordings are typically charged per minute. Word count impacts voice-over costs.

How do you reduce text expansion? By partnering with translators who are also skilled writers. As Ben Franklin allegedly wrote, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Narration requires a “publication-quality” workflow including translation, editing, and review by linguists with experience translating scripts and minimizing text expansion.

Voice-overs: casting, recording, and post-production

Before recording, native-language voice talents were selected and approved by the client, then provided with scripts and instructions, including timing cues, pronunciation of company names and products, and acronyms. After a read-through and review, the full scripts and notes were finalized for studio recording.

The training module included published narrations (not just voice-overs), so consistency between what it is recorded and what is displayed was critical.

Studio recording of audio tracks began with preliminary, partial recordings in order for the client to approve pacing. Final voiceovers were then recorded and audio files were edited by studio engineers.

During this phase we also planned for integration. Because sentence structure varies across languages, syncing on-screen animation to the audio narration needed to be done separately for each language. The contribution of the foreign-language voice-over talents to the project was twofold. In addition to recording the narration, the voice artists identified cue points to mark where animations and images need to sync. This innovative workflow sped up the integration task to meet the tight deadline.

Human voice-over talents were essential to this particular project. However, as the quality of “text to speech” (TTS) software improves, clients will soon be able to confidently choose between human narration and automated “computer” narration. At this point in time, human narrators provide more expressive, persuasive, and authentic-sounding audio. And, for this project, they also provided technical support.

Integration of text, narration, and animation

During the integration stage, audio recordings were integrated with the e-learning module by inserting the audio files into the corresponding individual slides. Additional integration steps included adjusting animations and dynamic text to sync with specific words in the audio tracks.

Final formatting, text and images

To create attractive and user-friendly screen views, text had to be resized and reformatted to compensate for differences in text length between the original English and the target languages. Despite our translation team’s best efforts to reduce text expansion, some expansion was unavoidable, affecting the module’s original design.

Pre-live testing

An essential part of any e-learning localization project is testing by native-language users. For this project, the client opted for in-house review by in-country employees. We were gratified to learn that our careful preparation paid off, with positive responses from reviewers requiring only a few edits to terminology and some new formatting choices for resolving text expansion.

A Successful Delivery

We met our client’s deadline and the localized e-learning modules were successfully rolled out in January.

E-learning is an efficient way to train a global workforce for both technical and corporate compliance purposes.

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