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5.4 Using the right languages

Data collection is an essential part of humanitarian response. Accurate data gives aid agencies the information they need to design quality programmes and respond effectively to people’s needs. One of the factors that influences whether the collected data is accurate and people can rely on it is the interaction between the data collectors and respondents.

Translators without Borders, in collaboration with People in Need - Indikit -, prepared this guide to help aid agencies prevent language and cultural biases that frequently occur when designing and administering surveys. The field-based tips and tricks offered by this practical guide can help you and your colleagues to gain more reliable data.

The guide is instructive, but not definitive. We know that variations in culture and context create different language issues as well as communication needs and therefore you might need to adjust some of the tips to the context you operate in.

Even though this is often seen as a heavy burden, the question of translation of your forms is key to ensuring the right understanding of your respondents. You should make sure you know in advance which languages are those of the communities you are running your survey in (which can be trickier than one thinks). Clear Global (ex-Translators without Borders) has produced considerable work around the topic of translation in the field.

To check

Translators without Borders conducted a survey on the relationship between internal displacement, cross-border movement, and durable solutions in Borno, a linguistically diverse state in northeast Nigeria. Before data collection began, Translators without Borders (TWB) translated the survey into Hausa and Kanuri to limit the risk of mistranslations due to poor understanding of terminology. Even with this effort, however, not all the enumerators could read Hausa or Kanuri. Although enumerators spent a full day in training going through the translations as a group, there is still a risk that language barriers may have undermined the quality of the research. A problem faced by many organizations in the humanitarian sector.

You can see this ressource to go further on bias in multilingual surveys: When words fail: audio recording for verification in multilingual surveys.