Translating best practice into real practice: methods, results and lessons from a project to translate an English sexual health survey into four Asian languages
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Background: Migrants are underrepresented in population health surveys. Offering translated survey instruments has been shown to increase migrant representation. While ‘team translation’ represents current best practice, there are relatively few published examples describing how it has been implemented. The purpose of this paper is to document the process, results and lessons from a project to translate an English-language sexual health and blood-borne virus survey into Khmer, Karen, Vietnamese and Traditional Chinese.
Methods: The approach to translation was based on the TRAPD (Translation, Review, Adjudication, Pretesting, and Documentation) model. The English-language survey was sent to two accredited, independent translators. At least one bilingual person was chosen to review and compare the translations and preferred translations were selected through consensus. Agreed translations were pretested with small samples of individuals fluent in the survey language and further revisions made.
Results: Of the 51 survey questions, only nine resulted in identical independent translations in at least one language. Material differences between the translations related to: (1) the translation of technical terms and medical terminology (e.g. HIV); (2) variations in dialect; and (3) differences in cultural understandings of survey concepts (e.g. committed relationships).
Conclusion: Survey translation is time-consuming and costly and, as a result, deviations from TRAPD ‘best practice’ occurred. It is not possible to determine whether closer adherence to TRAPD ‘best practice’ would have improved the quality of the resulting translations. However, our study does demonstrate that even adaptations of the TRAPD method can identify issues that may not have been apparent had non-team-based or single-round translation approaches been adopted. Given the dearth of clear empirical evidence about the most accurate and feasible method of undertaking translations, we encourage future researchers to follow our example of making translation data publicly available to enhance transparency and enable critical appraisal.
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