Non-English Qualitative Research
by Jiri Stejskal, PhD and Tony Guerra, CETRA
To effectively interact with one another, the researcher and the respondent need to speak the same language. Let us take a look at the resources needed for successful multilingual qualitative research.
In-depth interviews and focus groups, the two main methods of qualitative research, require human interaction. To effectively interact with one another, the researcher and the respondent need to speak the same language; however, this is not always possible when conducting international research or when working with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals in the United States. Partnering with a Language Services Provider (LSP) makes qualitative research in multiple languages possible. Let us take a look at the resources needed for successful multilingual qualitative research.
In a traditional focus group, a moderator guides discussion with the participants, and the client or its representatives watch and listen to the discussion from behind a one-way mirror. The discussion is typically recorded and subsequently transcribed. But what if the discussion is conducted in Japanese and the client does not understand Japanese? Marketing research companies have several options to overcome this obstacle.
Option 1: Recording “Speech-to-text”
One possibility is to record the session and then have the video- or audio-recording translated and transcribed. This does not allow for any interaction between the client and the moderator during the session, but it is the most cost-effective method. It is recommended to use a “speech-to-text” method to translate from the source language (language spoken by the discussion group) into target language (typically English), without creating a transcription of the source language. Transcribing the recording first in the source language and then translating it is certainly possible, but this option can be quite costly because the LSP will bill the client an hourly rate for transcribing as well as a per-word rate for the subsequent translation. Using the recommended “speech-to-text” method, it may take approximately twelve hours on average to translate/transcribe one hour of recording, depending on the quality of the recording, the language, and the way the group participants speak.
Option 2: Interpreters
Another possibility is to use interpreters during the session. There are two main modes of interpretation: simultaneous and consecutive. In simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter renders the message in the target-language while the source-language speaker continuously speaks; in consecutive interpretation, the source-language speaker pauses after each sentence or two to allow the interpreter to render the message. For focus groups, simultaneous interpreters are needed so as not to disrupt the flow of the discussion. Simultaneous interpretation is very demanding on the interpreter and the fatigue from extended interpreting can negatively affect his or her performance. A simultaneous interpreter should not interpret continuously for more than 20-30 minutes; therefore hiring two interpreters is expected. It is also difficult to find a professional interpreter who is willing to work solo – beware of LSPs who agree to provide a single interpreter for a day-long focus group activity – the interpreter they send may be hungry for work, but probably lacks the skills needed for working successfully in this type of scenario.
There are certain technical requirements for providing interpretation services for focus groups. Some focus group facilities have the necessary equipment; most do not. A professional LSP will provide the equipment and a technician as part of its service. Complete AV support should include a channel mixer, portable FM 3 Channel Transmitters for 1 or 2 interpreters, FM Channel Receivers for the observers, a camera with tripod for video recording and a laptop with recording software. It is recommended that audio/video recordings be made in the source and target languages. As important as using quality language professionals for interpreting, the use of a qualified technician who understands acoustics, equipment compatibility and can deliver a quality end product is an extremely valuable asset to the effectiveness of the data collection.
People fluent in two languages are not necessarily good interpreters; working with professionals is critical to success. However, it is important to realize that even professional interpreters have varying degrees of qualification and that a top-notch court interpreter might not do well in a focus group situation or on the phone. It is therefore advisable to partner with a reliable LSP that has experience in marketing research. Such an LSP will be able to recruit and qualify interpreters with the appropriate level of experience and expertise, coordinate the linguistic resources, provide interpreting equipment if needed, and give guidance on the most efficient and costeffective way of getting the job done. Interpreters are a critical link in non-English qualitative research and careful selection of linguistic resources is crucial to the success of the researcher’s efforts.
Jiri Stejskal, PhD, is the CEO and President of CETRA, Inc. Tony Guerra is the Director of Interpretation Services at CETRA, Inc. They can be reached at 215-635-7090 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit their website at www.cetra.com.
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