Lost in Translation: Methodological Considerations in Cross-Cultural Research


  • The work for this article was initiated while the author was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, CA.

Corresponence concerning this article should be addressed to Elizabeth Peña, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Texas at Austin, One University Station A1100, Austin, TX 78712. Electronic mail may be sent to lizp@mail.utexas.edu.


In cross-cultural child development research there is often a need to translate instruments and instructions to languages other than English. Typically, the translation process focuses on ensuring linguistic equivalence. However, establishment of linguistic equivalence through translation techniques is often not sufficient to guard against validity threats. In addition to linguistic equivalence, functional equivalence, cultural equivalence, and metric equivalence are factors that need to be considered when research methods are translated to other languages. This article first examines cross-cultural threats to validity in research. Next, each of the preceding factors is illustrated with examples from the literature. Finally, suggestions for incorporating each factor into research studies of child development are given.