How to Quote Research Participants in Translation
Dear Style Expert,
How do I format quotations from research participants who I interviewed as part of my work when those quotations are in a foreign language? Do I have to present the quotation in both the original language and in translation, or do I present only the original or only a translation? How do I cite these quotes? Help me, please!
Before we dig into the foreign-language aspects of this question, read the blog post on how to discuss research participant data in general, including how to present participant quotations that do not require translation and how to assign pseudonyms to participants. That post also explains the rationale for why research participant quotations do not have typical APA Style citations and reference list entries.
Now, presenting a research participant quotation that was originally in a foreign language is largely the same as presenting a quotation that does not require translation. You have the option of presenting just a translation of the quotation or of presenting both the original and the translation. You might choose to present both languages if you want to draw attention to how something was said in the foreign language (e.g., if you are conducting a linguistic analysis or a qualitative study), especially if your readers are multilingual. Otherwise, presenting just the translation is fine. We do not recommend presenting the original without a translation, as your readers might not understand it!
Presenting Quotations in Two Languages
If you want to present a research participant’s quotation in both a foreign language and in translation, the method of doing so is largely the same as for foreign-language quotations from published sources: Place quotations of less than 40 words in quotation marks, and place quotations of 40 words or more in a block quotation. After the foreign-language quotation, place an English translation of the quotation in square brackets. However, there is no citation per se, for two reasons: because it is unethical to report personally identifying information about participants and because you do not need to cite your own research in the paper in which you are first reporting it.
Rather than cite the participant’s quotation, you should attribute the quotation to a pseudonym in the text; there is no reference list entry. Here are two examples:
Short quotation in translation:
Participant M said, “Estoy muy satisfecho con mi vida ahora que tengo hijos” [“I am very satisfied with my life now that I have children”].
Long quotation in translation:
Participant M continued,
Convertirse en madre me hizo sentir como un adulto, más que graduarme de la universidad, conseguir un trabajo, o vivir solo. Ahora entiendo mi propósito mejor. Estoy más centrado y motivado. Al mismo tiempo, entiendo que mi elección no es para todos. [Becoming a mother made me feel like an adult, even more than graduating from college, getting a job, or living by myself. Now I understand my purpose better. I am more focused and motivated. At the same time, I understand that my choice is not for everyone.]
Presenting Quotations Only in Translation
If you want to present a participant’s quotation only in translation, follow the method shown in the post on discussing research participant data: Present quotations of fewer than 40 words in quotation marks and quotations of 40 words or more in a block quotation, and attribute the quotation to a pseudonym.
Although the quotation is technically a paraphrase because it is a translation, retain the quotation marks/block quotation format because the quotation represents speech. Then, indicate that the quotation is a translation. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. If your paper contains only a few translated participant quotations, note the translation in square brackets after each quotation. If your paper contains many translated participant quotations, state only once that you have translated all such quotations. You can explain this in the regular text or via a footnote. You can use any wording you like to indicate that you have done the translation yourself.
One translation noted in square brackets:
Participant B remarked, “My physical therapist helped me to regain my strength in not only my muscles but in my heart” [my translation from German].
All translations explained at once in the narrative:
In this paper, I have translated all quotations from French into English. Participant A said, “My social anxiety made it difficult for me to function in the university environment.”
If your quotation is from a published source rather than a research participant, please see our posts on that topic:
Do you have other foreign-language quotation questions? Leave a comment below.