Cross-Language Qualitative Research What’s lost in translation? Megan MacLean University of Guelph EDRD 6000 March 2013
Cross-Language Qualitative Research• Cross-language research is research involving two or more languages.• It can refer to: – researchers working with participants in a language that the research team is not fluent in. • Even if one or more researchers are fluent in the language of the participants, if the whole team is not fluent in the same language of the participant, it may still be considered cross- language research. – researchers working with participants utilizing a language that is neither of their native languages. Can you think of any studies – translation of research or findings into another that involved cross-language language at any step of the research process. research? How did you become aware that the research had been translated?
Cross-Language Qualitative Research• Many of the strengths of qualitative research lie in its ability to study personal interpretation and experiences within specific contextual settings.• Language is often considered more than just a collection of words but includes cultural, social and political contextual connotations.• Thus, qualitative researchers are concerned with language (spoken and unspoken) as a representation of the situational context and interpretations.• In this increasingly globalized world, more cross-language research is being conducted than ever before.• Research findings are often translated into English to increase the number of journals or other works that can publish the study.• Cross-language qualitative research and its methodological challenges is, in the last ten years, receiving increasing attention from scholars; in particular in nursing and other health care fields.
Translator or Interpreter?• To perform cross-language research, qualitative researchers utilize the services of a translator or interpreter who are responsible for translating the language in a study.• While the titles of translator and interpreter are often used interchangeably, they are distinct when referring to research.Translator: a person who translates a written document from one language to another.Interpreter: a person who orally translates one language to another.
Challenges in Using an Interpreter or Translator Use of an interpreter or translator may threaten the rigor or validity of a study.• Complex concepts and some phrases or words may be difficult or impossible to translate.• Literal translations of both participant responses and research questions can greatly distort meaning.• Presence of an interpreter can alter the setting dynamic. – Translation may disturb the fluid process of an interview or other research method. – The interpreter may have unknown influence on the participant, especially if the interpreter is from the same community as participants. – The presence of an interpreter may create distance between researcher and participants and reduce rapport.
Challenges in Using an Interpreter or Translator• The interpreter / translator may add another layer of potential bias through their choice of wording or understanding of the context.• Important details that are viewed as ‘informal’ dialogue may be left out.• The interpreter / translator may disregard details if they are viewed as negative to the study, in particular if the study will impact the interpreter or interpreter’s community.• The interpreter / translator may not be knowledgeable about qualitative research techniques or research ethics resulting in inappropriate actions.• Qualified, experienced translation service providers may be expensive.
For example...• In a health care study: “level 1 trauma centre” referring to a hospital unit in the US, translated by a knowledgeable health care worker using Latin American Spanish is “un hospital del tercer nivel”, of which the literal translation is “a hospital of the third level”. This refers to a different medical term altogether.• In a community study on female immigrants: the services of an interpreter were used who was a member of the community and the culture group that was being studied. Viewed as a simple technical conduit of information, it was only after the study was completed that it was realized that the interpreter was in a position of power in the community and that may have influenced the actual responses from participants as well as influenced the translation of responses. Have you come across any similar examples?
Benefits of using an Interpreter or Translator • An interpreter or translator familiar with the cultural context may add detail that could have been overlooked. • Interpreters may allow researchers to develop a higher level of rapport with participants, especially if the interpreter is from the same community. • Use of an interpreter may allow a researcher to pay closer attention to other details, such as body language. • Presence of an interpreter can increase the credibility of a researcher.For example.... Can you think of anyIn a study of business professionals: researchers other benefits of havingreported that use of an interpreter increased the an interpreter presentlevel of professionalism and credibility for the during research?research team.
Mitigating the Challenges• Interpreters and translators are often treated as invisible conduits in the research process, with many studies having very little or no mention of their responsibilities at all.• Recently, scholars studying cross-language qualitative research have argued for greater awareness and understanding of interpreters / translators role in the entire research process.• Acknowledging that an interpreter / translator has influence on the research process and outcome is very important! Are you planning to conduct cross- language research? What steps have you taken to address the challenges?
Recommendations for Qualitative Cross-Language Researchers• Be aware – Carefully consider the role and influence of interpreters / translators including issues of power in the research design and process.• Be prepared – Adequately prepare the entire research team, including the interpreter or translator to ensure that everyone is aware of the research process and goals.• Provide training – Provide training to interpreters / translators in research methods.• Plan for extra time – Allow for a potentially slower pace when working with interpreters as compared to working without; allowing for clarifications, debriefing and verification.• Double check – Have a second individual who is not directly involved with data collection or initial translation to verify translations.
Recommendations for Qualitative Cross-Language Researchers• Investigate the background – Assess the qualifications and level of language competence of the interpreter / translator as well as the experience of the interpreter / translator with the culture of participants or community involved in the study.• Test methods – Fully test all methods in the language in which they will be used prior to use.• Retain materials – Keep un-translated documents for future referencing.• Acknowledge limitations – Clearly outline all limitations of cross-language studies and the use of interpreters / translators.• Provide rationale – Describe the rationale on why a language was chosen, when the translation occurred, and why a specific interpreter/translator was selected.
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