Lost in translation?
Working with an interpreter in
interview research
Dr Jane Andrews,
University of the West of England
Outline of Session
Translation and interpretation in qualitative research – issues raised in the
Background to my study (nested within the Home-School Knowledge
Exchange project)
Ways in which linguistic and cultural diversity have been addressed in social
science research
Examples of issues arising from conducting qualitative interviews with an
Issues raised in different literatures (1)
“Current sociology does not confine itself to social problems and works across
language barriers, but arguably the lack of critical attention given to the
process of linguistic translation and its articulation with the translation of
cultural processes persists…”
Bradby, H. (2002) Translating culture and language: a research note on
multilingual settings In Sociology of Health and Illness Vol. 24, No.6, pp.842855
Example of different ways of translating terms such as “sister” “brother” into
other languages when health workers take medical histories from patients
Issues raised in different literatures (2)
“Translations, then are never easy, never transparent, never simple encodings
and decodings from one language to another. Representation, selfpresentation can never be simply a matter of language in such contexts. For
any cross-cultural intervention, there are a whole complex set of issues around
cultural difference, difference within cultural groups and culturalist
assumptions that need to be anticipated and built into the research
Kamler, B., & Threadgold, T. (2003) Translating Difference: questions of
representation in cross-cultural research encounters In Journal of Intercultural
Studies, Vol.24, No.2, p.137-151
Example of narrative workshops conducted by Australian researchers with
Australian-Vietnamese women with a translator
Issues raised in different literatures (3)
“there is very little reflection on the implications for qualitative
research of language difference and the use of third parties in
communication across languages … This is a strange omission
given that qualitative approaches are steeped in a tradition that
acknowledges the importance of reflexivity and context.”
Temple, B., & Edwards, R. (2002) Interpreters/translators and crosslanguage research: Reflexivity and border crossings In
International Journal of Qualitative Methods 1 (2)
Links reflexivity with a call to consider interpreters as active in
producing research accounts
Issues raised in different literatures (4)
“to conduct meaningful research with people who speak little or no
English, English speaking researchers need to talk to the
interpreters and translators they are working with about their
perspectives on the issues being discussed.”
Temple, B., & Edwards, R. (2002) Interpreters/translators and crosslanguage research: Reflexivity and border crossings In
International Journal of Qualitative Methods 1 (2)
Implication for writing up research – making the interpreter
Issues raised in different literatures (5)
“in qualitative research, interviewing is perceived as a participative
activity to generate knowledge, a two way learning process,
where the subjectivities of the research participants influence
data collection and the process of ‘meaning making’. Cultural
differences have significance for both phases.”
Shah, S. (2004) The researcher/interviewer in intercultural context:
a social intruder! In British Educational Research Journal Vol.30,
No.4, pp.549-575
Cultural diversity and linguistic diversity present challenges in
Background to my study (nested within the Home-School
Knowledge Exchange Project)
Socio-cultural theory (Wertsch 1985, 1991, 1998) underpins the
research as well as the notion of Funds of Knowledge (Luis Moll
et al 1992)
A large-scale project with two angles: action-based research and
more traditionally focused research (evaluation of action-based
research, measures of children’s attainment, attitudes and
learning disposition and investigations of home practices using
case studies)
Research sites covered 2 UK cities, detailed sampling of
schools, classes, children and parents
Ways of addressing linguistic and cultural diversity
in research
Employing researchers who share the same
linguistic and cultural heritage as the research
participants (as practised by e.g. Eve Gregory,
Charmian Kenner, Gill Crozier)
Use of family members/children as
interpreters/translators in research in the home
Use of ‘outside’ interpreters in research in the
Using an interpreter in interview research
Implications at different stages of the research process:
design of instruments,
gaining access to research participants,
briefing of interpreter,
roles within research interview,
interpretation of the data obtained,
presentation of the data
Working with a bilingual transcript or
with interpreted data only?
In terms of the professional practice of interpreters, the
interpreted comments are the product but for research purposes
maybe this is not the case?
What happens if we compare interpreted data with a full bilingual
Interpreted Data – Issues Arising from Data (1)
Treatment of humour – communicated or omitted on interpreter’s
judgement (“if he has any interests!”)
Cross-cultural difference in the associations of certain terms –
interpreter conveys a concept laden with a particular valuejudgement (“Risk”)
Sequencing of content in interpreted utterances could imply a
hierarchy of significance to the researcher (he likes history,
maths, PE)
Treatment of direct quotations by the interpreter (“I’ve just got to
do it”)
Reporting (“Dad says”) versus interpreting (“I don’t know much
Interpreted Data – Issues Arising from Data (2)
Treatment of so-called technical language (“figures and maths”)
Leading questions (e.g. interpreter asks parent if they feel they
have missed out on something by having studied at school for a
few years)
addition of intensifiers (“very good at maths”)
Loss of detail (“very interested in his studies”)
Interpreter develops a rapport (“we…” (Indian people))
Interpreter allays fears about research (“these questions are
Interpreter gives culturally relevant examples (“in our cookery we
use handfuls”)
Implications for conducting research in linguistically and culturally
diverse settings
Interpreter as a co-researcher
Briefing and debriefing are essential
Planning for working with an interpreter (time, cost)
Consideration of how interpreter/interpreted data match with the
research paradigm and design
Decisions need to be made whether to work with interpreted data
only or with a bilingual (translated) transcript