Designing with translation in mind

How many times have you designed and created an amazing course that is just in one language, to be then told it is going to be translated?

Easy right? Hmm… my answer would always be a definite ‘maybe’!

II build elearning using Articulate Storyline, so this software, and it’s translation capabilities are always at the front of my mind when designing content. The export facility is great for translating in house, or by translation services, but it is not the only way to translate your course. After numerous projects involving translation, understanding who will maintain the course moving forwards helps me to choose the right translation method.

Do you use…

Use the translation functionality if the course will be maintained by a content developer fluent in the language, as this option converts everything within the storyline file, including slide titles, scene titles, and object names. So if you can’t read the language, updating it once translated becomes difficult.

Use the copy/paste option when the course will be maintained by the team who created it. This option lets you control what is translated, keeping it to just on screen text, transcript text, and audio. Your slide titles, and object names will remain unchanged.


Planning and design tips

  • Always storyboard your course design and keep translation in mind when planning your on-screen text and audio commentary.  Use clear phrasing and terminology throughout.
  • If possible, be clear on the languages you will be translating to; are they left to right? Or right to left?
    Knowing this at the start means you can design your layouts to suit both – save extensive and potentially expensive rework later.
  • Consider the quantity of on screen text on a slide by slide basis. Some languages are considerably longer than English, and this can cause problems with your layout once the on-screen text is translated, especially if you haven’t allowed any white space for expansion etc.
  • Consider the fonts you will use for your course.  Not all fonts have the full range of diacritics included (those small accents that many languages have).  So Arial for example can cope with most languages, and includes the diacritics once published.  But should you translate to more character based languages such as Chinese, you will need to adjust your font to something like Arial Unicode to ensure all characters display correctly when published.  This Unicode font also includes the extra line padding needed to ensure your translated text remains clear on screen.
    The key point here is to publish your course once it is translated to check that all diacritics or characters are displaying as they should.  Viewing in preview is not enough; the font and diacritics could change once published, and with some fonts could be completely missing.

Let’s get started…

1. Storyboard

Storyboard your course design, planning out all design elements, on screen text, audio, layout, images and navigation items. I use PowerPoint for my storyboards as it is quick and easy, and lets me create how I want the course to look in a way that can be easily shared with my clients.

Get it reviewed and signed off before you start to build. The time and effort spent at this stage will simplify your build stage, and could save more time-consuming rework.

You also get to use your storyboard as a translation tool, when only on screen text is being translated using copy/paste.

2. Build Smart

Think of your English course as your ‘master version’, and finalise it before starting any translations.

When using audio, copy your audio script into the notes section for each slide to help you match audio to the slides, and also provide your transcript – useful for review purposes.

For text, consider using the Paragraph spacing wisely to minimise the amount of rework you need to do once you translate the module.  For example, I set my line spacing to a ‘Multiple’ of 1.2. this means my line spacing will automatically adjust to 1.2, irrespective of the font size I use. This means it will automatically adjust for the diacritics in your text, and saves me having to manually adjust each text box.

Don’t place on screen text into images using the storyline states – the translation tool cannot detect these, and the text in the images will be missed. If you need to place any text in images, keep in mind that you will need to translate these separately.

And finally, think about how you create items such as buttons, question answers  etc. I have just completed some translations for a client where each answer was created as a shape, and the text label was hidden in the states.  Translations were using the copy/paste approach, so this build meant each ‘answer’ required 35 key clicks to update the text. Multiply that by the number of answers, and questions throughout the module, and this was a lot of work just to update answers to questions.  This wasn’t my build, and there are many ways I would simplify the build to speed up translations. For example, I would build the answer as a text box, putting all shapes and accents into the states; this would mean a simple paste of the text would update all layers in a maximum of 5 clicks.

3. Review it

Spend the time to fully QA and check your English build. This ensures that the version your client sees is as good as it can be.  Action any amends, and update your storyboard to reflect the changes as well.

When your English build is finished and signed off, save it as a master copy. I suggest putting the language and version number into the file name.

4. Translate

You are now ready to start creating your translated versions of the course, either using the translation function, or using copy/paste.  Make a copy of the master version, and rename it to the language you are working on, ideally saving it to a separate language folder to ensure your master copy is safe.

Either translation method will mean you need to check every slide, making minor layout adjustments where required to ensure your new text displays in the best way possible, avoiding orphan characters or inappropriate hyphenations.

Now publish, and check that all on screen text is displaying as per your translation document. This also gives you chance to spot any last tweaks such as alignment, and missed orphan characters.

Once you can see your translated text is all displaying correctly, you are good to go.

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