Lost in Translation: The Importance of Translating Market Research Surveys

Posted by Op4G Staff on October 14, 2021


October is Global Diversity Awareness Month – and what a diverse globe it is! Consider language. According to the latest estimates, there are between 5000 and 7000 human languages worldwide. While English has the most speakers (up to 2 billion), 13 languages have over 100 million speakers each. And in the United States alone, residents speak more than 300 languages!

For market researchers, acknowledging and accommodating this linguistic diversity can have serious payoffs. By translating surveys into multiple languages, researchers ensure that “more people can participate at a much more engaged level” in diverse populations (like the US). This can equate to larger sample sizes and improved data quality. Secondly, researchers can gather insights in new regions or countries. This allows them to “keep their finger on the pulse of consumers…wherever they are in the world." Third, translating surveys shows “good faith and cultural sensitivity” to participants, potentially leading to better responses and higher completion rates.

Of course, these benefits can only materialize when the survey translation is done right! Incomplete or inaccurate translations can “at best, result in loss of [intended] nuance…and at worst, completely change the meaning of the question." This, in turn, leads to “delays, confusion, field errors" and ultimately, inaccurate data collection—effectively reversing the work of careful question design.

To avert such translation issues, experts recommend hiring professional translators with a few key attributes. Specifically, they should be experienced, detail-oriented, and resourceful, making use of all available tools. They should be native speakers of the “target language”, as opposed to the original “source language." Moreover, they should have sector-specific knowledge, including a firm grasp of the technical terminology in that sector (e.g. a translator for an economics survey should know terms like inflation, GDP, bonds, etc.).

After securing solid translators, experts suggest a multi-step translation process. To kick it off, a translator should do a “forward translation” of the survey from the source language to the target language…pretty obvious, right? Next, the research team should send the resulting translation to another translator to convert it back into the source language (known as “back translation”). Then comes the fun part: comparing the “back translation” to the original survey! During this “reconciliation” step, the research team identifies all differences—major and minor—between the two versions. The team then convenes a meeting with both translators to hash it out and agree on a final translation. Last but not least, in a step called “validation”, the survey enumerators review the translation and “provide feedback based on their own experience."

This translation process can be arduous. But the best research organizations go a step even further! They “localize” their surveys by making questions or words local in meaning. In other words, they ensure that translations are “contextually precise” and culturally relevant. This might entail, for example, changing currencies (e.g. $ to €), units of measurement (e.g. miles to kilometers), and spellings (e.g. “favorite” to “favourite”) to suit the local milieu. To learn more, check out our blog: When in Rome: The Importance of Localization in Market Research.

Need language assistance for your next survey? Op4G offers a wide range of tailored language solutions, including questionnaire translations, open-end translations, localizations, and transcriptions. Our experienced project managers are trained to scope out when it's appropriate to utilize these methods in the research process, ensuring confidence in your results right from the start. For more information, contact our team by clicking here

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Topics: International Research