Academic journal article Journal of Business and Behavior Sciences

Methodological Considerations in Cross-Cultural Research: A Discussion of the Translation Issue

Academic journal article Journal of Business and Behavior Sciences

Methodological Considerations in Cross-Cultural Research: A Discussion of the Translation Issue

Article excerpt


A major area of concern in cross-national or cross-cultural (hereafter the term comparative research will be used to denote both terms) research is that of methodological validity and or appropriateness (Sekaran, 1983; Wheeler, 1988; Adler and Graham, 1989; Temple, 1997; Olohan, 2000; Munday, 2002; Harkness et al, 2004; Maclean, 2007; Pëna, 2007; Hurtado de Mendoza, 2008; Choi et al, 2012; Nurjannah et al, 2014). While other issues such as sample design, research instrument choice and design, construct measures to be utilized, etc. are equally important, this paper focuses on the translation issue.

As pointed out by Brislin (1970) comparative research involves the translation of instructions and or data collection instruments from one language to another. While researchers need not necessarily be so, it is strongly believed that bilingual or multilingual competencies are definitely advantageous in comparative research. Yet, in Beamish and Calof's (1989) survey of (Canadian) corporate managers on international business education, foreign language skills/aptitude was listed as the least important in terms of selection for international assignments! Professor Richard Lambert, founder and director of the National Foreign Language Center at the Johns Hopkins University best sums up the monolinguistic orientation of the American society thus:

The greatest barrier to the expansion of foreign language competences in the United States is the low value placed on such competences by American society as a whole. For instance, a recent Gallup survey commissioned by the National Geographic Society ranked foreign language at the bottom of a list of school subjects ranked in order of importance to adults. ...Survey after survey...informs us that American companies, even those with numerous foreign transactions, place foreign language competence close to the bottom in their list of desiderata in hiring new employees...The generally low evaluation of foreign language skills and the limited occupational demand for them are accompanied by a generally low level of competence among adults in our society. (1990, p.48)

Similarly, the Head of the Defense Technical Information Center's (DTIC) Information Systems and Standards Division pointed out that due to the costs of translating documents and the lack of a sufficient number of people with both the technical and language skills, much foreign technological information does not get translated contiguously (United States General Accounting Office, 1990).

Relatedly, in a survey of over 900,000 source items from the 6100 journals in 31 languages in the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) database, Garfield and Welljams-Dorof (1990) found the English language to be the predominant language of research communication. Source items in English accounted for 85% of the total and were cited four times greater than that of the next leading languages - German and French respectively. Moreover, citations in American publications were almost all drawn from English (99.6%), and primarily from American (72.4%) sources. From the above figures it is quite apparent that American scholars basically restrict their literature reviews to publications in the English language, and to a large extent to those by fellow Americans (in fact, the United States had the highest self-citing rate among all nations in the database). Interestingly, West Germany, France, and Italy indicated their bilingual competences in that they published in both their native language and English.

While the above data establish the fact that English is the internationally accepted language of research communication, Garfield and Welljams-Dorof (1990, p.10) warn of an inherent danger in the sense that "native English-speaking researchers risk being ignorant of significant findings reported in foreign languages." Hence, they conclude that "conversational fluency in more than one language remains a valuable professional asset for researchers [as it enables them] to appreciate more deeply the expression of other nations and cultures - their art as well as their science. …

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