Services | 09.10.2019

7 ways to avoid hitting a brick wall with learning and development translation

In advance of the World of Learning event this year in Birmingham, at which The Translation People will, once again, be exhibiting, we wanted to share some best practices when translating learning and development content. Given our longstanding track record with learning and development translations over the years, we are keen to share our experiences with visitors and fellow-exhibitors alike, so please pop over (stand E140) to discuss any questions you may have. We exhibited in 2018 and spoke with a number of companies about the challenges they face when managing e-learning (or any type of learning and development) translation projects.

In this blog, we discuss some of the main difficulties and challenges that people come up against when translating content with their current agencies, and some advice on those specific points. We have also included some points from our specialist Account Managers who deal with these types of translation projects on a day-to-day basis. We hope our insights help you to get the most from your e-learning translation projects.

My current agency can’t get the terminology right.

This often poses a challenge if documents are sent for translation without any context or guidelines. Company-internal jargon and industry buzzwords can be difficult to translate without good planning, as there are often multiple translation options available. Some industries/companies prefer to leave some words in English, even if a perfectly acceptable translation exists. Our advice would be to work with your translation partner to formalise a glossary of terms (translated into all languages and approved by your reviewers) before translation starts. This can then be built into a Translation Management System to ensure that only approved terms are used, with automated checks to ensure compliance. The glossaries can even include images, additional context and forbidden translations, so that the translator has a real-time view of preferred terminology and any supporting information. A good agency should also offer to maintain this glossary on your behalf over time.

My current agency is too slow.

Translation is a skilled profession and it takes time to carry out the necessary research. However you should expect any professional translation agency worth its salt to pull out all the stops to meet a reasonable deadline. Translators can produce 2000 words a day, on average, but where projects are needed more quickly, projects can be split and still maintain consistency by working in a Translation Management System – especially if there is a glossary set up, as described in the previous point. It’s not always the best option: best results often come from using a single translator, but you can still get excellent results from using a well-managed small team, and crucially this can allow you to meet your own deadlines. We recently translated a project containing more than 200,000 words in 3 weeks, involving multiple translators working in a Translation Management System with a shared glossary. A single translator would have taken about 5 months to complete this work, but our client had an important deadline to meet!

My employees say the translations aren’t good

You want your translations to be the best they can be – for your employees to not even realise that the content is translated from English, but written from scratch in that language. The truth is that not all agencies will be able to deliver that quality, however it is also true that translation quality is notoriously subjective: some employees might think the translations read well, others may think that it doesn’t. That is not to say that you shouldn’t take employees’ concerns into account, but it is important to bear in mind that – as with any piece of writing – subjective opinions can be a factor. Ask them to supply a couple of concrete examples of how they would change it and go back to your agency with the comments. A good translation agency will evaluate this and get a couple of different viewpoints to you from different linguists (black-and-white translation issues are few and far between) and evaluate the comments objectively so that a decision can be made on the way forward. More often than not, it is a question of style that can be quickly resolved, so don’t be afraid to go back to your agency with feedback and they should take this into account going forwards. However, always bear in mind that it is often not a clear cut case of right and wrong. If you’ve followed some other advice in this blog, hopefully you have found an agency that will deliver translations your employees will be more than happy with!

My current agency costs too much.

As with the above point, quality translation comes at a certain price. It’s a skilled profession and you usually get what you pay for! However, there are methods that translation agencies can employ to keep costs down, including managing translation memories that will allow discounts for repeated content to be applied. It’s also worth asking for different price levels for different content types – after all, it doesn’t require as much skill to translate an email as it does to translate a full e-learning course, so that should be factored into your negotiations. If you are concerned that prices are too high, our tip would be to ask other recognised translation agencies to quote for the work to see how prices compare – price isn’t everything and you shouldn’t always go with the cheapest supplier anyway (there is a large variety of quality out there), but it is a key factor in decision making. If your current agency is providing value for money, they shouldn’t be afraid to discuss pricing. Don’t be afraid to communicate any concerns you have with your current agency and you may be able to reduce the price by allowing slightly longer deadlines, or having reduced pricing for non-business critical content.

Some of the translations are not right for the context

This can sometimes happen, especially when it comes to e-learning or software translations. Individual words or phrases can require translation, which make perfect sense when you are actually doing the course, but if you are translating the phrase and you don’t know the context in which it appears, it can be easy to mistranslate it. Certain words and phrases can have completely different translations depending on how they are used, and translators generally translate the content in .xml format or something similar, and the context is not always obvious. Given the benefits of translating in .xml (for example) – i.e. being able to leverage translation memory discounts, easy re-integration – translating in this format is usually a no-brainer. However, it is important that the translator gets to know the product before translating it. Share a demo with them, send some reference material or even get them to go through the English course first, so they can picture what the context might be. But that won’t always be enough to cover every eventuality – make sure that you open the lines of communication with your translator and ensure that they ask if they are not sure at any given point. Moreover, best practice involves getting the translator to go through a demo of the translated course to make sure that everything has been translated correctly. In this way, anything that needs changing can be done before the translation is published to your employees.

My current agency has outsourced operations overseas and it takes a long time for them to get back to me.

We have heard this on multiple occasions, as some UK based companies look to cut their own costs and provide cheaper services. Our own view on this is that customer service is absolutely key! Our clients want to pick up the phone and discuss projects with us and check on the status of their translations. It’s what separates us from other companies, which is why The Translation People places so much importance on having a responsive and qualified Account Manager available to speak to on the end of the phone: in this way we can be sure to maintain the high service levels our clients expect. Customer service can still be great when outsourced (and, conversely, it can also be poor even when in the UK), but if this is important for you, then you need to find a translation partner who is right for you. Wherever your translation agency staff are based, if you’re not totally satisfied from a service point of view, and you find that you are waiting for hours for a quote, or communication during the project lifecycle isn’t great, then stress this to your agency and if it doesn’t improve, find a translation partner that can meet your needs.

My current agency can’t handle the formats I need.

For maximum efficiency, e-learning translations (or software translations of any kind for that matter) need an automated solution that doesn’t involve cutting and pasting from one format to another. With all the specialist translation technology on the market, there really is no excuse for using archaic methods. At the very least, your translation partner should be able to process an xml file that has been exported from your LMS (leaving all coding and tags intact, so that you can easily re-import it), should be able to provide subtitling and voiceover solutions for audio-visual content and should be able to return a fully localised version of your course, that works as well in the translated version as your original. If they can’t do this, then you should be looking at other options. Many translation agencies do offer this kind of service and you could save yourself a lot of time by working with someone who does.

If you’d like to discuss your learning and development translation requirements, get in touch to see what value we can add to your processes or pop over to stand E140 at World of Learning.

Read More about our experience in the e-learning sector.

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