International research and working with interpreters

By Philip Morton

We recently conducted user research in Paris and Berlin, where we used interpreters to translate questions and answers between respondents and ourselves. Here’re my reflections on my experience of working with translators.

Be concise with your questioning

Using a translator forces you to be concise with your questioning. You can’t afford the time, or confusion, that could result from a rambling introduction or query.

Start translating as soon as possible

We used two interpreters each with quite differing styles. In Paris, our interpreter chose to translate after every sentence or two, while in Berlin, they waited until the respondent had finished before explaining what they had said.

The more they wait before translating, the less chance you have to interrupt and the greater chance you’ll have of having to sit through a person talk about something that’s not of interest. When you speak the respondent’s language, you know if they’re drifting off topic and can quickly focus them back on what matters, but with an interpreter this isn’t as easy.

Prep your interpreter

As with interview moderators like ourselves, interpreters take time to adjust to the discussion. By our second day of testing in each country, the interpreters started asking questions before we did. Once you get to this point, conducting an interview takes little more time than one in your native language.

Philip Morton

I help businesses create better products and services by putting customer insight at the heart of the design process. In the last six years, I've worked with the likes of Sony PlayStation, HSBC, Sega, Tesco and TSB. In that time, I've seen our research, design and strategy work improve both the experience for customers and commercial outcomes for clients.

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