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Subversive Art Sabotages Homeland: Lessons for E-learning Translations

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Subversive Art Sabotages Homeland: Lessons for E-learning Translations

Just imagine that new employees of your organization are undergoing an e-learning course on safety or compliance. Images of workplace are used to ensure authenticity and to ensure that audience relate to them in a better manner. What happens if some images or posters in the course convey a wrong meaning or message that could be detrimental to the reputation of the organization?

This is what happened to the makers of “Homeland” – the American TV drama series. Recently, an episode was aired with graffiti that is being called “Subversive Art,” that was critical about the show itself. Unknown to the show organizers, the graffiti artists who were called in to write Arabic script on walls of a refugee camp set, chose to air their critical views about the show. The Arabic script was not checked and validated by the producers. As a result, the show went on air with Arabic text on the walls that read – “Homeland is racist,” “This show does not represent the views of the artists,” and so on.

Such mishaps can occur when you translate an English e-learning course into native languages and roll it out to the employees. E-learning courses have many elements that need to be individually analyzed when sending them out for translation as well as after they have been received from translators. The course has to be evaluated on all these individual aspects and not just the content before rolling out the target audience. So, what should one watch out to make sure existing courses are translated well and with accuracy? Here are some recommendations.

Assign dedicated personnel to understand and evaluate the source content:

You are given an English e-learning course. You need to study all elements that are contained in it – images, text, multimedia elements, graphics, and so on. Get information about any specific terminology that is to be left un-translated, as it is unique to the domain. Learn about the target group of persons who are going to take the course – their work environment, culture, and any other information that might be relevant to designing the course. It is here that the background images and text are analyzed and validated. If there is a poster in the background, one has to make a decision – should we keep the text in English or should we re-create the poster in the target language? For this purpose, a dedicated individual or group needs to assess if the visuals are non-discriminatory and take into consideration cultural sensitivities. If they are fine, they can be retained as they are but if they are not suitable for the target audience, they will have to be replaced.

Include translation process into the storyboard with a specific translation template:

The storyboard will provide the blue print of the course. It separates the texts, visual elements, and provides instructions about multimedia elements and how they appear in the course. The more precise and clear your storyboard, the better the quality of your e-learning course. It tells the developers where the content goes, how the images appear, and in what format the learning objects are included in the course. If you have access to the storyboard of the English course, your job gets easy. The translation template has to be incorporated into it. Else, you will have to re-create the storyboard based on the course and include the translation template.

The translation template segregates elements that have to be translated and allows you to coordinate between different people involved in the translation process – translators, reviewers, narrators, and visual designers who may have to re-create images with native language elements embedded into text.

Have a good translation process with multiple checkpoints

Having a good translation process ensures quality output. Quality check has to be performed at each stage throughout the translation process. Else, we will have goof ups as experienced by Homeland producers. At CommLab, a detailed process is followed to ensure that the quality of course translations is maintained. Here is a graphical representation of the typical steps involved in e-learning course translations.

If you notice, two crucial steps were missed out by the Homeland team – proofreading of the translated text and QA of the translated text. Hence the problem.

Have language and culture experts validate course content

It is important to have a language and cultural expert from within the organization who understands the domain, the organization, the native culture and language of the employees to validate the final content before it is rolled out to employees. Finer points such as an ‘improper phrase,’ ‘graphic element,’ or visual that might have been missed out by the reviewers or quality analysts can be checked. This is an extra measure that could save you from potential embarrassments or awkward situations. This could be particularly valid for some types of training such as workplace harassment-prevention training and sexual harassment-prevention training where cultural and behavior differences could have an impact on the scenarios and examples used in the course.

Choose native translators from reliable sources

You have your systems and processes in place, but if you overlook the choice of your translators, quality might suffer. Ideally, native translators who are also domain experts are the best people to undertake translation assignments. However, in case it is a niche domain with only a few experts in the target language, good terminology guideline and translation memory database support should be provided to guide the translator to provide accurate translation. When choosing narrators, the clarity of accent to the target audience must also be evaluated.

E-learning translations are not easy and require due diligence. While rapid authoring tools and translation memory (TM) tools make the process relatively easy, manual intervention and monitoring are essential to avoid mishaps due to improper translations.

View eBook on How to Translate E-learning Courses Effectively


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