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What Is eLearning Localization? How Is It Different from Translation?

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Organizations have greater access to a dynamic cross-section of global talent. But leveraging a global workforce demands a new approach to training and development.

Technology-powered globalization has given organizations access to a broader pool of talent than ever before. Employees are increasingly embracing remote and hybrid approaches to work, and companies are poised to benefit from growth opportunities unbounded by geographical barriers.

However, venturing into new regions comes with its own set of challenges. Learning & Development (L&D) professionals are face-to-face with unfamiliar audiences and languages. Also, sharing core messaging and developing employee skills are further complicated by communication differences.

Translating content from one language to another is a start, but it does not go far enough. Culture is more than language – it is who we are, how we communicate, and what we believe and value.


What is eLearning localization?

Translation converts text into your target language. Localization goes further – it makes your eLearning content culturally appropriate.

Organizations are having access to a competitive global workforce and the benefits are undeniable – higher-quality talent, new market opportunities, and greater capability to provide employees with autonomy over their work schedule.

However, delivering online training to a globalized pool of staff poses new challenges. Your international employees are likely to speak a different language to you and each other. You can translate learning materials into their local language, but what about cultural nuances? What if humor fails to translate, a reference does not make sense, an idiom confuses, or a graphic reflects the society you, not they, live in?

That’s where eLearning localization comes into the fold.

What Is eLearning Localization (3)

eLearning localization vs. translation

Translation means offering your course in languages other than your own and basically rendering meaning from one language into another language. Localization, on the other hand, means adapting your course to a specific country or region and customizing it to meet the respective audience’s expectations and preferences. Here is an easy way to conceptualize the difference between the two: translation converts language and localization converts culture.

In addition to translating the text, localization involves adapting the following features:

  • Figurative language and idioms (e.g., break a leg, don’t judge a book by its cover)
  • Tone
  • Storylines
  • Images, graphics, and avatars
  • Fonts
  • Symbols, currency, and measurement units (e.g., inches and centimeters)
  • Acronyms
  • Date and time
  • Addresses

The goal of localization is to communicate course material clearly and in a way that resonates with the intended audience – whatever their ideas, customs, and social behavior may be.

What Is eLearning Localization (4)

Translation vs. localization: Three examples to further illustrate the difference

  • Your course contains a storyline that mentions the Fourth of July, the Independence Day holiday. Although their first language is English, your employees in Asia will not resonate with this reference. During the localization process, the Fourth of July holiday is removed and replaced.
  • You know humor is a powerful tool that engages learners and bolsters information recall. However, the joke that delighted your local employees may offend those in other parts of the world. During the localization process, the joke is rewritten to better meet cultural expectations.
  • You are teaching employees in Mexico and Spain – staff in both countries speak Spanish. So, you translate your text from English to Spanish. The word ‘computer’ changes to ‘ordenador.’ During the localization process, ‘ordenador’ is changed to the Mexican Spanish word for computer, ‘computadora.’

Want to learn more about eLearning localization? Then download our “Ultimate eLearning Localization Guide for L&D Professionals” for free! 

Read also:

Closing the Corporate Communications Gap With Localization

7 Ways to Successfully Manage International Teams

Measuring the Localization ROI in Corporate Training

8 Tips for eLearning Localization

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