International public health research involving interpreters: a case study from Bangladesh

Pitchforth, Emma; van Teijlingen, Edwin
January 2005
BMC Public Health;2005, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p71
Academic Journal
Background: Cross-cultural and international research are important components of public health research, but the challenges of language barriers and working with interpreters are often overlooked, particularly in the case of qualitative research. Methods: A case-study approach was used to explore experiences of working with an interpreter in Bangladesh as part of a research project investigating women's experiences of emergency obstetric care. The case study: Data from the researcher's field notes provided evidence of experiences in working with an interpreter and show how the model of interviewing was adapted over time to give a more active role to the interpreter. The advantages of a more active role were increased rapport and "flow" in interviews. The disadvantages included reduced control from the researcher's perspective. Some tensions between the researcher and interpreter remained hard to overcome, irrespective of the model used. Independent transcription and translation of the interviews also raised questions around accuracy in translation. Conclusion: The issues examined in this case study have broader implications for public health research. Further work is needed in three areas: 1) developing effective relationships with interpreters; 2) the impact of the interpreter on the research process; and 3) the accuracy of the translation and level of analysis needed in any specific public health research. Finally, this paper highlights the importance to authors of reflecting on the potential impact of translation and interpretation on the research process when disseminating their research.


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