Lost in Translation

Forward and backward translation of scales and questionnaires is the gold standard for implementing bilingual survey methods. Oftentimes, researchers and translates alike are left confused over navigating translations of questions and themes from English to other global languages. For example, the Goldberg-18 Depression and Anxiety Test features a question “in the previous 30 days, have you felt slowed down” to measure a latent construct for depression. However, that doesn’t quite translate effectively into Hindi and fails to capture the latent structure of depression symptoms.

The Mumbai Nudges program that has previously been featured on the CASI blog had an added layer of complication: participants required translations into a particular Hindi dialect spoken in the Malvani community. This was a requirement that extended to the voice messages that were sent to those in the treatment group, and required the PIs who were developing the program to work with translators in composing and recording the messages.

Sourcing qualified translators and learning the dialect so as to accurately pronounce complicated words in the audio nudges was a real-world challenge. Despite remote programming due to the pandemic, this gave us the hint of being on ground zero and conducting in-person fieldwork (sort of), and provided a very real glimpse into Malvani.

Beyond linguistic barriers, there were also cultural barriers that could not really be surpassed despite local translation. Concepts such as consent and signing consent forms, COVID-19 safety protocols, and confidentiality, required extra rounds of explanation, adding to participant irritability and confusion. Without the support of committed and experienced facilitators, it would have likely been impossible to pull off these phone interviews and nudges programs on schedule in the manner which we did! This just goes to highlight the key role of strong local partnership in implementing developmental research, and how we as researchers benefit from the established community leadership of Project Balika.

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About Anahita Kumar

I'm a PhD student at Penn GSE in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods Division. I research behavioral interventions such as cash transfers and phone-based nudges, parent engagement and decision-making, household stress, child labour practices, and children's learning environments, in India, Côte d'Ivoire, and Ghana.