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How to avoid embarrassing mistakes in global research

Laia Vinyeta

Laia Vinyeta

Laia Vinyeta

Laia has worked as a freelance qualitative market researcher for more than 10 years. Laia is also a professional translator and can speak many different languages so she specialises in international research. Understanding both the culture of origin and the local culture are a key issue that must be managed by professionals.

In the latest post in our series by global moderators from the Liveminds network, Laia Vinyeta tells us about the importance of cultural understanding when carrying out global research projects.

International projects have some specific needs that are sometimes unmet. Whenever many different people from different countries are involved in the same project, the leading and management become quite difficult. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to consider online tools such as diaries or communities for qualitative research. Online diaries or communities have many strengths. For example, the fieldwork from all countries can be managed by the leading project manager from his or her office, they will only need a computer with internet access.

Okay, you will now tell me about the language problem, the fact that not all participants will be able to express their opinions in one common language. That’s true, but since local culture is important in every research project it’s also important that the participants use their first language in order to transmit their opinions, feelings and perceptions clearly.

The second main strength of online qual research in international projects is that all the participants’ written opinions can be translated by a professional translator who will perfectly adapt the comments to the target culture without forgetting the native nuances. And this is a key issue if we compare it to simultaneous interpreting, which might translate the general meanings of the participant’s speech instead of focusing on those little details that could make a project succeed or fail in terms of cultural adaptation.

One of the key aspects in a successful internalisation of a product is the fact that the translation fits both the local market and the local way of understanding it. One famous example is when Parker launched a campaign to sell non-leaking pens using the claim “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” successfully in English speaking markets. This was translated into Spanish for the Mexican launch literally as “No te embarazará chorreándose en tu bolsillo” instead of “No goteará en tu bolsillo ni te avergonzará”. What Parker was really telling the Mexicans was that the pen would not leak or get them pregnant. It was a complete disaster.

Of course, there are many companies that have understood the importance of cultural understanding and have adapted their offer to the target market as well as the translation, so that there are no misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

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