Bringing localization to the world with free online classes

The world speaks many languages and so does the internet, especially as more and more people from developing countries are coming online. Research by KPMG and Google in 2016 showed that 234 million Indian language internet users were using the web. According to The Guardian, Chinese and Arabic have also seen a rise in numbers and an estimate by McKinsey predicts that half a billion people from sub-Saharan Africa will have internet access by 2025.

Access to the web not only creates possibilities for the population of developing countries to learn, connect and entertain, but it also increases economic opportunity to buy and sell online. In Ethiopia, for example, the gross domestic product is forecast to climb 8% in 2019, and in Kenya “hundreds of thousands of people are rising out of poverty as mobile-money services turn subsistence farmers into businesspeople” according to a Bloomberg study. And as India is expected to be one of the top three economic powers of the world over the next 10-15 years, new chances arise for people to start a business online.

The paradox is that many products and apps are still mainly developed in English, while these nonnative English users need to be served content in their mother tongue as, according to The Times of India, “almost every new user that is coming online — roughly nine out of ten — are not proficient in English.” A study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International shows that creating local language content (in this case, content created in an Indic language) could increase the number of internet users by 24% in India. There is also a difference between the locations of the prospective users: 43% of nonusers of the internet in rural areas said that they would start using the medium if the content was offered in their local language, compared to 13.5% of the nonusers in urban areas.

Making online knowledge available to the increasing non-English speaking internet population has created a rising need for translators of online content (websites, apps and software). Language skills are not the issue — in India, for example, about 255 million people are bilingual. There seems to be, however, a gap between the skills needed and training offered to new translators, as well as economic and technical limitations. According to a 2015 TAUS article authored by Amlaku Eshetie, in Ethiopia, “there are just a handful of translators/localizers, and they are often not very fluent or familiar to CAT (computer-assited translation) tools. Not only are they less skillful in using or unfamiliar to CAT tools, but also they do not have internet access as much as required.”

Members of the Google Localization Team researched the gap between what the localization industry needs and the knowledge and skills of current professionals but found that there is almost no affordable or entry-level education available. Even fewer courses specifically in localization exist: 18 worldwide, of which none seemed to be available in a non-Western country. A handful of online courses are offered, but they are only for advanced levels and none of them are free.

In the more traditional institutes of the Western world there does not seem to be a focus on localization skills either. Attention often seems to be given to translation, but not to the related field that is localization and what the industry has to offer. Therefore students are lacking basic localization knowledge and have few chances of entering the industry, even though it’s growing and there is a need for skilled professionals. Besides, most courses that teach localization are masters-level or postgraduate, leaving bachelor students untrained in this field.

To address the issue and fill the gap, our team leveraged innovative teaching technologies — a massive open online course (MOOC) — to develop Localization Essentials, a specialized localization training available for free on to anyone around the world. A MOOC is a flexible instructional method, as students can learn self-paced and, in many cases, take the course offline when they are based in countries or regions with poor internet connection. With added subtitles and dubbing, MOOCs can reach a far higher number of students compared to traditional in-class education. Ten months after launch, Localization Essentials has had 10,300 students from 155 countries around the world sign up. The completion rate is 14%, slightly higher than the average completion rate for MOOCs in general of 10%, based on type and platform. The course also received 88% favorable feedback and has been taken by 900 students from India, which shows the course was positively welcomed.

Besides the merit of having digital MOOC students from around the world take the course as individuals, we partnered and continue partnering with universities to bring the course to their students. Western education largely focuses on translation and not localization, and has seen cuts in budgets that make it hard for universities to employ localization professionals. Take Italy, where the gap is particularly pronounced in tertiary education: spending per student reached about $11,500 in 2014 or $7,100 without research and development activities. The OECD average at this level is over $3,900 more. In the case of Italy, we knew this lack of training was an issue from personal experience — as one of our teammates studied in a translation school in Italy — and we reached out to two translation schools to directly gather their feedback on the development of a localization MOOC. Their contribution was fundamental: once we drafted the course plan with the fundamental support of two instructional designers, they reviewed it and provided their feedback, better tailoring the course to the needs of their students. Universities were also heavily involved in the pre-launch testing phase of the MOOC, our main goal being to incorporate the perspective of teachers and students in every step of the development of the course.

Localization Essentials can offer a useful addition to in-class material, providing basic localization training and showing students how they can apply their gained university knowledge in this blossoming industry. It was developed not for students and teachers, but with their key contribution. Research shows that a blended learning path leads to positive results, some of these being summarized as supporting diversity, enhancing the campus experience, operating in a global context and efficiency. Direct feedback from the University of Strasbourg confirms this research: students who took Localization Essentials before in-person classes are more prepared and can engage in more productive conversations with their teachers.

This was definitely the most important lesson we learned during the development and launch of the course. Localization Essentials also taught us that there is still a lot of work to be done for translators and professionals working in this industry — there is much more knowledge that can be shared to help new talents enter the world of localization.

Indeed, both the translation industry and academia have the opportunity to make a significant impact on localization training by stepping into the educational innovation space and transfer skills and knowledge to budding translators. Ensuring access to localized content in developing countries will be transformative for users who don’t speak English, impacting their daily lives but also giving them the possibility to change the world around them with the acquired knowledge. Therefore the emancipation of localization studies will not only positively affect the localization industry, but will also have the potential to enable development for non-English internet users.