An untranslatable metaphor. Layers of cultural context that obscure the meaning of a colloquial phrase. An idiomatic expression with no easy equivalent. You are probably imagining a poem or story, some deep literary work, and linguist with a furrowed brow grappling with how to translate the next line. Have you considered that these same challenges exist when translating academic research? The authors of the article ‘How would you call this in English?’ Being reflective about translations in international, cross-cultural qualitative research found that translating medical studies posed all of these same challenges. They also argue that translation should not be hidden, but rather brought to the forefront and acknowledged as an integral part of the international research and collaboration process.
The full article may be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5383565/
The article is well written and includes some interesting specific examples between Dutch and English. I particularly appreciated their conclusion, the majority of which is copied here if you like to skip to the end first:
“When reflecting on our experiences with translations in an international qualitative research collaboration, the most important lessons we have learned are threefold. First, we realized that we, as a team and as individual researchers, had not been consciously aware of the ever-present need to translate in an international research community. This was clearly true for the two Canadian-born researchers. But even the other two members of the team, for whom English is not their first language, had never explicitly reflected on this issue before. Second, we came to appreciate that translation challenges arise not only from differences in language, but also pertain to cultural or societal differences regarding for example politics, economics, educational systems, and the organization and financing of healthcare. This relates to our third lesson, which is about exploring and celebrating cultural difference. We do acknowledge that the cultural differences between two Western, developed countries may seem relatively limited, in comparison to cross-cultural research including Latin-American, Arabian, or Asian cultures. However, by playing around with words and concepts, and by working (sometimes effortfully!) to convey to each other the nuanced, culturally flavoured meanings of notions, some differences turned out to be substantial and unexpected. Being reflective about translations thus proved enriching, rewarding, stimulating and inspiring, and from that angle, can be considered a promising avenue for further enhancing the field of medical education research.
Thus, as a conclusion, we would like to emphasize that researchers should be critical and conscious of the choices they make regarding translations in qualitative studies, throughout the different stages of the research process. This implies that researchers explicitly describe their translation strategies, most likely under the ‘methods’ heading of empirical research papers, and that they include some of their ‘ugly’ or ‘annotated’ translations in the manuscript. The choice for a specific translation strategy should mirror the epistemological position of the researchers, and as such, is likely to add to the trustworthiness and quality of the research, producing qualitative findings truly reflective of the participants.”
Let us know what you think of this particular article or your own reflections on translation in academic research studies and articles in general!