The Hidden Project within Your Project: Translating Your Learning Materials

One thing I’ve learned over the years in project work is that content translation is usually underestimated. In fact, we like to think of translations as projects in their own right. They have their own budget, timeframe, reviewers, and approvers. All these things need to be considered, planned, executed, and monitored if you want to meet your project deadline and budget.

Let's Talk Budget

Typically, the cost to translate a project is based on its word count. Every language has a different price-per-word ratio but usually is within the 10 – 19  cents-per-word range. Voice-over work usually is calculated per 1,000/5,000/10,000 words and differs by language and voice actor. For detailed price information, check your vendor's latest pricing sheet.

With every project we do, we build what is called “translation memory.” This is a database compiled by our translation solution vendor that stores all text that has been translated and matches it with the new content we deliver for translation. This means you never pay twice for the same word to be translated. Words that have been translated in previous projects will be picked up by the translation memory and suggested to the professional handling the translation. As you can see, it can be a huge benefit and cost savings to go with a single translation provider.

Reviewing and Providing Feedback = Planning

Translating course content takes time, as does reviewing the delivered translation. Sometimes, it takes a few rounds of review on a translation for it to become 100% accurate, even when we work with a professional agency. This is usually because the translators might not have the full context of the content they are translating, or they’re not subject matter experts, or they might choose different terms and wording than you would prefer.

Be sure to review all content that comes back from translation and provide feedback on any changes that you make or require. Usually, you can set up the translation memory to allow “preferred translations” so it understands your preferences, such as the word “incident” over “accident” in your safety training, and can give the translator the right suggestions during the translation process.

Remember that the review process is truly a project on its own. When you are a project owner/lead, you need to find and work with your own internal reviewers. This will be your biggest challenge! When you contact colleagues from your network for help, be sensitive that this is not their primary responsibility. And be sure to set expectations for when you need your review completed. Experience shows that if you depend on translation reviewers without a formal agreement, deadlines often creep….a lot! This can have a huge impact on your project, which I’ve seen happen again and again and again.

So when you find someone who is willing and able to help you, make them part of your project. Discuss the required time and deadlines with their managers so the internal reviewer, your colleague, can officially allocate time to review, adapt, and provide feedback to you and/or the translation vendor.

The Review Process

Your translation vendor usually has a system in place to deal with reviews and adaptations—so use it! Typically, they will upload all translatable content into a system that’s connected with your company’s translation memory, and with a little basic instruction, most reviewers can review and edit right in the software tool. If you find that some reviewers prefer to review and edit in a Word document, I highly advise against that. In the long run, translating, reviewing, and adapting in a single system saves a lot of time and reduces the likelihood of version control issues. So, even though it might be tempting, do not review and edit outside of the translation provider’s system. You’ve hired them because they are the experts, so use that expertise to make sure the translation and validation process runs as smoothly as possible.

Planning

Now that you know what goes into translating your training content, I hope you see that it takes serious planning to make sure that all the moving parts are aligned and that expectations and deadlines are set. If you plan to translate your content into more than just one other language, be aware that you’ll need to repeat these steps for each one. So plan ahead! Delivering training in multiple languages is not a walk in the park. Translating your content isn’t just the final step in your project, it is its own project.

The next time you need to translate content into another language, remember to:

  • Review, and adjust if necessary, the per-language budget for translating text, voice-over, video narration or subtitles, and possibly image localization.
  • Formalize your internal resources for reviewing translations by making them part of your project.
  • Build on the experience of your translation vendor and use their recommended review process, validation cycle, and translation system whenever possible.
  • Plan your translation project budget, timeline, and resources like you would a stand-alone project. Because it is!

Have you got any questions or additional insights? Let me know in the comments below!

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8 Comments
Ant Pugh
Paul Alders
David Tait
Jeff Kortenbosch
Lee Bailes
Christophe Breemersch
Mark Dawdy

Hi Jeff - excellent article about the planning and working stages of translation. I would say something similar to what Christophe said that every translation I have done - English to French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic - is that the translation almost always takes far more real estate (space) than English, so you have to plan for it. You may not have to make a separate version of the course, but you may find it easier to make a second copy. Definitely review the photos used as they may have different meanings for different cultures. Also, make use of the "translation" feature of storyline, with the "save as" document to save it as a "word document with reference column" to allow an easy way to translate and import back the translated text. Thanks again as you say it almost always ... Expand