“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” once quoted the late Nelson Mandela, a South African political revolutionary who eventually became president of South Africa. The world is becoming increasingly educated – K-12 enrollment (male and female) on a global scale was 89.84% in 2016, compared to 77.93% in 2000, according to UNESCO. K-12 educational materials are becoming digitized, allowing them to be distributed more easily and cost effectively. Translation of K-12 educational materials is also on the rise – high quality K-12 educational materials developed in one language can greatly enhance educational quality around the world if made available in other languages.
Types of K-12 educational materials for translation include: textbooks, workbooks, reading packets, syllabi, curriculum standards, lesson plans and notes, tests and quizzes, games and activities, labs and experiment, homework and assignments, and even audio and video. Generally, educational materials meant for global audiences should be “translation-friendly” (e.g. created using simple, direct language, using bulleted lists instead of wordy paragraphs, and without slangs and idioms). In this blog, we focus on the translation phase, not the content creation phase.
Below are six pointers on document translation of K-12 educational materials that should be kept in mind when targeting global audiences.
Pointer 1: Verify the content is the correct version to be translated
Educational content tends to be updated every 1-2 years. Each update results in a new version of published content. Similarly, there may be certain versions of educational materials that are aimed at specific regions or audiences around the world. Typically, there are also teacher and student versions of educational materials.
Before submitting K-12 educational materials for translation, it is important to check that the version of the materials for translation is correct, and the files to be sent contain the finalized versions of the content.
Pointer 2: Identify which colors are suitable for each target locale and culture
Colors can be perceived positively or negatively, depending on the target locale and culture. Perceptions of color are surprisingly pan-cultural, meaning a given color can be perceived in the same way by multiple target cultures. Red, for example, can be used to symbolize love, passion, is often used for weddings in India and China, but it can also be associated with pain, anger, death, and mourning – all depending on the target locale and culture.
Prior to translation of K-12 educational materials, it would be wise to identify which colors are suitable for each locale and culture you are targeting and specify those colors to your translation services partner.
Pointer 3: Use culturally-neutral images without embedded text
Images can also have positive or negative connotations, depending on the target locale and culture. It is best to use culturally-neutral images (images that would be accepted across most or all cultures). Attire worn, surrounding setting, objects seen, gender ratio, and implicit messages in an image all play a role in how culturally-neutral an image is.
Avoid using metaphorical images (e.g. images with currency symbols) and images depicting gestures (e.g. a “thumbs up” or “OK” sign”). Embedded text within graphics can be difficult to extract and reintegrate post-translation. The work involved for that as well as for modification of the graphics themselves generally causes an increase in turnaround time and project cost. Minimizing use of embedded text in images will save you time and money.
Pointer 4: Check for correct order and page numbers of index and glossary terms
Index and glossary terms are typically listed alphabetically. However, because languages often have different letters or characters, the order of index and glossary terms in a translated version of an educational material will likely be different from the source. Above that, because translation often results in text expansion, page numbers associated with these terms will also change in the translated version.
After translation and formatting of educational materials, we recommend a Quality Assurance final check for correctness in order and page numbers of translated index and glossary terms.
Pointer 5: Ensure page numbers in table of contents are accurate
Translated text sometimes overflows onto the next page, due to text expansion during the translation phase and/or graphic modification during the formatting phase. Due to this, starting page numbers for each chapter or section of the educational material will change. This means that the page numbers in the table of contents will also change.
Again, a final check to verify accuracy of page numbers in table of contents is recommended.
Pointer 6: Keep terminology consistent between teacher and student versions
Few things can be more frustrating for teachers and students than not understanding one another. Sometimes this can occur when different terminology is used to describe the same thing in teacher and student versions of educational materials. Keeping terminology consistent between teacher and student versions will prevent that and allow for better communication and understanding between teachers and students.
Developing a glossary of key terms and leveraging translation memory are two ways of optimizing consistency across teacher and student versions of educational materials – both of these will ease the translation process as well.
With education on a global scale becoming more accessible and affordable, we can expect to see a greater need for translation of K-12 educational materials due to the rise in demand for those materials in global markets.
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This blog has been updated and was first published on March 28, 2018.