Tips and Concerns For Conducting Multi-Language Surveys


As globalisation continues to grow it is fast becoming more important for organizations that operate internationally to have the ability to canvas opinion across a number of geographic regions.

Despite the English language establishing itself firmly as the world’s preferred business language it is naive for those whose native tongue is English, or who speak English as a native, to assume that communicating globally in English is always the best solution.

There are a number of online survey websites that to some degree offer multi-lingual facilities and some, like that can offer comprehensive multi-lingual facilities at no additional charge, but before embarking on what can be a very rewarding path there are many considerations that should be taken on board to ensure that when published the survey is presented professional in all your target languages.

Language Ability

A person who is quite confident and comfortable with conversational English may not be so confident, or even have the ability, when it comes to reading English and often, words used in conversational English differ to those used when English is written.

If the intention is to seek good intelligence it is important to appreciate that despite the great strides that many people make in learning English as a second language it is one thing to speak English and quite another to really understand the language.

Consider the native language of your respondents and if they are not native, but nevertheless English speaking, consider the level to which they generally speak and understand English.

Although English is specifically mentioned here as an example the same applies for languages such as French, Spanish and Portuguese whose historical reach is similar to that of English.

Machine Translation

Anyone who has had any experience of using a machine language translator will have probably already discovered the limitations of such facilities; language is simply too complex for many of the publicly available automated language translators.

A simple test you can conduct to prove the point is to take a sentence and translate it using a machine translator from English to the target language and then take that translation and translate it back to English.

Not only are you likely to experience the problems associated with machine translators but you are also likely to begin to appreciate that it may also be an example of the type Language of desire of confused meaning that those learning English could equally experience.

Human translators

For serious translation human involvement is essential so that the correct meaning of the question is conveyed but it is paramount to ensure that the person who is tasked with the translation is comfortable in both the translated and translation language.

Take the following example which is has been reproduced verbatim having been sourced from the back of a Chinese bootleg DVD.

Vincent LaMarca job is to arrest kieelers, but this job is different. The suspect he is tracking is his own son. He a cop, LaMarca must tring the acclised to Justice. As a Pather, he must find wining actoce Robert De Niro, Frances Mc Dernad and James Franco. De Nice memorably plays LaMarca, burdened by tragedy and his failings as a father…and now putting his life on the line to do by his family and profession. “Do Nino has been sawing us greet stutt for 30 years bou. But in this movie he shows us something nes.” The San Fancisce Chronicle Mick La’s Mick LaSalle wrote. Put another way: a greet actor rederines his greatness in City by the Sea.

In the above translation it is obvious that in some places a phonetic translation has been made and in actual fact the description of the movie as a whole is sufficient to convey the correct meaning, the main problem in this example is more to do with the spelling than the grammar and sentence structure.

Although perhaps an amusing example for someone who speaks English as a native it is in fact a good example of the problems and complexity associated with translations in general. It would be justifiable to surmise that the person responsible for the example translation is probably regarded locally as an expert.

The example is a Chinese attempt at an English translation, but their experiences should also be seen as a warning to the possible consequences of producing poor translations from one language into another and also the importance of ensuring that the person who is charged with the translation is properly qualified to translate and that the final translation is, where possible, independently verified.

Qualities of a good translator

Finding a well qualified translator can sometimes be further complicated depending on the subject matter of the survey. If the subject of a survey is related to a specialised field it can be of greater importance that the person responsible for the translation has some basic knowledge of the survey subject or there will be a risk that the translator will not fully understand what it is they are translating and, if the specialised field is technical or scientific, it may even be outside the scope of a well qualified translator.

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