The exact question wording used in collecting information on subjective well-being matters a lot for responses. As discussed in Chapter 2, a standardised approach to question wording is important for comparisons over time or between groups. This is relatively straight-forward where all surveys are in a single language. However, international comparisons or studies in multi-lingual countries raise the issue of translation. This is a non-trivial matter. Translating survey questionnaires to work in different languages is challenging for any survey, and the potential sensitivity of subjective well-being questions to differences in wording only reinforces this issue.
Potential issues arising from translation cannot be entirely eliminated, but they can be managed through an effective translation process. An example of good practice in the translation of survey questionnaires is provided by the Guidelines for the development and criteria for the adoption of Health Survey Instruments (Eurostat, 2005). Although focused on health survey instruments, the framework for translation presented there has broader applicability, and is highly relevant to the measurement of subjective well-being. The health survey guidelines identify four main steps to the translation procedure:
- • Initial or forward translation of the questionnaire from the source document to the target language.
- • Independent review of the translated survey instrument.
- • Adjudication of the translated survey instrument by a committee to produce a final version of the translated survey instrument.
- • Back translation of the final version of the translated survey instrument into the source language.
Most of the best-practice recommendations identified by Eurostat for health surveys also apply with respect to the measurement of subjective well-being. It is desirable that the initial translation be carried out by at least two independent translators who have the destination language as their mother tongue and who are fluent in the source language. Translators should be informed about the goal of the study and be familiar with the background, origin and technical details of the source questionnaire as well as with the nature of the target population. The reviewer at stage 2 should be independent from the translators, but will ideally need a very similar skill set. Both the reviewer and the translators should be on the adjudication panel, along with an adjudicator whose main area of expertise is the study content and objective. As with any survey design, cognitive interviewing and field testing should be undertaken and the results of this reviewed before the full survey goes into the field.
Back translation is somewhat controversial in the literature on survey translation, with some experts recommending it and others not (Eurostat, 2005). The effect of back translation is generally to shift the focus onto literal translation issues rather than the conceptual equivalent of the original instrument. In the case of the measurement of subjective well-being, back translation is strongly advised. This reflects the sensitivity to question wording of subjective well-being measures (see Chapter 2).