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The MIT-Center Guide to Translating an Existing e-Learning Course

The biggest advantage of online courses over classical teaching is the lack of geographical boundaries: you don’t need to come to a university (which is especially difficult if it’s a university from abroad) and stay in a classroom anymore – you can take lessons right from home. However, since your courses are available to a wider audience, and, most probably, the audience is multilingual, it is worth thinking about translation of the courses into most commonly spoken languages, because it might be particularly difficult for students that are non-native speakers to learn specific terms and understand complex concepts.

Below we offer a guideline and some hints on how to prepare a course for translation.

work process converting manual to digital eLearning content

Step 1: Source Course Analysis. 

One of the common misconceptions is that any text can just be translated without any preliminary work. Technically, this is possible, but then the output quality leaves much to be desired. An online course is not just a one-page text – it is a complex bulk of content with a certain structure, set of concepts and terms, and other complex elements. Therefore, initial preparation is essential to keep all this features in your course, regardless of the language.

 Thus, before submitting a course to translation, we highly recommend to:

1) proofread the content – it’s be-all and end-all. Stick to the ironclad rule: “never submit any materials without double checking them.” Reviewing materials helps to avoid extra work caused by any errors in text or in structure. Also, make sure that all the statements are clear and comprehensible in order to avoid misinterpretation.

2) make a glossary of terms. It wouldn’t be necessary for a fiction text or for a short text; however, an online course implies a large volume of content that includes terms and other domain-related word units. In addition to this, there are concepts that have several variants of translation in other languages. Therefore, if you’d like to stick to a certain variant or if you have any preferences related to terminology used, it should be indicated before the translation process has started.

3) define acronyms, if there are any. Sometimes an acronym might have several meanings or probably there are acronyms that you use internally in your company/ institution. To avoid guessing and misinterpreting, acronyms and their meanings and/or translations should be defined beforehand.

4) if there are any requirements related to file format, language variant, etc., these should be also indicated before the task is taken on.

Step 2: Course Translation.

Once the analysis is done, the content can be submitted for translation.

At this stage we undertake the action point and start working on the materials. In translation process we involve native speakers experienced in the required domain. In addition to this, we constantly tend to workflow optimization, therefore we have created our own software for translation that facilitates the process and helps to translate easily various file formats.

Step 3: Proofreading.


As it was stated above, there is an ironclad rule: “never submit any materials without double checking them.” We follow the rule strictly and never submit translated materials without thorough verification of orthography, style, syntax, structure and other criteria. We also stick to the 4-eyes principle, which means that the output is being checked by translator and two more people with expertise in domain.

Step 4: Integrating Elements Into the Course.

If you have already worked with e-Learning courses, then you know that a Word Document uploaded to a portal will not be displayed properly – it will look as a plain text. An e-Learning course implies a certain structure and interactive elements, which can’t be achieved without tags. Therefore, translated text has to be processed in order to obtain all the necessary features and be suitable for uploading to the portal in order to create a course. This kind of work has nothing to do with translation itself anymore, it’s rather the technical part of the whole process. Thus, at this stage, files are converted to necessary formats that can be further just exported to a portal in order to create a course.

Step 5: Delivering the Course to LMS.

Once all the previous steps are done, it’s time to upload the course and check it. As you see, the double-check rule is also valid here, so the course should be exported to the portal and tested. While testing, it is necessary to pay attention to content, structure, and functionality. Once you see that everything looks and works well, the translated course can be used.