Greater equity, better experience: How language translations can make more sense for your test takers


Greater equity, better experience: How language translations can make more sense for your test takers

Andrea Dominiack


The world is changing. With a sizeable rise in international mobility over recent decades, our society continues to grow more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. The world of licensure testing must keep pace with this change. It’s fundamental to the delivery of equitable and fair testing that continues to protect public safety while avoiding barriers for any individual or group. One tool in our kit to support equality and expand opportunity is the translation of test content into other languages in addition to English.

The availability of assessments in different languages is also a great way to improve the testing experience for many test takers. Particularly in common languages such as Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean or Chinese. It’s a way to both expand your market and enable individuals to start a career in their chosen profession. However, a rigorous process for translating test content is vital, and translation might not always be the best option.

This blog explores the pros, cons, and processes for translating test content. With the aim of supporting licencing programs in their decision to translate or not translate, as well as the key considerations should they decide to go ahead.

Benefits of translation

Fluency in English is not necessarily important for all licenced occupations. For instance, language proficiency would not affect how safely you are able to construct a wall or cut hair. So a licensure test that demands and tests English language comprehension, however unintentional, might place some individuals at a disadvantage.

Being able to take a test in their first language levels the playing field for test takers. Not only does it improve the readability of the test content, but it also reduces the likelihood a test taker will run out of the time they need to finish and pass their test.

We find that when we translate test content our clients are highly satisfied with the outcome. Their test takers benefit, as does their program, with the opportunity to reach a larger number of people whose first language isn’t English. In licenced occupations such as barbering and cosmetology, this can be a big and sometimes untapped market.

Get the process right

The benefits of translating test content into additional languages will only be realized if it is done properly and following a rigorous process. The test items must be equivalent to the English language version and the test should match the original test specification.

As with any area of test development, at PSI we undergo a rigorous process for translation. This includes an initial translation stage followed by verification of the translated work already completed. In this instance, test items are translated by one expert translation provider and then verified by another. Our translation partners are excellent and working with two companies on every project means we can be confident a translation has been performed accurately and to the highest possible standard.

We work hard to achieve consensus and find terminology the test taker will understand. There will always be terms that don’t translate, but we do our utmost to ensure equivalency across different language versions. Where a word or phrase doesn’t directly translate, it will be described in an appropriate level of detail. Where this is not possible we use English. We also never use proper names and language is gender neutral.

Defend against challenges

It might be tempting to simplify the translation process, for time or budgetary reasons, by excluding the verification stage for example. But this creates a big risk that could impact equivalency, thus credibility. As a result of our rigorous and multi-stage process, we experience very few queries or challenges around our translated test content.

Again, as with any stage of test development – from job analysis to evaluation – if you adopt a thorough process and don’t cut corners you are far less likely to face a challenge. And if you do experience a legal challenge, with a documented process you will have the evidence needed to respond quickly and effectively.

We make it happen

Our talented test developers are problem solvers, endlessly curious and interested about the possibilities and opportunities that might be available. So when a client comes to us with a request for a new translation, we try our utmost to make it happen. If you have a market for a particular language, we will attempt to accommodate your request.

A recent example is a client who needed a test translated into Braille. This involved the same execution and verification process as any other language. But we then needed to get a hard copy of the test paper produced and shipped to the relevant test centre. As practical tests were also involved, the audio scripts used by the proctor to talk to the test taker needed to be translated into Spanish and Vietnamese. We embraced the challenge!

Partnership and collaboration

At the same time, we see our client relationships as a partnership and two-way process. It sometimes doesn’t make sense to translate certain tests or languages, due to the time and cost involved. We will always give our honest advice, based on years of experience.

For instance, it’s important to take into consideration the size of your market. In states such as California and Texas, there is a large Spanish speaking population. In other states the Spanish speaking market is much smaller and volumes for some tests will be very low. We are here to help you weigh up the pros and cons of translation and decide what’s right for your individual program.

With requests to translate tests into Chinese, we recommend using Simplified Chinese to ensure equivalency. This involves standardized characters that are less complex than Mandarin or Cantonese. More people can read Simplified Chinese than the alternatives and the turnaround time for translation is faster.

Let’s be clear, terminology and dialects will always vary. While test content might be equitable, the test taker experience may not be exactly the same. But offering a translation is a significant step towards this. If your pre-licencing coursework is only available in English this will also affect how comparable the test taker experience is in a different language.

How long does translation take?

When clients come to us with a translation request, they usually want to know how long it will take. It can take anything from a couple of weeks to many months, depending on the language and number of test items in your item bank. A recent project involving thousands of test items took two months to translate. We also recommend several releases for translated test items, particularly if you have a large item bank, spread out over a few months.

Of course, we set clear expectations at the start of any translation project and provide regular progress updates. Our clients say this quality of communication and partnership approach are what they love about working with us. When it comes to test translation, it’s not about getting the job done as quickly as possible, it’s about delivering quality. If you don’t stay focused on quality your test takers and your testing programs will suffer.