Multi-language Interactive Textbooks

17 May 2015

Education, language, multiple languages, textbooks, digital textbooks, ePub3

Multi-language publishing of education content is a requirement in countries around the world. Multiple parallel languages in digital textbooks is now a practical and affordable reality.

We are working with education and training publishers from around the world each with their own direct subject, locale and language challenges in their respective markets. Digital content readiness and delivery of digital textbooks is being seen as very important in many developing countries, especially when there is significant content and interactive enhancement.

Digital content with the right interactive features and enhancements has the potential to deliver education in deep rural areas where paper and traditional approaches have failed for various reasons. But that is a subject for another post.

IGP:Writer on the left shows English and Marathi together in the editing context. On the right IGP:Reader shows just the selected Marathi presentation. Images are SVG.

The "lang" Problem

In countries with multiple official languages print textbooks are produced in multiple languages. For example in India Maharastra has Marathi, Hindi and English medium schools where instruction is in the primary medium and the other two languages are subjects. That means there are:

  • Marathi medium schools with Hindi and English as subjects (all subject textbooks are in Marathi)
  • Hindi medium schools with Marathi and English as subjects (all subject textbooks are in Hindi)
  • English medium schools with Marathi and Hindi as subjects (all subject textbooks are in English).

That means there are textbooks produced in each language to provide learning and teaching for non-linguistic subjects.

This pattern repeats across all the states with different language combinations. There are many other countries that have the same challenge of delivering education in a learners mother tongue (L1) while building multi-language skills for L2 and L3.

The "lang" Challenge

We have recently had a number of requests for local-language digital textbooks to be produced and delivered. In most cases the various language textbooks are translations from a source book.

Rather than producing three language digital textbooks we defined methods to create a parallel language edition for each subject and standard (grade) textbook. This means one textbook has multiple languages. The advantage of digital content is that a single digital textbook edition can be produced with multiple languages, with the language selected by the user. Why is this good?

  • It saves a lot of money in production and distribution
  • Once the first edition is ready it is straight-forward to create enhanced and new editions (Eg: to address changing syllabus requirements).
  • The graphics and media can be richer, and printable learning resources can be included (in multiple languages)
  • Interactive learning for formative assessment can be included
  • Only one edition of any digital textbook needs to be distributed to all schools irrespective of their language medium. While the text content overhead is up (typically 2-300KBytes) the distribution cost and complexity is a lot lower, plus teachers and students effectively get all three editions for the price of one.
  • A reliable framework is available to allow more languages to be added to address ethnolinguistic minority communities at any time.

The selection of a language is a Javascript application. The AZARDI Interactive Engine was updated to include interactive lang attribute detection if the selector multi-lang-rw is present in the section class statement. A language selection option is then presented in the interface. A user then uses this to select their preferred language. Once a language is selected the book continues to present in that language unless the reader explicitly changes the language setting.

We have upgraded the AZARDI readers and AZARDI:Content Fulfilment to allow the secure deliver of multi-parallel language textbooks for all devices. Currently we are delivering standard interactive ePub3 books and online resource sites.

Powering up the lang Attribute

IGP:Digital Publisher now treats the lang attribute as a first-class interactive citizen inside IGP:FoundationXHTML. Content can be produced in multiple languages for format generation in print, e-books and online instructional resources. In addition a book can be processed out as a single language edition from the parallel language edition. Why not have it all.

We had to make parallel language production and ongoing content maintenance as easy as it should be. There are a number of approaches that can be taken with multi-language book production but we settled on the interlacing of content at the paragraph, heading, list and block level. This works well and is straight-forward in production.

This approach meant we could create interactive exercises in separate language blocks which were quick and easy to work with. Most importantly the same illustrations and images can be used with all languages.

SVG and MathML Support the lang attribute

Labels and captions on images and equations need to be in the instructional language. Fortunately the genius of the W3C means both SVG and MathML support the lang attribute very effectively. This makes it easy to produce graphics with callouts and labels in all the target languages and means illustrations containing text only have to be produced once for all languages. Even the positioning differences of right-to-left (RTL) languages are easy to handle with the SVG text positioning properties.


The lang attribute allows the targeting of the best fonts for a specific language and learning experience. That means special fonts reading fonts such as SIL Andika and other special language fonts can be targeted at each included language. The font sub-setting feature built into IGP:Digital Publisher keeps the font file sizes in the delivery format (such as ePub3) at the smallest possible size. 

Rich Media

Audio and video increase the file-size of books dramatically. In many developing country rural contexts this can make the cost of delivery too high. If rich media is used, or must be used, it should be with a lot of thought.

Audio can be very useful, especially in language learning textbooks where ideally it is used only for the language being taught so works for all parallel instruction language contexts. Audio can be produced to relatively small file sizes as demonstrated in this production article: Audio Production for ePub3 Textbooks

Video is a challenge if there is a lot to be included. We recommend interactive tutorials rather than video tutorials if possible. Links to external video resources can be included but it has to be assumed a number of the target users will not have (affordable) Internet access. They will be using the content offline. Video sub-titles are probably not a good option for younger learners. 


Multi-language publishing of education content is a requirement in countries around the world. In many it is a statutory requirement. Multiple parallel languages in digital textbooks is now a practical and affordable reality and brings cost, flexiblity and learning benefits over mono-language and print books.

Multiple languages in one book can also encourage Content and language integrated learning if, where and when it is seen as appropriate.

Infogrid Pacific has integrated the production tools and delivery systems into IGP:Digital Publisher, AZARDI: Content Fulfilment  and AIE (AZARDI Interactive Engine) to make multi-language digital textbooks creation, delivery and ownership straight-forward and practical. Portal users and licensees can immediately use these new features.

Posted by Richard Pipe


comments powered by Disqus