Translation – it’s more than linguistic

In a previous post, we discussed the inception of Quechua lessons at SVH. Quechua is spoken by more than 6 million people in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. It is the dominant language and culture in the Cuzco region where we work. The goal of Quechua study is not only for our non-Peruvian staff to learn the local lingua franca, but also to enhance our cultural understanding of our promotoras (community health workers) and the communities we serve.

In all of our programs and evaluative processes, we are constantly reminded that we are working across cultures. For example, when we do surveys, we pay close attention to how we phrase our questions in order to ensure that they make sense and are relevant to a Quechua audience.

Anna survey
Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator Anna Gajewski conducts a survey in beautiful Marcuray.

One of the staples of survey research in the U.S., the Likert scale, makes little sense here. Think of the last time you filled out a survey or rated a purchase or service. Many of these questions use some variation of a Likert scale.

Example of Likert scale responses


As an American-trained researcher, I’ve been conditioned to use this question in many settings. For example, if asking about community satisfaction with the promotora, I would want to include several response options:  not at all satisfied, somewhat satisfied, very satisfied, and completely satisfied. However, among the people that we serve, satisfaction is not measured along a continuum. In order for our question about satisfaction to make sense here, it must be rephrased to elicit a binary response: yes or no. Realizing this, we’ve updated our surveys so that they now ask, “Are you satisfied with your promotora?”

Based on this experience and others, we know that any time we want to try out a new question format for community surveys or promotora knowledge assessments, we need to run it by our Peruvian staff, who will affectionately tell us or no.

Anna and Escolastica explain statistical information about health to the promotoras.


–Written by Anna Gajewski MPH

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