Online Surveys in multiple languages

This article was originally posted on our old blog in July 2012.

How do you conduct a survey in multiple languages? In theory, it’s a simple challenge – get a translation of the questionnaire, then apply translations… couldn’t be easier! Except it’s not because attention to detail is so important, and probably out of your control if you can’t speak the language.

Our first survey in another language was a mobile phone study in 2005. To setup the surveys in other languages, we created a duplicate of the English survey, and painstakingly went through every piece of content (questions, answers, instructions, buttons, etc.) swapping out the English with its French, German, Italian and Spanish translations.

I have lost count how many non-English surveys we have conducted for clients since then, using what was a laborious process. The clients have always been very happy with the results, but it was a lot of grunt work for Surveylab.

A lot of extra time and effort went into our QA to check that content had been updated correctly. We are good at our job and proud of the quality of our work (kudos to Hew for his diligence overseeing surveys when they go to the client for review), but checking content in a language none of us read was a tedious task (ok, French and Spanish wasn’t too bad, Dutch has been our least favourite) and having to repeat all our technical QA because effectively each language was a new survey was equally frustrating.

A smarter way to creating translated surveys

Collate all survey content to be translated into a spreadsheet

At Surveylab, we still create an English version of the questionnaire, and perform all our usual development and QA tasks as if this was any other survey. One small change though – when we are setting up the survey, every piece of content (the questions, answers, instructions and supporting text, etc.) is collated into a spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet is then translated. In the first column is the English, and the translated text is entered into the second column. When the translations are ready, we simply import the spreadsheet into the database, perform a check that we don’t have any content remaining in English (a sign that we missed a piece of content) and voila, nous sommes prêts.

No more eye-watering QA checking that we’ve copied content over accurately! And so, so much faster… Now, the survey can be reviewed in the translated language, edits made as required, and the survey is ready to launch.

The changes we made to our systems to enable us to import translations has been hugely successful. We have turned around multiple translations of a survey in a matter of hours whereas it used to take a couple of days for a single language. Copying errors are eliminated entirely – only typo’s in the actual translation are present now and easily fixed. It has also meant that we have now built and hosted surveys in Chinese, Korean and Arabic, which wasn’t a viable option before.

Copying & pasting lots of translations into place in a survey is HARD work

Getting the technical side of setting up a survey in another language working as efficiently as possible is only one part of the equation – continue reading here for 12 tips for translating surveys (part 2).

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