in All Things Localization

Since the world moved online during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, e-learning has become prevalent throughout many academic and business practices. E-learning allows for the globalization of academia, removing the barriers of regions, time zones, and even oceans to an individual’s access to educational content, whereas most academic courses were previously limited to in-person attendance. With that said e-learning platforms do not inherently allow for global access, as students who do not speak the original language will require translated content to understand the lessons. This is where a localization service provider, such as CSOFT, can help bridge these linguistic barriers as simple translation is insufficient to convey all the nuances that are found in most academic content, from simple algebra to a celebrity Masterclass. While many e-learning platforms have gone the route of simple translation to solve their globalization needs, several examples demonstrate how a lack of care toward translation can crash a course and severely hurt a program’s reputation around the globe. 

Cultural insensitivity and contextual background knowledge of baseball

Understanding the complex social perceptions of a country or region is a major aspect of any quality localization work as cultural context can either convey or obscure hidden meaning beyond simple language. One example of poor cultural adaptation in e-learning and educational adaptation comes from Duolingo, a popular language-learning app. Specifically, Duolingo’s first lessons for Japanese students in 2017 often included Western-specific references to baseball, like “three strikes and you’re out” or “hit a home run,” which confused learners due to the translators’ lack of understanding of Japanese cultural context. Because of this, Japanese learners found some lessons irrelevant and confusing, leading to frustration and reduced engagement with the course. Although this incident is a comparatively innocent example of cultural insensitivity in e-learning, it demonstrates that without consultation from linguists and translators with cultural expertise, it is easy to overlook how contextual background can affect learning takeaways.

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Literal translation: why is KFC “eat your fingers good” in China?

Literal translation is a common problem throughout globalized content and is especially problematic in an e-learning environment where the translated takeaways can sometimes mean something very different than the intended message. When American fast food chain KFC implemented a new e-learning program to train its Chinese employees, they chose to use bare bones, word-for-word translation. Although much of this content made sense to its Chinese employees, KFC’s primary slogan, “Finger-lickin’ good,” was literally translated to “Eat your fingers good.” While somewhat silly and not a serious endorsement to consume one’s fingers, it both confused employees and undermined the effectiveness of the training. Although its chicken being “Finger-lickin’ good” is not a primary assertion to the business model, its incorrectly translated suggestion to eat fingers conveys absurdity rather than professionalism. This perceived difference in tone directly affects how employees understand KFC’s core values, which they are likely to reflect to customers. Without expert linguists and translators with validation processes to check their work, it is easy for literal translation to make it into the final e-learning product, potentially hurting students’ learning outcomes. To read more about this blunder, check out Mashed’s The Hilarious Translation Mistake KFC China Made With Its Slogan

Mistranslation of key terms and the grave effects of poor technical translation

While the previous two examples of poor translation in e-learning were comparatively low stakes, the same is not true for examples in the health science space. An e-learning program for healthcare professionals, translated from English to Spanish, provided a particularly dangerous example of poor technical translation and terminology management. For this program, the translator mistranslated the key term intubate, which should be correctly translated to intubar, meaning the insertion of a tube, to extubate, or extubar in Spanish, which refers to the removal of a tube. Keen-eyed and cautious healthcare professionals identified this mistranslation, but it could have led to dangerous outcomes for the patient and a potentially fatal blow to any e-learning program. With certified health science translators with multiple validation processes, translation providers such as CSOFT Health Science can ensure accuracy for all translated content, taking special care of the terminology management that can be the difference between life and death for patients. Check out CSOFT Health Sciences to learn more about our Terminology Management and Technical Translation services!

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How to ensure correctness of translation in eLearning

In this age of hyper-globalization, it is more critical than ever for companies to ensure that their translations are both correct and effective in conveying the intended message. As we have explored, correct translation for an e-learning program must consider cultural sensitivity, the potential for incorrect literal translation, and expert management of key terms to ensure accuracy and consistency. For this purpose, it is critical to understand the perspective and background of a target audience when attempting to teach an individual living on the other side of the world. While it is nearly impossible to ensure such a deep understanding of a culture or region without experiencing total immersion, CSOFT utilizes expert translators and linguists who are from and work within the culture that they are translating to. This true locality in terms of the origin of eLearning translation is what can facilitate the transfer of critical knowledge to the people on the other side of the planet who need it the most. For more information, check out CSOFT’s e-Learning Translation & Multimedia Localization Solutions.

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