LOST IN TRANSLATION: We’ll pass on the “translator,” it’s an “interpreter” we need.

Here at Colen Research, we are coming off of a gem of a global study, whereby we conducted qualitative research in six countries around the world—each with its own language and culture.  For each focus group and in-depth interview, we needed an in-language moderator and, of course, someone who could convert what consumers were saying into a language we could understand (English, in our case).  All of the suppliers to whom we reached out included this service as part of its bid, always referred to as a “translator.”

The objective of our research was to understand what drives vacation travelers on an emotional level.  This wasn’t just a matter of asking people what they like and don’t like about vacation traveling—we already had this information from quantitative research.  This was about getting beneath the surface and identifying the feelings that consumers have about travel.  What emotions truly motivate or drive them when they are deciding on a vacation destination?  Of course, price and direct flights are important factors, but we want our brand positioning to meet the emotional needs of travelers—the airlines and hotels can take care of the price.

In all cases of foreign language research, but especially in our case where we were looking to identify feeling drivers as opposed to practical factors, the responsibility of the so called “translator” is not only to recite a respondent’s words.  This critical role player in the scheme of good qualitative research should be reflecting the tone, inflection and passion (or lack thereof) complementing the words.  The effective “translators” with whom we worked were adept at doing just this—interpreting respondents’ remarks, not just translating them.  While this was especially important in our case, we feel it is critical in any global qualitative research study.

Merriam-Webster explains that the verb “translate” means “to turn into one’s own or another language.”  On the other hand, the dictionary tells us that “interpret” means “to explain or tell the meaning of” and further points out that it is “to represent by means of art; bring to realization by performance or direction.”  The effective interpreter is like a good actor, performing the respondents’ comments and bringing to realization the true meaning of their remarks.

In the future, when a supplier includes a “translator” as part of its bid, we’ll be passing, thank you, and asking for an “interpreter” instead.

Ken Colen is the founder and CEO of Colen Research, a full-service market research company. To find out more about Ken and the company, visit www.colenresearch.com.

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