In global market research, translation and localization are major components of producing quality insight. When you make your research global, you need to ensure that you get quality and actionable insight from each market. There is no point in spending a lot of yours and your client’s time creating the clearest and most insightful questions, if in the end your questions are not going to be asked anyway, or your questions will not be fully understood, or worse, if the insight that you end up with does not reflect the actual data that you collected. Hence, global market research agencies often spend a lot of time and effort recruiting their strategic staff and moderators, but not as much time selecting and briefing their translators.
In my experience as a translation editor for market research agencies, this often leads to poor translations, and outputs that require a lot of effort from analysts before they can be converted into quality and actionable insight for end clients. For those who are not bilingual, here is a little caveat, we do not think the same in different languages. Apart from the obvious differences in lexicon and grammar, the way we structure language in our minds also shapes how we structure our thoughts. Hence, translators do not translate words, they translate concepts and ideas. In other words, you do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant.
“You do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant”
In order to get the most out of your market research, I have put together 5 tips that will dramatically improve your relationship with translators and the outputs that they produce. I promise.
1. Choose translators with the right expertise
This is crucial to the success of your international market research. Your translators need to be knowledgeable about the field of your market research. In the same way that you want your content producers to be knowledgeable and ask the right questions to yield the best insight, you want your translator to be able to convey all that knowledge and expertise in a way that also sounds knowledgeable and is comprehensible to your target audience. For example, in healthcare, the translator has to know enough about medical issues to be able to word the same question appropriately for a layman audience and a medical audience. Doctors in Brazil are literally offended if you “dumb down” medical terminology for them. It is often the case that when healthcare market research materials are translated by a non-medical translator, the translator struggles with the terminology and either produces questions that are unintelligible to physicians and to the moderator; or produces questions that are “dumbed down”, because the translator himself did not have the vocabulary to word the question appropriately for a medical audience. Furthermore, a medical translator will have knowledge of the healthcare system in the target country, potentially even in the country where the question is being created, which means that the translator will be able to localize concepts regarding the source healthcare system, for example, to reflect the target healthcare system. In summary, you want your translator to be familiar with the terminology and market that you are addressing, because this will not only ensure better outputs, but will also potentially save you quite a bit of time in desktop research.
2. Establish partnerships with your translators
The translator is an individual from your target market and, assuming that you followed my first tip, who is knowledgeable about the specific industry that you are researching. Hence, the translator is not just someone who can put your words into another language, the translator is someone who potentially has knowledge that you can capitalize on. In other words, you want the translator to be as invested as you are in the final outcome of your project. The only way that you can achieve that is by establishing partnerships with your translators, thus, giving them a sense of ownership over the final results and ensuring that you capitalize on their local knowledge. Let your translators know that they are your preferred providers, and encourage your project managers to ask them questions about the target market and establish good working relationships with them. This creates a win-win situation; translators benefit from being your preferred partners and from the steadier work stream, while you benefit from their commitment and knowledge. What’s more, if you make them a preferred partner, the chances are that they will make you a preferred client and will try their best to always accommodate your needs and deadlines.
3. Get your translators involved in as many steps of the process as possible
By getting your translators involved in the project from its initial stages, and in as many stages as possible, you ensure that the translator is familiar with the particular terminology of your topic of research and, what’s more, the translator is aware of your goals and committed to them. A translator who has translated your questionnaires and visual aids is familiar with your research and, therefore, able to guarantee a fast turnaround for your outputs, because there will be no need for further terminology research. Furthermore, let us say that your moderator misunderstood a question, when the translator is translating the first output, the translator will be able to spot that, because he/she is aware of what you meant. Hence, he/she will be able to point this out to you before you conduct an entire project asking the wrong question. If the translator offers other services, even better! For example, a translator who also offers content analysis is someone who will be able to choose the quotes and translate the insight of your outputs in a way that is most meaningful to your goals. This reduces the time that your in-house team will have to spend on “translating” those data into actionable insight. This is another win-win situation, because you dramatically improve the quality of your outputs, and the translator gets commissioned for more work.
4. Allow appropriate time for translations
Market research is often a time-bending exercise. It always starts with a good plan, timings and schedules look great, but often these are tossed away and everyone is just working towards the final deadline. Whatever the reason, a translator who works with market research agencies needs to be aware that more often than not, this means that the time allowed for translations is usually short and often unpredictable. In these circumstances, market research agencies often resort to translation agencies, who have a large pool of resources and can split the translation into as many people as necessary to get it done in time. However, this is far from ideal, because different people with no prior knowledge of your research will translate the same things in different ways. In such cases, it is beneficial to have a preferred partner who is familiar with your project, because even if ultimately you have to outsource the translation to an agency, you can always have your partner harmonize everything and ensure that it is all in line with the terminology and goals of your project. Having said that, if you make it part of your MO to allow sufficient time for translations, you can work with your translator to ensure that everything is done in time. For example, you can keep your translator informed of your scheduling and rescheduling activities, so as to ensure that the translator is available to translate your outputs on a rolling basis. Hence, your final deadline may be months away, but the translator is working with you all along. This allows the translator sufficient time to produce a quality translation, and enables you to catch potential language issues in initial stages of the research, as exemplified in tip 3.
5. Appoint a dedicated point of contact to answer the translators’ questions
If you work directly with translators, or if your translation agency has a quick feedback process, you can dedicate someone who is deeply knowledgeable about your project to be available for questions. This is extremely important to ensure that the translator can clarify what you mean, because you do not want your carefully crafted questions to be translated based on a translator’s hunch. This dedicated person can liaise with the translator, brief the translator and ensure that the translator understands not just your project as a whole, but each specific question. Asking the right questions is the basis of market research, and you do not want your efforts lost in translation.
In short, make sure that you work closely with your translators. Make sure that every member of the project team is aware of how important good translations are to the overall success of your global market research project. This may be challenging at times, because most market research agencies employ freelancers, who may be based in different time zones, etc. However, if you put in the effort to establish good relationships with your preferred translation providers, you will streamline your project and you will dramatically improve the quality of your data.
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