Three reasons why communities prefer in person interviews in local languages

Start Network
Start Network
Published in
7 min readFeb 6, 2023


By Helen Guyatt

“Interview in a local language is the best method. Just look at the conversation we have had so far. You have communicated to me in detail what you wanted to know and I have told you my answers in words of my own choice. So, this is excellent.”

47-year-old fruit seller from Multan interviewed in person in Saraiki language.

Communities in Pakistan have fed back that they prefer in person interviews conducted in their native tongue rather than any other approach. They noted that this works better for them because:

(1) They have a better understanding of the question

(2) They are better able to express themselves and

(3) The whole experience is more natural and enjoyable.

Field researcher interviewing people visiting a cooling facility provided by Bright Star Development Society Balochistan (BSDSB) during the 2022 heatwave (© GLOW Consultants).

As part of our commitment to decolonise our evidence and learning at Start Network, we have been trying to understand how we can improve the way we conduct interviews with communities. Over the past year we have been trying to ensure that interviews are conducted in person and in local languages. We had received anecdotal information previously that people prefer being interviewed face-to-face rather than on mobile devices. Furthermore, working with our local consultants it was considered important that people could choose which language they preferred to speak in, whether this was a local language or the national language. Having invested in this approach to data collection we felt it was important to check in with communities to see whether they thought this was the right approach, and why.

In July this year as part of a research and learning study on the impact of assistance during the heatwave in Pakistan, local researchers from GLOW Consultants also explored whether the way the interview was conducted — face to face in local language — was the best way or it could be improved?

GLOW Consultants spoke to 180 people across two locations, Multan and Sibi. Multan is the 5th largest city in Pakistan with a population of 2 million. Sibi is a much smaller city with just 75,000 people, but is well known as one of the hottest places in the world. Although Urdu is the national language, the interviews were conducted in six different languages, depending on what the respondent was most happy to use. In Sibi, most of the 120 interviews were conducted in Balochi (47%) and Sindhi (35%), with just a few preferring to speak in Urdu, Pashto and Saraiki. In Multan, most people spoke in Saraiki, though a few also wanted to speak in Punjabi and Urdu.

Pamphlets written in Urdu on heatstroke messaging distributed in Sibi, Pakistan during the heatwave in 2022. (© GLOW Consultants).

Overwhelmingly most respondents (91%) preferred the approach we had adopted — 1% (2 people) said they preferred mobile calls), 4% didn’t mind which way they were done and 4% didn’t know. The few who mentioned that an interview by phone could have been possible, also acknowledged that face-to-face was still a good approach especially when it was being conducted by local people. Some noted that they may not have even participated if they had been called up on the phone and that network issues can anyway make such interactions very frustrating.

“Even though we have switched on to mobile devices, nothing beats face-to-face interaction. This way people are likely to tell you what they really think. Had you asked the same questions from me on a mobile device, I might have not even participated.”

38-year-old fruit seller interviewed in Sibi in the Sindhi language.

Sindhi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken as the native tongue by at least 30 million people in Pakistan.

“Face to face is good but now times are changing, such questions could easily be asked on a phone call or through whatsapp. This one is good too, I like that we have people from our own locality talking to us about it which is good.”

35-year-old daily wage earner interviewed in Sibi in the Pashtu language.

Pashto (also spelt Pashtu) is an Eastern Iranian language in the Indo-European language family and it is the second-largest provincial language of Pakistan, spoken mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhua and the northern districts of Balochistan. The total number of Pashto-speakers is at least 40 million.

People noted three reasons why in person and in local languages works better for them :

(1) They have a better understanding of the question

(2) They are better able to express themselves

(3) The whole experience is more natural and even enjoyable;

and provided three key take-aways on how we should go forward with how we conduct interviews:

(1) Keep meeting in person

(2) Keep using local people and talking about what we know and

(3) Keep talking to us.

Better understanding of the questions. People found that this approach ensured that they could “hear each and every word clearly” making it easier to understand the questions being asked. One respondent specifically noted that even though they can understand Urdu, conducting an interview in Sindhi enabled them to relate better.

“It was good that you asked questions in the local language as I was able to relate more. Although I can understand Urdu it would have confused me had you been speaking or asking questions from me in Urdu.”

35-year-old government official interviewed in the Sindhi language.

Better able to express themselves. People spoke about being able to use their body language to express themselves as well as the obvious advantage of speaking in their native tongue. They spoke about the positive experience this brings knowing that they can express their feelings and that the person they are speaking to understands what they are saying. People spoke about how it enables them to be more comfortable and fully participate.

“It helped us to take out all the emotions we had in our heart.”

47-year-old dressmaker interviewed in Sibi in Balochi language.

Balochi or Baluchi is an Indo-European language, belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of the family spoken primarily in the Balochistan region of Pakistan by an estimated 3 to 5 million people.

More natural and enjoyable experience. People spoke about how this approach “brings interviewer and interviewee together”, “was more interactive and interesting” and “similar to how the community members talk to each other”. One person noted that “meeting others is a nice way to conduct an interview” and people said they felt relaxed, respected, and so comfortable that they probably shared much more than they normally would.

Field researcher interviewing a recipient of a heatwave protection kit provided by HELP Foundation during the 2022 heatwave (© GLOW Consultants)

Keep meeting in person

People generally felt that this way of interacting — in person — had been lost with the increase in technologies and following the restrictions imposed during Covid. They suggested that meeting with them liked this showed them that people were interested in what they had to say.

“Face-to-face is way better than any other way. Especially after COVID, people do not meet each other, most people are avoidant so conducting such an interview, that too in person shows that you are concerned about us.”

42-year-old shepherd interviewed in Sibi in Balochi language

Keep using local people and talking about what we know

People suggested that it was important to continue to use local people and not translators in conducting interviews and that we should continue to speak about things they know about and can relate to.

“Local language and face to face is a really good thing because previously I remember people used to come for other such research and communicate in English and somebody would translate it for us and then them, that was really weird. We could hardly get what was going on.”

35-year-old watchman interviewed in Sibi in the Balochi language.

Keep talking to us

A few people did suggest that the interview could have been shorter, to keep peoples’ interest, but the one important message we heard was to keep doing these types of interviews to understand better peoples experience of the assistance provided and how we can make these better

“You can use any means as long as you can speak with us.”

25-year-old rickshaw driver interviewed in Multan in Saraiki language

Saraiki (also spelt Siraiki, or Seraiki) is an Indo-Aryan language of the Lahnda group, spoken by nearly 26 million people, mostly in the south-western half of the province of Punjab in Pakistan. It was previously known as Multani, after its main dialect.

Remote interviews may be less costly, but given the feedback we have received from communities, in person interviews conducted in local languages will not only provide better quality data because there is more effective and open communication but is also a way that communities feel more respected.



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