Focus Group Interpreting

American Language Services has been providing professional focus group interpreting for almost 4 decades. We work in more than 200 languages both in the U.S. and internationally.  Suffice to say, we have ample knowledge in the market research space and are happy to share some of what we have learned with you.

Read on to learn more about why focus group interpreting is needed and where most of our requests come from.

What Are Focus Groups?

A focus group is a carefully selected group of people brought together to discuss consumer perceptions about a topic, product, or area of interest. These gatherings are typically held in open environments and overseen by an individual called a moderator. Unlike interviews, which focus on one person, focus groups have multiple subjects that interact with and influence one another.

Focus groups are not designed to reach consensus or agreement. They are just meant to give researchers a qualitative look into the perceptions and thoughts of real-life consumers. Though often seen as a relic of a bygone era, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Even with big data upon us, focus groups remain one of the best ways to learn how people feel about something—this is especially true for companies looking to expand into other markets.

The Most Common Types of Focus Groups

If asked to picture a focus group, many of us will conjure up an image of 10 to 12 people sitting around a table with a single moderator at its head. The group is likely to be there for one to two hours and spend all that time discussing one specific product. Though this is certainly a valid structure, it’s just one of many. Depending on the group’s aim, they can take on any of the following formats:

Two-ways A group of respondents watches another group answer questions posed by a moderator. They then use the other group’s responses to facilitate discussion.
Dual ModeratorUnlike standard focus groups, this type has two moderators. The first ensures that the session progresses smoothly without getting stuck. The second ensures all questions are covered.
Mini Focus GroupsThough the typical focus group consists of eight to twelve people, these bite-sized ones consist of four to five respondents. This allows for more intimate discussions
Online Focus GroupsIn this focus group format, participants respond and share information via the internet. This allows moderators to reach more participants at a minimal cost.
Respondent-ModeratorOne of the respondents assumes the role of the moderator in this focus group format. This changes the group dynamic and leads to more varied responses.
Dueling-ModeratorThere are two moderators present who offer up opposite viewpoints on a given topic. This helps people generate new ideas and encourages participants to be more open in their opinions.

How Focus Groups Use Interpreters

Expansions into international markets often come with language and cultural barriers. When something relies heavily on a conversation to draw conclusions—such as focus groups—these walls need to come down. Interpreters are often brought in to help bridge the gap between researcher and subject. The real-time translation they provide lets researchers select from a wider pool of candidates, including those who speak a different language.

Typically, focus group interpreters are positioned behind one-way mirrors and out of sight of the respondents. They listen to the conversations as they happen and translate them for all present. The interpreter also records and observes the body language and intonations of the study’s participants. Depending on the format used, simultaneous, liaison, and consecutive interpreting can be effective means of focus group interpreting.

4 Things You Can Do to Make Your Interpreter More Effective and Get Optimal Results

If you are an employee of a company looking to host a focus group, there are some things you need to do to ensure things go smoothly. These items include:

  1. Briefing the Interpreter Before the Conversation Starts: Familiarizing your interpreter with the who, what, where, and why of the focus group will make things much easier. For that reason, you must provide them with the same materials that you give the participants. They should also have a list of questions available.
  2. Learning More About the Venue: To facilitate the process, your focus group interpreter will need an unobstructed view of the participants. Be sure to verify that your desired venue has an adjoining room or a one-way mirror that allows them to see the conversation in real-time. Though camera feeds are an option, they are rarely ideal.
  3. Avoiding Using Slang: While the interpreter might understand your more colorful language, they can sometimes struggle to translate it across cultural boundaries. So, police yourself and keep the metaphors, idioms, and culturally constrained items to a minimum.
  4. Not Rushing or Talking Over Each other: Interpreters must both listen and think in two different languages. This can lead to conversational lulls and long pauses. During these moments, do your best to be patient. Know that your interpreter is listening and is working hard to ensure you reap whatever benefits you can from your focus group.

Common Focus Group Languages

While there is merit in having an interpreter available every time you face cross-cultural boundaries, we most often field requests in the following:

  • French
  • Japanese
  • Chinese (both Mandarin & Cantonese)
  • Korean
  • Spanish
  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • American Sign Language (ASL)
  • Vietnamese
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew

Even if you are in a niche industry—or need interpreting services in a language not listed above—we cover over 200 languages and have the expertise you need to get the job done right.

About American Language Services

Founded in 1985, American Language Services was there to help pioneer the rise in remote ASL interpreting options. Our dedication to quality and client satisfaction in interpreting allowed us to shift from a one-woman agency into one of the most successful language agencies in the world. Our language experts provide CART and ASL interpreting services to people all around the world. Because of our 24/7 availability, you’ll never have to worry about us not picking up the phone.

AML-Global has some of the most impressive linguistic talents in the world. These highly skilled language professionals are recruited, screened, and tested to ensure high-quality work.

Contact us by email at or via phone at 1-800-951-5020 for a free estimate.


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