In an age of information databases, network connectivity, interactive media, and the Internet, quick access to consumer information has become the norm.
— Decision Analyst
The Power of Focus Group Marketing
Focus groups allow market researchers to collect and analyze responses from their target audience and are often used to discover how customers feel about a company’s products. Focus groups are also used to glean insights about customer experiences as well as how employees view new company policies. Usually quite intimate, focus groups generally involve no more than a dozen participants or so, and the participants are typically encouraged to speak freely about their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and opinions on any number of topics. In this way, responses can vary greatly and the content generated can uncover many powerful insights that would likely not reveal themselves in more controlled environments.
However, as the world of business continues to advance globally, a growing number of focus groups involve participants whose first language is not the lingua franca, English. How, then, do we glean these insights and not miss — or misinterpret — important findings? “If not properly addressed, these issues may threaten the validity of focus groups’ data and, consequently, overall rigor of the qualitative research project.”1 In this light, simultaneous interpreting becomes a critical marketing business tool.
Cross-lingual and Cross-cultural Focus Group Challenges
When communicating with respondents from varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds, researchers cannot ignore or dismiss the likelihood of misunderstandings due to cross-cultural and linguistic differences. Simply put, every region has their own linguistic and cultural nuances, as well as sociocultural and political challenges, and each of these areas must be acknowledged and taken into consideration before, during, and after conducting your qualitative research.
Linguistic and Cultural Nuances
Languages are built on a particular region’s customs, traditions, and belief systems, just to name a few. And it is from these shared experiences that idioms, colloquialisms, regionalisms, and everyday vocabulary emerge. It is, therefore, important to recognize that, even when people speak the same language, their expressions and vocabulary might vary widely. Perhaps the United States represents the best example of this linguistic variance among its native English-speaking population.
With over 330 million residents and 50 contiguous states, the vocabulary and accents used by native English speakers can be quite diverse. In an interesting 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey, Harvard University linguist Bert Vaux and colleagues asked 122 questions to thousands of students and internet users in the United States in an attempt to discover some of these linguistic differences. In one of the survey questions, the researchers asked “What do you call a traffic situation in which several roads meet in a circle and you have to get off at a certain point?”
Data Source: Harvard Dialect Survey
With so many varying responses in English alone, imagine the diversity in responses we would experience across languages. Referring again to the United States, the Spanish language is spoken by 43 million people as a first language. However, with immigrants arriving from many Spanish-speaking regions of the world, the Spanish language spoken throughout the United States is anything but congruent. As an example, let us examine the English word, straw, in Spanish.
|Spanish Word for Straw||Region|
|Pajilla||Costa Rica, Guatemala|
Data Source: Speaking Latino
However, when wishing to conduct a focus group among consumers from diverse backgrounds, we must move well beyond simply translating words from one language to another. We must ensure that the questions we formulate resonate with our respondents’ respective cultures as well.
Sociocultural and Political Challenges
Data gathered from focus groups can prove extremely insightful and help to drive a company’s decisions with regard to their product and service offerings. However, it is critically important to ensure the participants’ responses are truly representative of their communities and countries. In other words, researchers must find a way to ensure (as closely as they can) that the answers are indeed, genuine and given freely. In some cultures, for instance, men might not say what they are truly feeling in front of other men. In the same way, women might not be fully truthful in front of other women or when participating in a focus group with mixed sexes.
Politics can also skew survey results if questions are not appropriately constructed. Depending on the region in which participants reside — or where their families have had extensive history — the current or past political climate could influence responses. Therefore, when wishing to collect high-quality data that accurately reflects the participants’ perspectives and opinions, researchers would be well served to ensure they partner with linguistic professionals native to the participants’ respective regions and with an intimate understanding of that particular region’s political issues.
Some researchers feel quite confident conducting a focus group with participants who speak a language other than English. Perhaps the researchers, themselves, are fluent in the same language or feel at least confident enough in the language to act as the lead moderator. However, fluency in a language does not necessarily equate to the same level of linguistic and cultural competence that a native linguist offers. If not carefully constructed, the moderator’s questions and general interaction could inadvertently cause confusion among participants and negatively affect their trust in you and in the overall exercise. A moderator’s active participation also risks misrepresenting the overall intent of the focus group thereby skewing results.
Do you feel confident enough in your ability to communicate clearly, articulately, and confidently? Are you able to fully listen to each response without worrying about if — or how — you will formulate a follow-up question? Again, partnering with native-speaking linguistic professionals well-versed in the subject matter at hand and in focus group marketing would be well worth the investment.
Simultaneous Interpreting for Focus Group Marketing
“I]interpreters.. not only enable cross-lingual research but also facilitate researchers in understanding the nuances of participants’ cultural beliefs and practices.”2
Unlike consecutive interpreting (in which the interpreter interprets “after” the speaker has stopped), simultaneous interpreting requires a continuous flow of interpretation. This allows the moderator within a focus group to speak without interruption and play an active role within the discussion. Since the interpreter is also able to interpret each of the focus group participant’s responses, this form of interpreting helps facilitate the flow of the discussion without pause.
In focus group settings, interpreters can also guide moderators if and when important areas might be missed due to linguistic or cultural differences. With the assistance of an experienced simultaneous interpreter, the moderator will be able to retain control over the discussion and be better equipped to formulate appropriate follow-up questions. Despite the presence of a linguistic or cultural barrier within focus groups, this added level of control and confidence on the part of the moderator will ultimately lead to successful outcomes:
By investing in simultaneous interpreting for your focus group marketing, not only will you better ensure the accuracy of your messaging — and therefore, the accuracy of the responses — but you will likely generate invaluable global insights. The key, however, is in partnering with an LSP with experience in focus group marketing and a specialized understanding of your industry.
Global Lingo — Interpreting for International Focus Groups
At Global Lingo, our simultaneous interpreters are experts in the cultural and linguistic nuances of their native language. Our linguists offer years of experience in interpreting for focus group settings and are well-versed in any number of subjects across industries. Whether you require simultaneous interpreting for in-depth, one-on-one interviews or for intimate focus group discussions, Global Lingo is a trusted name in the industry.
The success of your focus group marketing relies heavily on the quality of interaction with your participants. By partnering with an LSP specialized in interpreting services for international focus groups, you will certainly meet your mark. Partner with Global Lingo today.
1, 2 Quintanilha, Maira, et al. Different Approaches to Cross-Lingual Focus Groups: Lessons From a Cross-Cultural Community-Based Participatory Research Project in the ENRICH Study. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2015, journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1609406915621419.
In addition to:
DecisionAnalyst. “To Focus Group, or Not to Focus Group?” Decision Analyst, 18 Dec. 2020, www.decisionanalyst.com/whitepapers/focusgroupornot/.
Vaux, Bert, et al. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Harvard University, 2003. dialect.redlog.net/.
“11 Spanish Words for DRINKING STRAW: Infographic.” Speaking Latino, 17 Apr. 2020, www.speakinglatino.com/spanish-language-words-for-drinking-straw/.
Allison Squires. Methodological Challenges in Cross-Language Qualitative Research: A Research Review. ResearchGate, February 2009, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222245612_Methodological_Challenges_in_Cross-Language_Qualitative_Research_A_Research_Review.