20 Aug /10

Global market research: start with language translation

An average organisation spends between 20 and 50 percent of its annual marketing budget on research activities.

The aim of a market research is to interpret the market characteristics, translate the marketing problems and opportunities, evaluate and develop marketing strategies.

Marketing translationMarket research questionnaires and surveys are the most common mechanism for collecting marketing information.

As more organisations pursue global business strategies, the need to conduct market research on an international scale is rapidly increasing.

International market research projects require multilingual surveys and therefore multilingual professional language translation and localisation.

Ideally, a translation vendor is involved in the market study design process.

A translation company works together with market researchers to determine target languages required (multilingual markets, minority language users), usage of appropriate glossaries, cultural adaptation, word selection and formatting. Key objective: to help identify problems and make questionnaires more suitable for target population.

In practice, however, translation is rarely seen as part of the questionnaire design and it only begins after the source questionnaire is finalised.


Initial translation of questionnaires

The most common problem in questionnaires involves translation into other languages. The source language questionnaire may be difficult to translate because equivalent language concepts do not exist, or because of differences in idioms, colloquialisms and syntax. Using a team of professional translators with experience in market analysis and assessment together with the client is the right solution compared to relying on one person to provide an accurate questionnaire translation.

The language experts, required in the questionnaire translation process are translators and translator reviewers.

Translators need to have an excellent command in the source and target languages, to have experience in market research and survey translations and have an in-depth insight of the cultures in question. Additionally, translator reviewers shall be familiar with questionnaire design principles and be qualified in the field of market research.

Marketing translation should be done in a manner that target users understand the translated questions as easily as the source population for whom they were designed. Often this requires a translator to utilise creative prowess rather than just simply providing customers with a literal translation.

Back translation

In order to ensure that information is conveyed as intended, market researchers often order questionnaires to be back translated. Back translation is a helpful quality assessment tool for both marketers and translation companies and is the most commonly used technique to ensure accuracy, tone of voice and client requirements have not been compromised in the translation process.

Back translation is simply translating a text that has already been translated, back to the source language.

Back translation is carried out by an independent translator, who did not participate in the forward translation process. Here the translator should not be exercising any creative abilities because the idea is to give an indication of the correctness of the translation.

Revision of translation

The original translators and the client shall compare the back translation with the original version. Differences should be noted for discussion in a focus group.

Focus group

A small group of people representing the study population are asked to complete the questionnaire. Translators will also discuss these results to determine the possibility of any language, comprehension or socio-cultural problems.

Final translation

The results from the focus group’s survey shall be taken into account. Any problematic terms shall be revised and solved.

These steps will lead to the final version of the required language translation.


When market information is collected through a questionnaire in different countries or regions with different native languages, the data gathered needs to be translated to the original source language of the marketing research company so that all the results can be collated and analysed.

Structural and lexical differences, along with response scale design can pose multiple difficulties to translators.

Yet the main difficulty is to find the right translation for a concept across languages.

Survey results will be affected by the audience’s social and cultural characteristics.

The fact that words do not match or exist in different languages is often less of a problem than the fact that certain concepts do not match across cultures.

Further difficulties might arise when market information is gathered through hand written responses because it might be difficult to interpret certain characters/words/phrases or might include spelling mistakes, abbreviations or slang.

Furthermore, if a market survey is conducted online, a translation company should also translate all supporting materials (introduction email, instructions, web content). A language translation services provider should also be able to work with electronically submitted survey responses.

To end up with a correct evaluation and true statistical representation from a market study performed in another language/languages and be certain that results are going to reflect what consumers meant to convey in their own language, the survey translation must be performed by experienced native speaking, in-country translators that understand the study objectives and the target audience.