The VOH project intends to estimate the prevalence of food insecurity at different levels of severity across nations and linguistic groups using a common tool, the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), which will be translated from English into many different languages.
The FIES questions are worded to be as universally relevant as possible; however, the scale will be used in a wide variety of settings with cultural and language differences which may influence how the questions are understood and answered. It is therefore very important to make sure that the questions, as formulated in the language of administration, are appropriate for the populations being surveyed. The challenge is to ensure that the questions are well understood and that they refer to experiences that are comparable across different cultures and language groups. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to go beyond literal translation of the questions, making sure that the original concepts captured by the questions are maintained in translation while expressed using culturally appropriate terms and phrases.
While a good translation helps to ensure that the series of FIES questions faithfully capture the concepts underlying the food insecurity scale, the validity of the responses may be compromised if people do not understand what is being asked due to inadequate translation. It is for this reason that FAO promotes the good practice of carrying out linguistic adaptations of the FIES in the major languages used for administration.
FAO’s experience with linguistic adaptation
Since 2006, with funding from the European Union, the FAO Nutrition Division has trained a number of persons in linguistic adaptation of experience-based food insecurity scales for use in surveys and surveillance in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Benin, and Gaza.
In April, 2013, The University of Ghana and the FAO Nutrition Division held a three day workshop in Accra, Ghana, on food-based tools in food and nutrition security assessments. The workshop was focused on providing training and practical experience with the use of two food and nutrition security tools, the Dietary Diversity (DD) tool and the Food Insecurity Experiences Scale (FIES). During the workshop, participants took part in a practicum on linguistic adaptation of both tools in a village nearby Accra. Four participants of the Ghana workshop were actively involved in the FIES linguistic adaptation activities in Angola, Malawi and Niger.
Linguistic adaptation in the VOH pilot study
For the 2013 pilot study, the VOH project has carried out extensive linguistic adaptations in national languages of Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger following a common methodology that was developed for the training workshop in Accra and published in the FIES guide (FORTHCOMING). The goal of these activities has been to produce translations of the FIES that are linguistically and culturally appropriate and faithful to the intention of the FIES questions. The adapted versions have been piloted by Gallup in preparation for their World Poll surveys in each country, which in several cases has led to minor refinements to the wording of several items.
The experiences of the pilots from 2013 will provide invaluable information on linguistic challenges and will suggest approaches for accurate, albeit less intense adaptation and translation of the scale for global use.