multilingual-surveys-img For a long time surveys have been part of our everyday lives. We receive customer surveys in our inbox after we purchase an item online. At work, HR departments are regularly asking employees to participate in various employee satisfaction surveys. Or we might be stopped on the street to fill out a marketing research survey. Very often survey questions can be confusing or words can sound like they have a double meaning. Now imagine being a non-native speaker of the language. How can a survey participant choose the right answer if in doubt about the wording? How can a survey conductor receive adequate survey results based on a misleading question? This article discusses why some companies decide not to run multilingual surveys, followed by an outline of what the benefits might be of investing in a multilingual survey.

Why don’t companies run multilingual surveys?

The main reason companies don’t run surveys in multiple languages are the additional costs that may occur. This includes costs for setting up the templates in multiple languages and for staffing to run and monitor those campaigns. However, if you’ve got a team of foreign speakers in-house, you can use those resources to help you with the translation of the survey and replies. Another way of conducting surveys in multiple languages is to work with online survey platforms. The majority of them give you the option to add translations directly in the question-and-answer-fields of the survey template. Be careful when survey programs offer automatic inbuilt language (auto-translate features) of the questions. Often this means that your questions and answers are translated by a machine, like Google Translate, and inserted in your template. If you go down the route of using machine translation, we’d advise you to check the translation afterwards to make sure the content makes sense and is grammatically correct. Another solution is to hire a translator and grant them access to your survey template. The native speaker can then directly implement the translation and judge if the questions are appropriate for the country. The translator will also be able to check the tone of the questions and if the answers are correct. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that “consumer results may be biased in multilingual research if consumers are unfamiliar with translated terms”. The study which was carried out with English and French speaking consumers in the US, UK, Canada, and France concentrated on response scales to indicate agreement and disagreement with certain statements. The results of the study showed that the “response categories received more responses when the associated labels were more commonly used in day-to-day language.”

What are the benefits of conducting a survey in multiple languages?

The main benefit of conducting a survey in multiple languages is that your participants will understand your questions and answers better. The following example shows how a UK company received non-adequate results after conducting a survey in Germany in English and not translated in German: One of the questions was: “Have you ever gone out with a colleague?” From the German employees nearly everybody said yes, whereas from the British employees only 10% said yes. Surprised by the results the company started to investigate. It turned out that the German workforce understood the question as a social get-together with their colleagues, not as a date. A translation into German might have helped to make things clearer and deliver more accurate survey results. Another benefit of a multilingual survey is the positive rapport building with your customers. Some customers might be happy to communicate in English but others might find it disrespectful. They expect to be addressed in their native language during the buying process. When conducting surveys in multiple languages, you have to consider the culture and language differences of your target audience. Don’t risk losing future work because of an English-only customer survey. Have you ever conducted multilingual surveys? Please share your experiences below.

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