Published on March 3, 2014
Ashley Honsberger THE USE OF TRANSLATORS IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH Candidate: Master s in Capacity Development & Extension, Intern ational Development Univer sity of Guelph M a r c h , 2 01 4 This Slideshare will attempt to uncover some of the practical and theoretical approaches to using a translator during field-based research in a country, community or culture that is not that of the researcher.
INTRODUCTION Using a translator in a community where you don‟t speak the language may be the only way you are able to collect data. But what are some of the things to consider when doing so? Here are some questions and assumptions to consider before we get started: 1. My translator is a highly proficient English speaker as well as the language or dialect where I will be researching, that’s all I need, right? 2. My research shows that the host culture has a really strong caste or social structure, but that shouldn’t matter if I’m from abroad. 3. The translator seems professional and tells me what I need, so long as I write things down accurately my data should be reliable. 4. My biases and power relation with the ‘participant’ is the most important thing to consider when designing and conducting the interview.
1 . My t r anslator is a highly proficient English speaker as well as t he language o r dialect where I will be researching, t hat’s all I need, right? Wrong! Aside from the spoken language, other elements for consideration during translation can include: Gender (how gender roles influence responses) local culture/class/caste issues (how you, the translator, and par ticipant interact and interpret each other) social considerations (whether the translator is protecting the community or other wise biased towards par ticipants) Just like you, your translator has a worldview or lens that can influence the information they collect from par ticipants and how they choose to interpret it on your behalf. Unless you have extensive cultural experience in your host community, your translator may need to be more than just someone who can translate spoken word…
When thinking about hiring a translator, ask yourself, what do you need in a translator? Have you prepared an adequate inter view and training plan to ensure you and your translator are star ting from the same page? Similar to the bias you need to recognize in yourself as a researcher, the translator is a key means of collecting information from par ticipants, and they carr y the same elements of bias with them in the field. Like any job or position, it is a good idea to thoroughly inter view your interpreter to get a handle on their outlook , their per sonal biases, and their level of under standing and experience with the topic or area that you will be researching. You’re hired!
2. My research shows that the host culture has a really strong caste or social hierarchy, but that shouldn’t matter if I’m from abroad. Both you and your translator may be new to the community where you are basing your research, so gaining the trust and under standing of the par ticipants may prove challenging. This is where it may be necessar y to employ what Berman and Tyska call either an „insider‟ or “cultural exper t”. In this case, the researcher is not the exper t – the translator is. They achieve exper t status by: Of fering insight into the community Appropriately interpreting how people respond Getting past the community “gatekeeper” Facilitating the community‟s perception of you and your research The idea of a „cultural interpreter‟ deepens the impor tance of finding the right interpreter or translator for your project. Three!
