Many times in educational research, we are seeking to understand practices of an individual, a classroom, or larger selection of learning environments. In this we can see, and often times interact with participants.
Often when we learn from research, we take lessons learned, and try to apply them to other spaces. This could be the use of a pedagogical routine in scaffolding. This could also include the use of an assessment from one learning context and applying it to another.
I personally saw some of this in previous research looking at online reading comprehension. We developed pedagogy related to teaching online reading comprehension. We also developed a series of assessments that sought to authentically asses online reading comprehension.
One of the challenges that I saw in these efforts was a request from educators and other researchers to “get a copy” of a lesson or assessment and implement it with their learners. This was especially true in presentations I made about the online reading comprehension assessments. When asked to share these assessments, my usual response is that they should not simply take the items and structure of an online reading comprehension assessment, and implement it with their students. They should also not look to the results of this survey as a way to determine the skill or ability of a student as it relates to the focus of the instrument.
I believe educators and researchers should examine the philosophy, focus, and constructs behind the assessment or intervention, and adapt it for use with their learners. Revise, rewrite, and remix the materials using content that is meaningful and authentic for their targeted group.
Put simply, I believe I make the argument that you cannot just take the work and ideas from one area, and use them in another. I think this is even more of a challenge as we look at using work in another language or context. The full complexities of language and culture need to be “translated” for the local group.
The process of “translating” content from one language to another is called localization in the content creation industries.
There is a lot of discussion about localization in software development. Put simply, you’re translating the product (or activity in this instance) to better serve local users. Localization is connected with globalization as well as individualization and has severe connections to education.
One of the easiest ways for me to understand localization is through the work in film and television.
Localization in media
As can be found in other industries, film and television are becoming increasingly connected in a globally networked society. As films and TV shows are released, the modern consumer expects this content to be released in their native language almost simultaneously to its original language release. The pressure is on content creators to translate work quickly, however, the job of the translator is not only to translate the content but also to ensure that the audience can enjoy the film. Localization therefore plays a vital role in the process.
To successfully translate and localize a film or TV show, the translator must understand the cultural perception of the target audience. Objects and ideas hold a variety of symbolic meanings in different nations, so it’s important that the connotations of colors, foods and animals, amongst many other things, are taken into account before undertaking a literal translation.
An example of this is shown in the movie Inside Out in which the film substitutes broccoli for bell peppers to be more suitable for children in Japan. The thinking is that broccoli may be viewed as disgusting in American, whereas children in Japan love broccoli, so the animators substituted green peppers for these sequences.
Still another scene in the movie substitutes dreams and memories about ice hockey for the sport of soccer which is a bit more understood by a global audience. Many of these changes may seem small, but this attention to detail shows that the content creators understand their materials, and their audience.
An excellent overview of this process is available in the video below.
Localization in research
As we conduct educational research across global contexts, I wonder about the “translation” or localization that we need to do to our materials to make them more authentic. After some initial searches, it appears that localization of research has been largely ignored in qualitative and quantitative research manuals and may constitute a relatively new area of research methodologies.
We must note, that as detailed in this post, localization of research involves much more than translation from one language to another. The TLT survey used as the linchpin in this research was drafted in English, and went through content validation with experts that were primarily English speakers. We have recently translated the TLT into Spanish, French, and Chinese, and will release those soon. I wonder about the other specialized translation practices requiring technical, cultural and business considerations that should be made to pay attention to the global, technologically savvy educators that we’re seeking.
I wonder about ways in which we can address any lost dialogue between the English language version of the survey, and make sense of themes that may be lost and (possibly) gained in this instrument. At this point, I believe that we are gaining by simply translating the survey into other languages and sharing it online, at this website, with the same attention and respect that we’re providing for the English language materials. As we move forward, we’ll need to account for these threats to our research and recognize our perspectives. We’ll also need to trust each other as a research team, and also build a mutual understanding with our participants to make sure we are examining perspectives across languages and cultures while we examine our localization practices.