Tips and Concerns for Conducting Multi-Language Surveys
As globalisation continues to grow it is fast becoming more important for organizations that operate internationally to have the ability to canvas opinion across a number of geographic regions.
There are a number of online
survey websites that to some degree offer multi-lingual facilities and
some, like www.surveygalaxy.com, that can offer comprehensive
multi-lingual facilities at no additional charge, but before embarking on
what can be a very rewarding path there are many considerations that
should be taken on board to ensure that when published the survey is
presented professional in all your target languages.
If the intention is to seek
good intelligence it is important to appreciate that despite the great
strides that many people make in learning English as a second language it
is one thing to speak English and quite another to really understand the
Consider the native language
of your respondents and if they are not native, but nevertheless English
speaking, consider the level to which they generally speak and understand
Although English is
specifically mentioned here as an example the same applies for languages
such as French, Spanish and Portuguese whose historical reach is similar
to that of English.
Anyone who has had any
experience of using a machine language translator will have probably
already discovered the limitations of such facilities; language is simply
too complex for many of the publically available automated language
A simple test you can conduct
to prove the point is to take a sentence and translate it using a machine
translator from English to the target language and then take that
translation and translate it back to English.
Not only are you likely to
experience the problems associated with machine translators but you are
also likely to begin to appreciate that it may also be an example of the
type of confused meaning that those learning English could equally
Take the following example
which is has been reproduced verbatim having been sourced from the back of
a Chinese bootleg DVD.
LaMarca job is to arrest kieelers, but this job is different. The suspect
he is tracking is his own son. He a cop, LaMarca must tring the acclised
to Justice. As a Pather, he must find wining actoce Robert De Niro,
Frances Mc Dernad and James Franco. De Nice memorably plays LaMarca,
burdened by tragedy and his failings as a father and now putting his life
on the line to do by his family and profession. "Do Nino has been sawing
us greet stutt for30 years bou. But in this movie he shows us something
nes." The San Fancisce Chroniole Mick La's Mick LaSalle wrote. Put another
way: a greet actor rederines his greatness in City by the
In the above translation it
is obvious that in some places a phonetic translation has been made and in
actual fact the description of the movie as a whole is sufficient to
convey the correct meaning, the main problem in this example is more to do
with the spelling than the grammar and sentence structure.
Although perhaps an amusing
example for someone who speaks English as a native it is in fact a good
example of the problems and complexity associated with translations in
general. It would be justifiable to surmise that the person responsible
for the example translation is probably regarded locally as an
The example is a Chinese poor
attempt at an English translation, but their experiences should also be
seen as a warning to the possible consequences of producing poor
translations from one language into another and also the importance of
ensuring that the person who is charged with the translation is properly
qualified to translate and that the final translation is, where possible,
Qualities of a good translator
Finding a well qualified
translator can sometimes be further complicated depending on the subject
matter of the survey. If the subject of a survey is related to a
specialised field it can be of greater importance that the person
responsible for the translation has some basic knowledge of the survey
subject or there will be a risk that the translator will not fully
understand what it is they are translating and, if the specialised field
is technical or scientific, it may even be outside the scope of a well
Even for single language
surveys ambiguity can be a major concern, for multiple language surveys
ambiguity can be one of the biggest obstacles to translation. To minimize
the problem of ambiguity the source survey needs to be made as clear as
Ambiguity is not always
obvious and can sometimes only come to light on a second or third reading,
or by two people interpreting the same question differently. Some
ambiguity can go unnoticed and can lead to respondents answering a
completely different question to that intended by the survey's author in
which case the results will be fundamentally flawed and could be
misleading and confused.
There are many regional differences even between English speaking countries. Although the differences between British English and American English are well publicised and can often be the subject of humour, they can also represent a major problem.
The Survey Galaxy website has
the facility to cope with surveys where a same language dialect exists and
will allow a single survey to be offered to a respondent, for example, as
English/British, English/US, English/Canadian.
In the English speaking
countries the convention of how dates are written differs, in simple terms
those countries that historically have a British influence might write
5-July-2009 as 5/7/2009 whereas those countries that have an American
influence may write the same date as 7/5/2009.
Although a survey can
indicate the desired format, i.e. either by requesting the date to be
written as 'dd/mm/yyyy' or 'mm/dd/yyyy' you should not underestimate the
human desire to always write a date in their own preferred
To some the problem of a
respondent not writing a date in the required format may be firmly that of
the respondent however, if the intention is to collate good intelligence
then it is in the survey publisher's interest to identify and then
minimise any potential problem.
Because of a globalised
workforce it is not even safe to make the assumption that if a survey is
to be published in a particular country that the national convention will
prevail. If a survey is conducted in a metropolitan city such as London or
New York some respondents are likely to be of different nationalities and
may consciously or sub-consciously revert to type; in most cases the best
solution is to always request dates to be either selected from a pop up
calendar or written in full - i.e. 5 July 2009 where there can then be no
question as to the actual date entered.
Proof reading is very much a
skill, the ability to force the mind to read what has been written and not
what was intended is a difficult skill to master. A simple example of this
is when people are asked to count the number of 'F's in the following
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF MANY YEARS.
The answer is six but most people on first reading will usually answer between three or four.
When a survey is to be published across national borders consideration should be given to both the question and answer options. In particular care should be taken where reference is made to monetary values, unit of measures and if manufacturers and/or their products are referred to ensure that they do have a presence in the local country and that they use the same product name.
On considering some of the
potential problems discussed here for publishing multi-language surveys it
may deter some to offer multiple translations and to instead decree that
all surveys will for simplicity be published in English, (or the dominant
As to the wisdom of such
decisions it would be difficult to generalise but when gathering opinion,
if the opinion being gathered is important, then the quality of the
gathered intelligence will improve if respondents are asked the question
and allowed to answer in their native tongue.
Many of the online survey websites support non-English surveys, a large number of those also support the survey's system messages and control buttons to be displayed in the local languages. A few will provide a solution to allow multiple translations of the same survey and one that does offer all these features at no additional charge is www.surveygalaxy.com.
With Survey Galaxy you
can nominate the base language and then provide the survey in as many
languages as is necessary, the results being automatically rolled up into
the base language for reporting purposes.