3 . T h e t r a n s l a to r s e e m s p r o f e s s i o n a l a n d te l l s m e w h a t I n e e d , s o l o n g a s I w r i te t h i n g s d ow n a c c u r a te l y my d a t a s h o u l d b e r e l i a b l e . To s et yo u r s e l f u p f o r s c i e n t i fi c r i g o r a n d d a t a c o l l e c t io n s u c c e s s , c o n s i d e r t h e f o l l ow i n g : E x p er ie n c e : d o e s yo u r t r a n s l a to r u n d e r s t a n d t h e s c i e n t i fi c p r o c e s s yo u a r e a t te m p t in g ? D e p e n d i n g o n h o w p a r t i c i p a to r y yo u w i s h t h e i n te r v i ew p r o c e s s to b e yo u m ay o r m ay n o t c o n s i d e r t h i s s k i l l s et to be of value. R o l es a n d r e s p o n s ib i l it i e s : W h a t i s t h e r o l e o f t h e t r a n s l a to r i n yo u r i n te r v i ew s ? C o n s i d e r yo u r t h e o r et i c al p a r a d i g m: Po s i t iv i s m v i ew s t h e t r a n s l a to r a s a m e c h a n i c al m e d i um w h o i s p e r fo r m i n g a te c h n i c a l a c t t h a t r e q u i r e s yo u to e l i m i n a te e r r o r s o r c h a n g e s to t h e d a t a . S o c i a l c o n s t r uc t iv i s m s e e s t h e t r a n s l a to r a s a key i n f o r m a n t w h o i s p a r t o f t h e p r o c e s s a n d w h o t r a n s l a te s a c t i v e l y a n d m e d i a te s the message coming from a participant. In this case, it is i m p o r t a n t to k n o w t h e i r h i s to r y, s k i l l s , a n d g e o g r a p h i ca l location. A f e m i n i s t a p p r o a c h i s i n te r e s te d i n r e d u c i n g t h e p o w e r h i e r a rc h i e s b et w e e n i n d i v i d ua l s a n d m o v i n g to w a r d s i n c l us i v i t y during the research process. D e p e n d i n g o n yo u r p a r a d i g m , t h e ex te n t to w h i c h yo u i n c l ud e yo u r t r a n s l a to r d u r i n g t h e r e s e a r c h d e s i g n a n d c o l l e c t i o n p r o c e s s w i l l b e e f f e c te d .
DATA COLLECTION: THREATS TO VALIDIT Y Threat No suitable word exists in the other language Mitigating Action Mitigating Action Translate for a response‟s meaning and not literal or structural elements of the phrases. Bias from cultural perspectives Researcher should acclimatize to the culture in advance Questions which are not „value free‟ The questions should also be culturally translated for context accuracy Translator takes „creative liberty‟ with responses Proper training will set appropriate expectations for translator Note taking process is slow and cumbersome Consider recording interviews and translating them, have more than one person translate the interview One on one interview elicits odd responses Consider a group setting where participants may feel more free to share their real feelings and thoughts
4. My biases and power relation with the ‘par ticipant’ is the most impor tant thing to consider when designing and conducting the inter view. Risk from the community: Translators who are helping with research in their own community can be put in a precarious position. It is impor tant to consider how you are viewed, how the translator is viewed, and ensure your due -diligence includes minimizing risk to those involved, par ticularly when considering social dynamics of the community and confidentiality. Power in the middle: The translator is really the medium through which a conver sation is happening between two people. They therefore can include, omit, reword or fur ther investigate what is being said, but they are also put in the middle of the issues being discussed which could be uncomfortable or problematic for them in the future.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE OF THINGS It may help to consider… Before you get started… Can I get along with this per son for weeks (months?) Does this translator have adequate cultural and language bilingualism? What gender is most appropriate for this research? What training, if any, should I expect the translator to have (experience abroad, language training, graduate studies, tourist guide) ? Have I researched an appropriate level of remuneration for the translator? Have I adequately briefed my translator to the goals and objectives of the research? Have we covered enough “what ifs”? (What if the par ticipant seems uncomfor table, how can we address that?) If you are travelling around, what is a reasonable work contract to expect? (Hours per week , remuneration, meals and lodging) Is it practical to voice record the inter views or write them down? Have you ensured the translator understands privacy implications?
Berman, R. and Tyska, V. (2011) A critical reflection on the use of translators /interpreters in a qualitative cross language research project. International Journal of Research Methods, 178-190. Edwards, R. (1998) A critical examination of the use of interpreters in the qualitative research process. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 24, 197-208. Grossman, F.K et al, (1999) Reflections on a feminist research project: Subjectivity and the wish for intimacy and equality. Innovations in feminist psychological research, 117-136. Kapborg, C. et. Al. (2002) Using an interpreter in qualitative interviews: Does it threaten validity? Nursing Inquiry, 9, 52-56. Murray, C.D. and Wynne, J. (2001) Using an interpreter to research community, work and family. Community, Work and Family, 4(2), 157-170. REFERENCE S
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