Market research is a fascinating blend of art and science – where people are asked for insights into their opinions, thoughts, and behaviors. Since the very nature of this work revolves around understanding a multiplicity of human responses, the idea of translating those responses into another language becomes an integral task in delivering on-target analysis and onward to strategy development.
When a market research project requires language translation services, there are key differentiators to the tasks at hand as compared to more straightforward projects. The nature of the research – quantitative or qualitative – and the category being studied (e.g. healthcare related to diabetes vs. fast food vs. financial products) creates complexity and requires additional checklist items.
Quantitative lines of questioning (and the answers!) tend to be more straightforward, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get complicated. With qualitative projects, the questions are inherently more open, emotion-driven, and exploratory, netting a wider range of responses – the kind that can be misunderstood even in the same language!
Let’s think about the process for a moment. Say you’ve started by rendering your research materials in English. Everything from the screener to pre-homework assignments to discussion guides (in the case of qualitative) all need to be translated in a manner that gives a sense of confidence that what is being asked in that target foreign language is being communicated in a way that closely approximates the original intent in English.
As the research is being conducted, checks and balances need to be built in to ensure the answers being collected are intuitively tracking. Note where there are disconnects and make clarifications early on in the process. No one wants to feel a lack of confidence about the inputs to their analysis work!
It goes without saying, you want accuracy. So what are the other key considerations when it comes to securing quality translations for market research?
It’s not just the words. It’s the culture.
Language is one of the most important parts of any culture – it sits at the heart of how people communicate with another, including building both individual and community relationships.
“Way of life” may be the simplest substitution for the word “culture” and you can see how important it is when you consider how different one society can be from another. For example, America is most assuredly an individualistic culture, completely different from Japan, a collectivist, group-oriented culture. The differences start with that broad philosophy and permeate essentially everything from language, manners, art – and ways of being and doing.
This contextual setting for language is why machine translation often falls short for anything more than simple black-and-white translation requests. When it comes to shades of gray, the finer points just cannot be finessed by a machine.
MT (machine translation) engines like Google Translate and free plugins can result in awkward or clunky translations. While quick and easy-to-use, the content produced doesn’t always suffice. With some languages, up to 90% may be workable, but the other 10% can be laughable – or at the very least, confusing and inaccurate.
This doesn’t mean that machine translation can’t be a part of your workflow process. But it should be limited to non-critical, low subjectivity topics and terminology, with at least some human oversight. If you choose to go the route of machine translation, a trained linguist should conduct MTPE (machine translation post editing) to ensure an accurate and natural-sounding translation.
There’s an extra layer of complexity with translation for market research. If open-ended responses are involved, translations must communicate emotion and intention. Of course, understanding the culture behind the words is a big part of divining this type of nuance.
Accountability is needed for accuracy. Meticulously checking automated translations or working with multiple linguists can protect the integrity of the insights.
Choose the right tool for the job.
To do translation properly, you need a translator and an editor, and at times an additional linguist to do a back translation in English. This is why it’s probably NOT a good idea to ask “that guy in the cubicle down the hall who happens to speak Chinese.”
An alternative option would be to work with a translation agency partner. A simple Google search will produce a long list of linguistic service providers, but it’s important to choose one who not only works in your desired languages, but who speaks market research. Linguists with backgrounds in research or anthropology have an attuned sensitivity to the needs of research and research providers.
Even with a translation partner on board, additional precautions can be taken to “risk-proof” a project.
Time is a luxury that’s difficult to obtain, but getting complex file formats agreed upon in advance can help to save time and budget. If working with a partner for your language needs, disclose how you intend to send and receive files. This allows for both teams to prep and anticipate needs/challenges.
Delivering projects in multiple languages.
Does the project need translation into multiple languages? Managing the process one-by-one can be time consuming. Centralizing the workflows with one agency gives a single point of contact and coordination for the translation tasks (along with the editing to get them client-ready). Anyone who has managed a bank of qualitative interviews knows the agony of keeping everything straight while attending fieldwork and reporting! It’s much simpler to have it all handled at one point, giving you more time to do your actual job.
Delivering accuracy with consistency and efficiency takes time and effort, along with a dash of technology. Before your next market research translation project, weigh the pros and cons of trusting a language partner to handle your translation needs.
At Multilingual Connections, our international team of experienced translators specialize in market research translation services to help you understand, engage and grow your multilingual audiences – local, national, or global. Connect with us to learn more!
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