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Lost in Translation

July 13, 2011

Learning a new language is good and fine, and fun, but there are certain words to the wise that need to be included along with pocket dictionaries and phrasebooks (words, get it? It’s a pun). Things always get lost in translation because some things that are relevant in American culture and studies have no equivalent in other cultures.

This afternoon Cara, the monitoring and evaluations intern, had some questions for our Agricultural specialists so that she can pull together a survey that will allow our field cordinators to find a control group that are matched to our demo group. This proved to be one of the funniest episodes I have ever witnessed. It went something like this:

Q:”How many people per familiy work outside of Shaartuz” 

A: “People can work for 20 years if the wage is high.”

Our response: ????????

Repeat 12 times and you have 2 flustered interns, one confused 18 year-old translator, and 2 annoyed Tajik Agronomists. We eventually had to translate the questions to not just fit into Tajik, but to fit into the social and governmental structure in Tajikistan.

The big lesson from this? Well my moral of this story is something like: As our world becomes more and more interconnected the ways that research is approached needs to be able to adapt as well. Using scaled questions to match control group farmers to our demo farmers is a great way to make sure that study will be as reliable as possible. But maybe the scale we are using is thought out in the wrong terms. In American academia these conditions and indicators are incredibly important, but in Tajikistan it may be that there a completely different set of “indicators” that would mean little to an American academic, but the world to a Tajik statistician.

As Americans who have only 10 weeks to figure out the system, we probably won’t be able to crack this dilemma in this go round. But this is definitely food for thought and a valuable learning experience for future endeavors.

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