Translation and Multilanguage Qualitative

Posted On: 03/12/13

By: Ilka Kuhagen   

Translation in multilanguage qualitative research is key – and often underestimated

How it works

Words matter in qualitative research since the goal is to elicit well-described experiences and emotions, as well as understand the reasons behind actions. This is best done when respondents can communicate in their native language; language related issues can be minimized and even a bilingual team works better using translated material.


When choosing to have a simultaneous interpreter take into account that this will be the only voice the client might hear over many hours. The quality of the interpreter may become the basis on which research is judged. As a result, it is important to involve interpreters at an early stage in the project and make sure they have all available material well ahead of the fieldwork.

Translation of all material is key:

  • Screener and discussion guide: A team of multilingual researchers allows for cross-communication in multiple languages. When crosschecking translated guides and screeners, it is not unusual to find details that need clarification. This allows problems to be eliminated before the fieldwork begins.
  • Visuals: Many clients plan to use English stimuli to avoid translation costs. Though many respondents speak English and understand the basic meaning of the visuals, this presents difficulties when it is necessary to discuss the meaning of a headline, a humorous tagline or even a double meaning of one key word. This is best done in the native language since respondents will feel at ease, open up and give richer answers.
  • For best translation involve:
    • The agency for promotional visuals since direct translation often does not make sense
    • The client engineer or local sales/marketing people for device/machine/product descriptions
    • A special dictionary from the client’s interpreters for technical terms


Using native language throughout the research allows for findings in the different languages, support for later translations of consumer material, as well as support for regional teams since they can listen to the “voice of their customers.” It also allows listening to the grey tones between the black and white answers.