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Home arrow Conducting Market Research arrow Translation Avoiding The Pitfalls
Translation Avoiding The Pitfalls PDF Print E-mail
Written by Cross-Tab   
30 Aug 2011

Ask most market researchers about translations, and you get the same glazed-over look in the eyes followed by a long, stressed out, sigh. At least that’s what it’s been like in my experience. It seems to me that this is a topic that, if you’ve had the pleasure to experience, requires a water cooler or maybe something stiffer and some time to share stories.

There are many pitfalls that can stump a project, and even worse, deliver inaccurate data. My intent in this article is not to illustrate them. Rather, my goal is to deliver what I have seen as a successful translations model for ensuring consistency and quality in delivery. In order to achieve this, we need some basic understanding of …

• Why we decide to vend out our translations.
• What the Language Service Provider (LSP) industry is?
• How we decide which one to use.
• What are good internal rules to follow?

Why do you want to vend out the translations?
Whether you’re a small, mid-size, or large market research firm, the most practical approach to translating questionnaires into multiple languages is to use a LSP. LSPs have a network of linguists trained and certified in translating documents. These linguists have a professional ability to take the meaning of a text in one language (the “source text”) and produce thereof, into another language, an equivalent text (the “target text”) that communicates the same message.

While it seems easy enough to choose a co-worker who speaks Spanish for instance to take the English source and translate it into Spanish, what you will get delivered will likely be inaccurate at some level. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that just because someone can translate from a language, they can also translate into it. Certified translators understand the technical nuance of their industry.

The following provides some key benefits of using certified translators:
• They avoid Transliteration, which is the word-for-word translation of text because simply translating the words may alter the conveyed meaning and make it sound unnatural.

• They avoid Transcreation, which is completely recreating the text in another language. This approach can be volatile because as we understand multi-country projects in market research, it is imperative to keep as true to the source text as possible.

• What they do produce is a target document that is in the middle of Transliteration and Transcreation. They produce a document that communicates the same message, sounds natural and is not a complete recreation of the source document.

• They respect the mother tongue nuances. Spanish may be a language spoken by
millions of people around the word, but that doesn’t mean that Mexicans use the same word to describe ‘X’ as do the Spaniards. In the English language, we find differences in American English verses Queens English and often have to still ensure that proper local English is used.


1By 2011, the LSP industry will reach US$22.5 billion, and of this, the top 30 providers will make up 26.6% of the total market share. What I’d like to focus the reader’s attention on is that while this is a large enough industry, there are certain constraints that exist, which in my opinion
require market research organizations to adopt an internal model for ensuring a quality delivery of service.

The LSP industry does not have a governing body per say, which requires common best practices. This is not uncommon across industries. Online data collection quality standards, for example in market research, don’t follow the same standards across organizations.

Regardless, it is prudent to use a process for hiring LSPs and executing translations.


1 Based on an article written in Common Sense Advisory (Ranking of the Top 40 Language Service Companies by Renato S. Beninatto and Nataly Kelly

How do you choose tthe riightt LSP ffor your organiizattiion?

A few things to consider when hiring a LSP:
• Are the linguists they use certified; either by the LSP or by a body such as the American Translators Association?
• Are the linguists they use native to the country/language in which they are translating to?
• Does the LSP have an internal peer review translation process?
• To ensure the initial translations are proof read?
• To ensure the final document is complete and in the proper format
• Can the LSP produce the translated document in different formats; monolingual or bilingual? Monolingual is having the entire document in the target language. Bilingual is having both the source and target language in the same document. Typically bilingual is needed when transferring text from paper to a programming script.

Some technological items that will not be discussed in this article but are still important to consider:
• Does the LSP have the ability to maintain a translation library? This is useful for ensuring consistency in delivery for the same client and cost hedging because commonly used words for that client will only be translated once and reused in future questionnaires.

• Can the LSP work with you to automate the translations overlay process. Some interviewing platforms have the capability to upload the translated questionnaire directly into the script, removing the need to cut and paste translations over the source text.

So now that we have understood a little about the translations world, I can share the rules that I have used successfully in my career. These rules created a situation where we had significantly less noise in the system as it applied to translations issues, allowed for consistency in delivery, and decrease the amount of critical errors delivered.

The recommended translations rules to follow intternally
• A full translation must be done by a preferred and accredited translation agency.

• A full proofing or proofread must be performed by a separate translation agency.

• Deliver the source text to the LSP with directions specific to the country or target language.

• For instance, with Mandarin, do you want to use simplified or traditional Chinese characters; or with Spanish language translations, do you want it Mexican centric or localized to Puerto Rican or Cuban.

• Do you want the brands or image text (if any) also translated.

• Ensure you are covering all language in that country. If conducting a survey is South Africa, you may want to have it scripted in English and Afrikaans. In Switzerland you’ll have to consider the 4 national languages, which are German, French, Italian, and Rumantsch – the latter though only being 1% of the population.

• Ask the LSP to deliver the document back in a monolingual or bilingual format.

• Send translated document out for a full proof read.

• Use a systematic approach for dealing with suggestions and or issues that may arise during the proof reading process.

• It’s all in the defense. The proof reader provides his/her input and identifies corrections in 2 manners using a Proofing Log; a critical error vs. a subjective error. Critical errors are words that are clearly denoting the incorrect word or meaning. Subjective is the tomato / tomato argument.

• Critical errors must be reviewed by the initial translator to validate the correction.

• Subjective errors are trivial, and I would recommend going with the initial
translation. You may also consider asking the client if they have a preference, assuming they or someone in their organization speaks the target language.

• Finally, maintain a critical error log, by vendor with some client details so you can measure quality of service. Avoid that glazed-over look when dealing with translations and implement internal measures to ensure a quality delivery. It may seem all Russian to you in the begging, but once understanding the nuance of translations one can navigate these waters with relative confidence and ensure the process is efficient and effective.

About Cross Tab
Please visit for more information

July 2011

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