Three considerations when conducting research with live interpretation

June 9, 2020
Some logistical changes to how real-time interpretation is managed and executed will result in better data collection.
With global partners and clients, one of the first obstacles to overcome during user research is addressing a language barrier. If any of the connections in the figure below are hindered by a language barrier, the research would be unable to progress.

Using real-time interpretation helps to overcome this barrier. In recent studies with our ReSight Global partners, we’ve learned some important lessons when conducting multi-lingual research projects. Here are three key considerations to keep in mind when conducting research with interpretation during research sessions:

1. Interpretation is an art, not a science

To prevent fatigue and burn-out, different interpreters will likely come in-and-out during sessions, and over the course of the research study, if it runs several days as a whole. It’s important to be prepared for differences in interpretation style, but to work with the language services to ensure the interpreters are equally qualified. We must ensure that all interpreters are equally prepared for the given study. To help in this process, we can provide our script or moderator’s guide ahead of time, include a list of key terminology that will be used during the study, and answer any questions from the interpreters regarding the anticipated language of the study.

While the quality of the interpretations should not differ from one person to another, their accents, speech cadence, and vocal tone might vary. Stressing the importance of similarities in these areas when communicating with the translation language service, helps us confirm that changes to interpreters are not abrupt, obvious, or disruptive to the study overall.

2. Having a point person for interpreter communication helps streamline research

While conducting a research session, difficulties with interpretation may arise, and having a dedicated member of the research team ready to field questions will stave off unnecessary interruptions to research. A participant may be soft-spoken, making it difficult for the interpreter to hear what is being said. Or, people listening to the interpretation might have a difficult time understanding the interpreter. If the moderator were tasked with corresponding with both observers and the interpreter, they would not be able to focus on the participant.

In a recent study, we found that having the notetaker responsible for these communications took a burden off of the moderator, ensuring the integrity of the research session. Texting with the language service and sending Slack messages with clients proved effective in addressing questions and audio difficulties in real-time, rather than having to wait until the end of a research session.

3. Live interpretation can be useful outside of research sessions

As illustrated above, language barriers between clients and researchers are not less important than language barriers with participants. We place high value on having frequent debrief sessions with the whole team to ensure alignment on what we learned from research sessions, trends floating to the surface, and changes that should be made to the moderator’s guide or test stimuli.

Without live interpretation in one of our recent studies, this communication would have been nearly impossible. Using interpreters at debrief sessions proved valuable to ensuring all parties’ questions were asked and answered thoroughly and in detail.

At Bold Insight, it is important to us that we address client needs on a global scale. Recognizing the challenges and opportunities of real-time interpretation enables us to make efficient, informed use of these services. More detailed discussions on interpretation can be found in The Handbook of Global User Research edited by Robert Schumacher.


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