In cross-cultural testing, translation is typically not enough to create a valid instrument destined for different linguistic and cultural populations. The best way to maintain a test’s psychometric properties and comparability, which are absolutely vital for both test integrity and defensibility, is through adequate adaptation of the instrument for each target population. But what is adaptation and how does it improve testing outcomes?
Adaptation means modifying the format, instructions, content, answer options or any other element of a test or instrument. This effectively creates a new instrument to serve the particular population being assessed and fulfill the goal of the test itself.
For some projects, the need for adaptation may not be immediately obvious, but instead revealed during the course of translation or pilot testing. For other projects, adaptation may be anticipated in the source instrument and from day one built into the process of creating additional versions. Either way, adaptation can be vital to the success and integrity of a cross-cultural instrument.
All test takers need to know what the question is asking of them if they are to respond in a meaningful way. When it comes to cross-cultural testing, adaptation ensures that this principle is maintained. It requires that any points of reference mentioned in the instrument be both linguistically and culturally relevant to the target population.
For example, if a question asked respondents to imagine the colors on a five-dollar bill or whether they could lift a two-liter bottle of soda, translation alone would leave test takers in many countries scratching their heads. Not everyone has held a five-dollar bill or would know the colors that appear there, and in many countries two-liter bottles (plastic or otherwise) simply aren’t the standard for selling soda.
In fact, when expressing a source language concept in the target language, sometimes the very characteristics of the target language demand adaptation. For example, a task as deceptively simple as determining whether a statement is true or false, or asking whether you agree, disagree or neither agree nor disagree, may acquire new proportions when these concepts are not common in the target language. The goal of adaptation here is to find suitable equivalents so as to adequately represent what the test is asking of respondents but at the same time serve the target population by using words, phrases and concepts that they can easily understand and are common to their experiences.
The level of adaptation required for a cross-cultural instrument depends on such factors as the languages involved, the goals of the instrument, the target population(s) to be assessed and the specifics of the source instrument. However, adaptation ensures that cross-cultural testing provides the best outcomes possible when involving different linguistic and cultural populations.
If you’d like to discuss cost-effective adaptation methods to ensure instrument integrity and improve your cross-cultural testing outcomes, call me (Ken) at +1-212-355-4455 ext. 208.