English now is so embedded in our global culture that it is easy to assume it can also be used for research particularly internationally or among ethnic groups with English as second language. So to what extent is it feasible?
Many multinationals have benefitted from implementing English as their language of day-to-day business. The sports company adidas in Japan introduced English into their company to upskill their workforce via redeploying non-native professionals in key roles.
Closely linked to an individual’s claim to master English however, is a self-evaluation of his or her own personal worth. In fact, among some companies adopting English in Japan, employees felt their personal value was framed and often diminished by their value as an English speaker (HBR: Global Business Speaks English May 2012).
In the research the reverse is often true. There is a tendency to oversell linguistic capabilities as an enhancement of professional worth and perceived contribution to the research process especially in cultures like India for instance. People want to make an impact and be part of the project.
Whilst there are very proficient non-native English speakers, we want research to capture the full gamut of sentiment nuances. We all know qualitative research is not just about what people say but how they say it and importantly what they don’t say. If you apply the filter of a second language i.e. a non-mother tongue, a more limited vocabulary and modes of expression can come into play. You will get answers to your questions but it is hard to decipher to what extent they have been compromised. For this reason, we suggest researching in the native tongue leads to richer insights.
We also take this a step further. Where possible, we aim to use very proficient linguists or native speakers who are global specialists to brief and observe international research. This brings together a powerful combination. Firstly, highly capable local agency partners who understand their own market in-depth. Secondly, proficient or native speakers who comprehend how the local context compares to other markets. It is this ability to contextualise the local context that adds a layer of value.
Gone is the era of international research being an enigmatic complex world but equally it is not just about getting on a plane or demanding a global lexicon.