Mobile Survey Translation for Market Research

Mobile survey translation has certain constraints that are similar to translating other types of content.

Have you ever noticed how when you watch a foreign movie — whether on Netflix or Hulu or whatever site you may use to wind down at the end of a long workday — that the subtitles appearing at the bottom of the screen don’t always match the length of the actors’ spoken lines?

You might wonder whether something’s gotten lost in translation; you might ask yourself if words are missing that would otherwise make watching that movie all the more rewarding. At least I know I do.

Things will always get “lost in translation.” If that weren’t the case, it wouldn’t be a cliché. But a lot of the time what’s lost — or gained — is simply a matter of word characters on the screen. Not the inherent meaning.

The same goes for mobile surveys.

A Growing Need for Mobile Survey Translation

It turns out that mobile surveys have actually gotten quite popular among market researchers in recent years. In the 2016 Greenbook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) report, 74% of surveyed companies said they’ve already implemented mobile surveys in their research, while 17% said mobile surveys are still under consideration.

It’s safe to assume that many of the companies that were involved in the survey — among which were behemoths like Apple, Amazon, and Facebook — operate internationally. So the translation of surveys has to be spot on.

Translation in general boils down to making a number of stylistic and linguistic decisions. With mobile surveys, like subtitles, there’s a lot less space to work with than, say, a 200-page user manual.

The small screens on mobile devices are always at the back of translators’ minds when they handle your mobile surveys, because they know that if words or phrases that are shorter in English wind up being longer in, say, German or Spanish — and that if the character difference isn’t accounted for — your mobile survey won’t be as user-friendly for respondents.

Statistics on smartphone use and the potential of mobile survey translation

Now, my guess is if you’re reading this you’re probably involved with mobile surveys in some capacity, or you’re considering mobile survey translation to expand your research. Well, it looks like that approach has a lot of big data potential:

The Pew Research Center released a report last year revealing that in the United States 64% of adults overall and 85% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 owned smartphones. For the former that comes to roughly the entire populations of Canada and Mexico combined. For the latter: a third of Europe’s population.

According to data generated by eMarketer, the number of smartphone users worldwide increased by just over 12% (223.5 million total new users) between 2015 and 2016. To put it plainly, mobile device users are a rich resource for gathering big data. But if your mobile surveys aren’t user-friendly, you can bet that it’ll be a harder to tap into that data, because respondents may be deterred from using your mobile survey app or platform in the first place.

Mobile Survey Translation and Quality Control

Naturally, translators are the ones responsible for reproducing content in a target language, not to mention that a client’s wish is often a translator’s command, but if you design your mobile survey with an international audience in mind and put it through a validation process, it’ll be a lot easier for your translator to recreate and format that survey, saving you both time and money and allowing you to expand into or grow your international research even quicker.

In “5 things to know about translating your mobile survey”, we cover a few things to get you off to a good start.

One thing we mention is how important it is to test all questions on all devices. If a short phrase that fits perfectly on the screen in one language winds up trailing off the screen in another language, you might have a problem on your hands. The Spanish phrase for “Click Here” — Haga Clic Aquí — has four more characters than the English, or roughly 122 pixels instead of a mere 80.

“Ask the person or company translating your survey to go through a formal validation process . . .”

Just picture it: the word aquí, “here,” trails off the screen at the top. All you’re left with is haga clic, or “click!” Click where? This button down at the bottom? Or maybe it’s this one between questions 2 and 3? I’m so confused! I mean, okay, if a button just says “click,” it’s probably clear enough that you should click on the button the words are scrawled across. But you get the idea — things get “lost in translation.” So what do you do?

Ask the person or company translating your survey to go through a formal validation process, whereby native-speaker reviewers test the survey as if they were research respondents themselves.

The other day I spoke with Friederike Mast, one of our Frankfurt-based German translators who has more than 10 years of experience in the field, and she reiterated the importance of validation:

“Even with years of experience in the industry, and the use of translation memory systems and extensive reference materials, some things need to be seen in context for translators to be able to decide on the correct translation.”

This goes for most if not all types of translated content, but especially for mobile surveys.

If you’d like to get a sense of the type of language services we offer to market researchers, check out our Market Research Translation landing page. Click here if you’d like to read more about the other things to keep in mind about mobile survey translation.