Reaching a Global Audience Through eLearning Translation

Thanks to the Internet and new technologies, education has never been more accessible. To ensure that language is not a barrier to global audiences, eLearning translation requires strategy and expertise to ensure a positive global impact.

If your content is going to reach international audiences, clarity is the goal. Translation-friendly text will not only help your global trainees better comprehend and engage the course, it will help reduce overall cost (and headaches) in the long run.

The aim of eLearning translation and localization is to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter their language, culture, or location.1 There are a handful of best practices you should consider as you develop eLearning programs to ensure they are easily localized and produce the right results no matter where your audience is located.

Be sensitive to cultural differences in visual aids

Signs, symbols, and colors should be thought out carefully to ensure you’re not surprised by what is considered positive in one country and negative or unlucky in another.

For example, the “peace sign” (specifically when your palm is facing you) is the equivalent of giving someone the finger in the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa. In Iran and several other Middle Eastern countries, the “thumbs up” symbol traditionally translates as a foul insult.2

Colors can also stir up powerful emotions. In South Africa, for instance, the color red is associated with mourning and in France, yellow signifies jealously, betrayal, weakness, and contradiction.3

If you take time to do your research as you prepare images, videos, or graphics for your eLearning course, you may eliminate time-consuming work later on.

Avoid slang, local humor, or abstract concepts prior to eLearning translation


Cultural sensitivity is a key element when it comes to localizing content. An offensive remark may cause learners to become disengaged or make your organization appear unprofessional. Take time to research the area the course will be completed in, including its culture and customs.

It’s essential that you write clearly and avoid unclear messaging. Try to avoid idiomatic expressions, as well as local or national landmarks or reference points, and other American-specific cultural items like sports.

For example, “taking a rain check” was a baseball term used when a game was rained out and spectators received a rain check to allow entrance to a future game. Today it’s used more widely to mean an event will be rescheduled for a more convenient date, but is still a uniquely American phrase and confusing to other cultures. You want to always be clear and inclusive in the language you use.4

Also, be aware of potential text expansion and make sure there is space to allow for it. Depending on the language, localized text can expand 20 to 50 percent in length. Make sure your source content is less text heavy or has room for expansion, so you’re not faced with localization challenges or delayed timelines.

Consider varying interpretations of time for eLearning Translation

Some cultures think of time sequentially and others view time synchronically. In sequential cultures (like North America, England, Germany, and Sweden), business people give full attention to one agenda item after another. In synchronic cultures (including South America, southern Europe, and Asia) the flow of time is viewed as a circle, with the past, present, and future all connected.5

The way a culture views time should influence how the eLearning course approaches deadlines, strategy, planning, and overall training.

Infrastructure may look different in other countries

Finally, you may need to consider the infrastructure realities in certain countries. Bandwidth and hardware issues, or even computer/Internet accessibility, might influence the types of content you develop. Again, do your research and get creative when needed.

By making eLearning translation and localization a priority and taking best practices into account, you will ensure that your content is seen, heard, and experienced in the most effective way possible.


[5] Communicating Across Cultures, ASME