The National Center for Interpretation is a resource for researchers engaging diverse communities
A single language is likely all a researcher needs, in many cases, to pose a question, investigate the possible explanations and do the work to settle on an answer.
But what if a study's conclusions would benefit a particularly large group of people who don't speak the researcher's language? Or what if a study involves interviewing people who primarily speak another language?
The University of Arizona National Center for Interpretation, part of the College of Humanities, has offered translation and interpretation services – as well as training programs to certify translators and interpreters – since it was established in 1979.
But the services it offers specifically to researchers have flown under the radar, said Sonia Colina, the center's director.
Those include providing interpreters for interviews and translating documents, surveys and other materials created as part of a study.
But the help NCI can provide goes well beyond transactional services.
With enough preparation, NCI staff can work with researchers to offer customized services throughout a study. Those could include assisting with a grant proposal to ensure a project meets a funding agency's requirements related to language access. It could also involve formalizing a process for conducting interviews to collect data.
"Accessibility is an integral component of the research process," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation. "The services provided by the NCI allow our researchers to facilitate dialogue with diverse communities and, subsequently, create new knowledge and solutions with real societal impacts."
How a border study became a 'beautiful experience'
In one project, Colina served as a consultant on a study to understand why many people in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, were not getting suitable treatment for hearing loss. The study, which began in 2013, built on research by Nicole Marrone, an associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences and the principal investigator on the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Jill Guernsey de Zapien, program director in the Department of Health Promotion Sciences in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, helped facilitate the project, connecting Marrone and her colleagues with public health faculty members and with the community health workers in the two cities. Guernsey de Zapien has also served as the college's associate dean for community programs and has been a co-investigator on many research projects over 40 years of work in Mexico and the borderlands.
The study involved partnering with community health workers, known in Spanish as "promotores," as well as other health professionals and experts working directly with patients at Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, Arizona. The community health workers collaborated with project staff to interview patients in Spanish, asking them about their experiences with hearing loss. The information from the interviews formed the basis for an educational intervention – strategies patients could use to help address their hearing loss.
When Colina became involved with the project, she began by asking an obvious question.
"Sonia came into the picture and said, 'Sounds like you guys are doing great stuff, but who's figuring out how to say all this stuff in Spanish? You guys?'" Guernsey de Zapien recalled.
Bilingual researchers, including Guernsey de Zapien, had been doing that work. Colina pointed out that the study involved very specialized vocabulary related to hearing loss and that the Spanish language has nuances that vary from community to community.
She then asked another question, Guernsey de Zapien recalled: "'So, how do you even know how people really talk about this?'"
From there, Guernsey de Zapien said, Colina guided the team through a process for formalizing the interviews and other data collected and ensuring everyone involved in the study had the same understanding of the information and the educational intervention they intended to offer.
"Sonia was like the fly on the wall who was watching as we talked and then pulling things from the process," Guernsey de Zapien said. "It was a beautiful, beautiful experience for everybody, especially for the community health workers, who thought they were contributing much more than just the outreach into the community."
How to access NCI services
Translation and interpreting are not tasks that should be left to students or staff who speak two languages, said Holly Silvestri, the National Center for Interpretation's senior coordinator for translation, training and curriculum.
Both, she said, are specialized disciplines that require certification based on skills that go beyond simply being able to speak the languages. And when the translation and interpretation is related to research – particularly health research that potentially involves recruiting participants for a study – the stakes become much higher.
"If the informed consent is not translated properly, it's not informed consent," Silvestri said, referring to the legal standard researchers must follow when asking people to participate in health-related studies.
Colina recommends researchers contact NCI as early as possible to see what staff members can offer on a particular project. For a large grant, this could mean inquiring about translation and interpreting services during the grant-writing process.
"We can tell them how the translation or language access part will go, and they can incorporate that in the proposal," Colina said, adding that doing so could help make the proposal a stronger candidate for funding.
If the center's staff members are unable to translate or interpret in a certain language, they will turn to their network of certified freelance translators and interpreters around the world.
Thinking about translation and interpreting services early can also help researchers determine their budgeting needs, Colina added. The center has a minimum rate of $150, but it does not have flat costs for any of its services, Silvestri said. Factors such as the languages that are involved, the volume of materials for translating or time spent interpreting, and the time frame for doing the work are taken into consideration in determining costs, Silvestri said.
Guernsey de Zapien said ensuring research can be accessed in a different language – accurately – was worth the upfront time, cost and effort to researchers. NCI, she added, vastly simplifies that process.
"What Sonia did for us is she asked us the right questions," she said. "And when she listened to the community health workers, she could see the things that we should be thinking about in terms of interpretation and language."