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Religion, finances, politics and sex – most of us know the topics that are supposed to be banished from the dinner table. But where are the limits at the business information table? Dr. Jill Kushner Bishop explains how brands can best avoid the potential pitfalls associated with mixing unfamiliar language with taboo topics.

In translating market research, the right data can transform the way an organization operates and provide critical insights for its future success. International research allows companies to go beyond their borders and exploit new insights and insights from a global economy. Although companies want to jump at the chance, it is essential to establish a relationship of trust with research participants.

A language solutions partner may uncover opportunities for a larger footprint, more customers, and increased market share. It is essential to work with a diverse team to consider cultural challenges related to language barriers. Without a nuanced understanding of cultural realities beyond language translation, researchers may not be able to gain the trust of respondents – which can prevent robust and accurate responses from being collected from their efforts.

The need for nuances

Given the importance of the cultural context in which a language is spoken, a literal translation can sometimes distort the true meaning and intent of a phrase or research question. The wording may seem abrupt or unnatural to participants. Translation blunders can undermine the legitimacy of collection efforts, causing confusion, misinterpretation – and sometimes offending respondents to the point of obscuring their honest answers.

For market research translations, the phrase “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” is true. When the stakes are high, especially when trying to uncover truths about personal or sensitive topics, even small word choices can trigger biases or unintended obstacles that can affect outcomes. Translations should be designed to encourage objective and authentic responses. Survey questions or qualitative research moderator guides should be written with nuances in mind, to avoid possible misunderstandings.

Assuming that the data collected will be in a language unknown to the research team, any qualitative or open-ended responses will also need to be translated. A multilingual translation services team that understands both native language nuances and data collection standards is essential to compiling accurate and concise analytics information.

Data is essential to the development of business strategies, so accurate data is essential. To save time and avoid the pitfalls of multilingual research, we offer these three important cultural considerations for better project planning and execution.

Sensitive topics

If you think it can be difficult to talk about taboo topics around a table with friends and family, that sensitivity is only amplified when you add layers of culture. Even the topic of what is considered sensitive in each culture is different. Some cultures see sex as one of the most charged topics, while it may be an acceptable topic of conversation in another.

Likewise, how different cultures view taboos around finances, health issues, and many other topics can be difficult when connecting with an international audience. Comprehensive translation services can point out concepts or terms that may be controversial or sensitive in certain cultures to educate non-native researchers, help troubleshoot problems, and prevent any proverbial cases of foot-and-mouth disease.

For example, one of our clients creating marketing campaigns and creative content in the MENA region needed to consider the region’s sensitivity to sexual scenes, nudity, offensive political and religious content, and more.

Beyond language, the proper inclusion of empathy can go a long way in discussing sensitive topics. If the translation fails to convey the delicate emotions attached to a topic, a respondent’s confidence can decline significantly. Or worse, they may quickly become offended and actively reject opportunities to share data. Native speaker expert work can avoid negative interpretations and provide sensitivity to maximize comfort and openness, even when it comes to difficult topics.

Regional differences

Regional dialects also play a vital role in communicating clearly with an international audience. Many languages ​​have a multitude of dialects. In Arabic, for example, there are more than 20 dialectal variants based on geographical boundaries and cultural enclaves.

The most common quality of a native speaker is the ability to recognize when a word in one language can be translated multiple ways into another language. When these types of items are translated, it can become a priority in their minds, knowing that the results can have a double meaning.

Regional dialect failures can cause respondents to unintentionally laugh at your process rather than focus on a serious response to your work efforts. While sometimes humor can be a great icebreaker for building camaraderie, accidental incidents of language can degrade communication efforts, distract from focus, and lead to a loss of integrity of the topic at hand.

For example, in the Lebanese dialect, Naseh means big, but in Egypt it means smart. Likewise, the word Mara means woman in several Arabic dialects; however, in Egypt it has a negative connotation and is not used in polite speech.

Gender Guidelines

Another thing to consider when market research crosses borders is the importance of gender-specific language guidelines. In gendered languages, such as Hindi, French, and Spanish, pronouns or nouns often require adjustment to masculine or feminine forms. As gender articles are changed, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs should line up in agreement. Conversely, some languages ​​are gender-neutral by default.

When it comes to gender, skilled linguists know not to make assumptions. Instead, they take into account the cultural context of the language, the subject and adapt the translation accordingly. In this way, a linguist provides much more than a translation.

In the case of gender guidelines, when it comes to inclusive language for a Spanish translation, we have a variety of options. We take into account the target audience, the client’s philosophy, the content, etc. moreover, of course, the culture and spirit of the language is a central issue.

Among the options we offer, some are more traditional and follow all the rules of the language, while others defy them. For example, we had a client who needed the translation of a survey focusing on gender and diversity. In this case, it was very important to include both binary and non-binary genders, which for Spanish is certainly difficult given that the language does not have a neuter pronoun like others do.

We decided to use an option that does not follow the rules of the language, which has started to be used by the Spanish-speaking LGTBQ+ community. We used the suffix “e” to mark the non-binary gender (which does not exist in the traditional rules of the language), “a” for feminine and “o” for masculine. It was the right choice given the nature of the content and the openness of the client.

Another alternative for these types of cases is the use of “x” to mark non-binary gender, however, an important aspect to consider when using this suffix is ​​that it makes words difficult to pronounce, and if the material is being used by a blind person, reading software may have difficulty reading this and therefore the person will not receive the full message and the text will not be inclusive in every sense of the word.

There is a big difference between a fluent speaker and a professional native-speaker translator who understands historical, cultural and regional nuances. This deeper understanding can significantly reduce the likelihood of error in market research results. The right language solution partner can ensure that study participants are well informed and understand their role in the research process, without the risk of miscommunication.

They can translate research objectives into the appropriate cultural framework and help garner valuable feedback and responses. A true partner – not just a vendor – works beyond translation services to effectively address appropriate handling of taboo topics. Culturally nuanced research builds authentic trust with participants. With an international strategy focused on results, the right multilingual translation service produces high-quality, actionable information that your business can rely on.

Dr. Jill Kushner Bishop is the Founder and CEO of Multilingual Connections, a global language solutions company that supports international research for market research and design firms, corporate in-house teams, universities and non-profit organizations.