5 Translating Training Tips

In our ongoing effort to help prepare a new generation of people for the hurdles of modern training in a digital world, we’ve come to one of the obstacles that we’ve kind of dreaded broaching simply because it’s a tough nut to crack. Translating training materials across language barriers is one of those things that, unlike many other training obstacles, doesn’t have a magic wand to be waved to solve the problem outright.

No model of training approach, no framework of assisting technology, no psychological nor sociological model can easily bypass the difficulty inherent to translating training materials. However, with the digital millennium now firmly upon us, the world is becoming a smaller place with less compartmentalization of people by region, culture or language. Considering this, we can’t let language barriers daunt us like they once did.

While instant mechanical translations have worked fairly well in very recent times for handling website interpretation for a more unified internet experience, the subtle nuances of linguistic differences and the need for eloquence and verve in training makes this not an option with translating training (for now).

What we can do, however, is design our training materials with the eventuality of translation in mind from the start. What kinds of considerations does this call for? Let’s take a look.

#1 – Write for Translation Friendliness

The biggest thing to consider when designing training materials that will be translated is to be very careful in your writing. Avoiding plays on words, colloquialisms and overly complex phrasings that likely don’t translate the same way to other languages is a good start.

Along with this, write on a simpler level, around eighth grade English, because that’s about the point where translation to other languages smoothly reaches its limit.

#2 – Be Smart with Images

Avoid text in images where possible (as this will be a nuisance to alter for translation). Along with this, be selective of the imagery used, as gestures, symbols and cultural references will be lost on people from other parts of the world and serve to confound the process.

#3 – Be Wise with Text Formatting

Not all languages use Roman letters (in fact more don’t than do), so the first thing to remember is to build your text encoding around the Unicode system which handles an extended set of symbols that covers most living languages. Along with this, and programmers are no strangers to this, rasterize your text where being used in scripts, as string resources or tables that are easy to find and edit, without mauling the rest of the design to fix and interpret them. Avoid any embedded text within scripts and stick to these tables as much as possible!

#4 – Be Aware of Text Scale

Be aware in placement of text fields and form layouts for training materials that translations can often be much longer than their English counterparts. In some cases, it can be less, but it’s always better to have unused space than concatenation and scaling issues due to text being too big for its allotted region of a document.

#5 – Avoid Hardcoded Typefaces

While most written languages have font counterparts to those available for English, they often don’t implement as well in other symbol sets. As a result, it’s a good idea to tabulate the formatting of typefaces and color schemes so that the translator can pick the best color and typeface to suit the culture and the intrinsic structure of the linguistic symbols being used.

Translating training materials is all about being considerate of the needs of translation when designing the materials. And, as we can see, the biggest rule of thumb is to overestimate spacing, be culturally neutral with visuals, and centralize the formatting and text so that it’s easy to change it without messing with the body of the document or any scripts being used.


Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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