The importance of linguistic adaptation

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 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 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 discussed in the FIES Technical Paper.

The goal of these activities was to produce translations of the FIES that were linguistically and culturally appropriate and faithful to the intention of the FIES questions. The adapted versions were piloted by the Gallup country teams in preparation for their World Poll surveys in each pilot country in 2013, which in several cases has led to minor refinements to the wording of several items.

The experiences of the pilots from 2013 provided invaluable information on linguistic challenges.  As a result of these exercises, FAO developed Explanatory Documents on the meaning of each question, useful for translation efforts and enumerator training.  These documents are available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Portuguese.

Translation and adaptation of the FIES for the Gallup World Poll Survey in 2014 and beyond

The adaptation work carried out for the 2013 pilot suggested approaches for accurate, albeit less intense adaptation and translation of the scale for global use.  The GWP is conducted in more than 200 different languages, and each module of the questionnaire is initially translated and pilot tested by country survey teams prior to going to the field.  With respect to the newly included FIES module in 2014, Gallup country partners used the base Explanatory Documents to translate, adapt and test the FIES questions in all languages used for administering the World Poll.

The translated versions of FIES produced by Gallup will be available publicly on the Voices of the Hungry website for use by anyone who wishes to use the FIES in their research.  Please note that FAO may make further changes to the Global FIES module after examining the first global database produced in 2014, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of the FIES module in measuring severity of food insecurity worldwide. 

FIES 2014 translations download

For now, the FIES is available in more than 70 languages. More languages and dialects will follow. These versions are used in 2014. They might be subject to change in 2015.

Linguistic adaptation reports

Pilot reports for FAO in collaboration with governmental organisations