How to use XLIFF to master multi-language course creation

How to use XLIFF to master multi-language course creation

Creating eLearning for a global audience is no small feat. You’ll need an eLearning authoring tool that serves all your language versions in a single course for convenient editing and distribution. You’ll also need technology that streamlines the process of gathering and working with all translatable content in your courses. Read on to discover that technology—XLIFF—and how to get the most out of it.

XLIFF and eLearning explained

An example of what an XLIFF file looks like when opened in a text editor.

XLIFF—short for XML Localization Interchange File Format—is a standard allowing for the easy transfer of written content in source and target languages for the purpose of translation. XLIFF can easily roll up an entire project’s worth of text into a few lightweight files. Several eLearning authoring tools—including Gomo—allow for a one-click export of all of this information.

An XLIFF file can then be worked on in an appropriate translation tool by a skilled translator, before being imported back into a platform with minimal trouble.

Why choose XLIFF to translate your courses

An example of the interface for a typical translation tool (screenshot from Virtaal)

From the perspective of a course creator, the XLIFF process is very simple. As you’ll see below, it’s simply a matter of finalizing a base version of your content, hitting ‘export’, and using the ‘import’ function once your translator has finished work. The content you translate will slot back into the right place in your course, ready for validation and publication.

Translators also like working with XLIFF because it’s an industry-standard format that can be interpreted by a wide range of translation tools. These tools emphasize no-nonsense presentation of your content for rapid translation and avoid the kinds of omissions that a more manual process may risk.

An example of multi-language success

TDK works on a global scale with Gomo, producing courses that may appear in any combination of their 10 core languages.

Read the customer story.

eLearning translation: 6 easy steps of the XLIFF process

Preparing your course for an XLIFF export, translation, and re-import is a simple process. Follow the steps below and you should be up and running with an accurate translation in no time at all!

Step 1) Set up your course for multiple languages

Courses usually need to be set up to take advantage of your authoring tool’s multi-language features. This ensures that the course structure is generated correctly and can account for requirements such as right-to-left language rendering.

In Gomo, you can initially choose to make a multi-language course during course creation. The screenshot below is from the course wizard. Don’t worry though—you can switch between single and multiple languages at any time!

Gomo's course wizard offers you the option of creating a multiple-language course

Going multi-language after the fact?

Got a single-language Gomo course that needs to go multi-language? Just head to the “basic settings” tab in the “course settings” menu and select the multiple language option, or add new languages as required!

Step 2) Create and finalize your content in your main language

Here’s a step that doesn’t need much expansion. Get to work doing what you do best: creating compelling eLearning in your native language.


A clean XLIFF import relies on all fields in your course being configured identically to how they were at the time you exported your original XLIFF file. Make sure everyone in the team knows to stop making edits until the translation can be re-imported, and plan for this production freeze!

Note that a freeze in updating course content must be put in place between exporting and importing your XLIFF files. That goes for text as well as other elements. It’s usually most efficient to launch one version and translate once that version has been fully tested. This will minimize changes and disruptions to launching near-finished language versions while translators do their work.

Step 3) Export your XLIFF files

Once you have a complete version of your course built, export the XLIFF translation files from your authoring tool.

A mockup of the translation export function in Gomo's ‘Actions’ menu

In Gomo, the Translation Export (XLIFF) option can be selected from the ‘Actions’ dropdown in the course structure screen. This will give you a ZIP file containing various .xliff files (See “What an XLIFF export looks like” below).

Step 4) Complete your translation

Hand your XLIFF export over to your translator. The translator should know the right tools to use to work on a complete translation of every text string in your course.

Give them context

Bear in mind that XLIFF files only contain the text content of your course. If a sentence references an image or interactive element on a specific screen, the translator may not understand. Consider providing screenshots of your pages, or access to the base course so they can understand the context.

If you’re using an in-house resource to achieve the translation, identify a suitable translation tool such as Pootle, Poedit, or Virtaal.

Step 5) Import your translated XLIFF files

Once the translation work is complete—and assuming everyone has respected the work freeze on the course!—importing your translated XLIFF files should be as simple as it is in Gomo. Simply select “Translation Import (XLIFF)” from the Actions menu in the course structure screen.

Step 6) Validate your work

With your XLIFF file imported, every translated text string should slot nicely into its place in the course. Your work isn’t over by any means, but going from having a completely untranslated course to a fully populated one in a matter of seconds is certainly a good start.

Now begins the process of checking that everything has been properly translated. Even if you aren’t a translator yourself, you should be able to navigate through the course and highlight any areas where there’s still untranslated text. You should also get a speaker of the language to check that the translations provided are correct in context.

On the lookout for more features that support your global eLearning ambitions? Read:

‘6 authoring tool features that support international audiences’

What does an XLIFF file export look like?

Gomo’s XLIFF export is a ZIP file containing a number of .xliff files. The files included will depend on how many topics you’ve used, and whether certain course features have been enabled. Typical files include:

  • ‘content-topic-x’: Each individual topic in your course is given a corresponding .xliff file.
  • ‘menu’: This file contains all terminology in the course navigation.
  • ‘topic-menu’: If your course utilizes a topic selection menu/hub, strings to translate will be found in this file.
  • ‘localizationErrors’: Contains warning and error messages triggered when learners fail to provide required information. For example, the text that a learner will see when selecting ‘confirm’ on a question they haven’t answered.
  • ‘localization’: This file contains any additional content within your course that isn’t specific to a certain topic (e.g. confirm/reset buttons in question assets).
  • ‘variables-variables’: If your course is set up to track variables, they will be named here. This file shouldn’t be edited, as the variables are not learner-facing and changes will break functionality in your course.
  • ‘project-project’: Contains the name of the project and some other key parameters. Again, this file shouldn’t be edited.
  • ‘language-selector’: If your course utilizes the language selector navigation icon, you can alter the name of the icon here.

Each file will have a short code appended to the end denoting the language the file corresponds to. For example, a file ending ‘_it.xliff’ is the Italian language version of that file, and ‘_en_US.xliff’ is the American English version.

An .xliff file itself is an XML-based format that can be opened and edited in a text editor (though translators will usually use a proper translation tool to streamline the process, hiding a lot of the code that is irrelevant to the translation task).

Learn about another important eLearning standard:

eLearning authoring tools + xAPI = a love story

Keep learning about XLIFF and global eLearning

This article is an extract from our complete guide to the XLIFF standard, ‘XLIFF: Everything you need to know to create multi-language eLearning’. Now that you know what XLIFF is and what to expect from it, continue reading to learn about some of the standard’s unique nuances and best practices.

Additional topics covered in the full resource to discover:

  • Some common XLIFF issues, and how to avoid them
  • Alternatives to working with XLIFF—the pros and cons
  • A shortlist of dos and don’ts to pass on to your translator

Download your copy of 'XLIFF: Everything you need to know to create multi-language eLearning' here!

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