Whether for employee engagement, performance management, leadership development or wellbeing, surveys and questionnaires give valuable insight into individuals or companies, and provide actionable data for research or decision making.

In today’s multinational world, it is important to collect this data consistently across the globe in order to promote learning from overseas counterparts, diagnose discrepancies between markets and report results on a global scale, rather than on a territory by territory basis.

However, with English often adopted as the lingua franca, how can you ensure that the same questions posed abroad or to non-natives are culturally valid and meaningful to all, and that they have been considered and responded to honestly? Once the data is collected, to what extent could you know that each respondent has understood the nuances of the English items, when English may be their second, third or even fourth language?

Translating surveys or questionnaires is the simplest way to ensure that respondents fully understand the nature of the questions being asked of them, and to guarantee higher quality results.

Hints & Tips

One size does not fit all when it comes to worldwide demographic data. Asking a respondent’s ethnic group may be illegal or require the use of specific categories in some countries.

Elsewhere, levels of education may also need tailoring according to the nature of the school system in a given country.

Process for Translating Questionnaires

There are several options for translating surveys, depending on your needs and the nature of the questionnaire being translated.

  • Forward Translation and Proofreading
    For many purposes, especially where you have an in-country resource to check a translated survey before launch, translation of the survey by a native speaker and proofreading by a second may be sufficient.
  • Forward Translation – Back Translation
    This allows you to check the meaning of each item in English before the survey is launched. Having four pairs of eyes (a translator and proofreader for both forward and back translation) looking over the text will help ensure that it flows as fluently as possible and that any misunderstandings have been ironed out.
  • Dual Forward Translation and Reconciliation
    In some cases, you may wish to have two translated versions of the survey produced by two separate linguists. Then, a third person (reconciler) mediates the two and produces a final version, which may or may not then be back translated into the original language for final verification.
      No matter what the process chosen, it is important to allow sufficient time for the proper translation of the items; machine translation, while excellent for spot checking or verification, should be avoided, as should the splitting of a survey between multiple translators to “speed things up”.

Translating Open-ended Responses

Many surveys utilise open-ended questions at some point or another to seek commentary from the respondent. The translation of the responses back into English does not therefore need to be a fully polished version, as it is just important to understand the meaning of the comments.

In such a case, we recommend that the comments are simply translated without proofreading. This will save you both time and money.

With many surveys filled in by hand, we are often asked to transcribe the comments into an Excel spreadsheet before translating. This then provides you with an accessible electronic version of the comments, as well as a digitised starting point for the translation.

Hints & Tips

People’s handwriting can vary a lot and it is sometimes very difficult to make out what any handwritten comments actually say. This makes transcription difficult and means that some valid comments may not be able to be used.

It is a good idea to put a note at the top of the box where people will be handwriting comments to say:

“Please write clearly”.