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Common mistake when programming eLearning modules in different languages

One of the things that I found interesting when I started working in eLearning modules here in Ontario (and I believe this is the case for most companies across Canada that work at national level), is that most of the modules we develop, probably around 70%, need to be developed in both English and French.

Being a company based in Toronto, the first language we use to storyboard and develop the first version of the eLearning module, is English, and then once everything is approved and signed off, we create the French version. This is a very standard process that we have been following throughout the years, and it does make sense, as we can avoid version control issues.

For example, there have been cases where the client has asked to develop English and French modules almost at the same time, and while it is possible, there are points in the development and review cycles where the discrepancies between both versions in terms of functionality, graphics and layout, could get a bit out of control. That’s why we suggest (and try to enforce as much as possible), to have one version done and signed off, before moving to the other version, that way we don’t mess with things that are not impacted by translation (mainly functionality and layout), and we only focus on text and audio (and video if necessary).

However, there is one issue, or mistake, that tends to happen frequently, and it is that when doing the graphic design, storyboarding and programming of the English version of the eLearning module, the real estate occupied by text (mainly) on each screen of the module, doesn’t account for the additional space that almost usually, French text occupies (somewhere between 15% and 25% more than English text). Now, this is only an issue with authoring tools, like Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline, since responsiveness will only take you so far as to being able to play the eLearning module on different devices (especially modules developed using the latter).

What ends up happening, is that we need to make changes “on the fly” to accommodate the French text within the space and shapes provided, for example, changes such as making the font smaller, or making the text boxes larger, or a combination of both. The length of the audio in French is not really an issue, since we can always easily re-time the animations in the timeline.

There is really no clear solution to this, other than coming up with best practices regarding the design of layouts, storyboarding and programming of eLearning modules, that keep in mind both languages (I’d be bold enough to say that French should be done first, to account for the worst case scenario in terms of the usage of space on screen).


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