Friday, February 4, 2011

Lost in Translation

The center where I work has a rehabilitation department where they teach the clients basic skills like bead work and sewing to help them earn money. I have been working to help include small business skills, and on Friday I got the chance to teach a class about how to price the products they make.

Cost accounting was easily the worst course I took in college, but the skills I learned from it are in great need here. The clients make very pretty bags and bead jewelry but really just guess when it comes to pricing those items. It seems to revolve around how much they think someone is willing to pay for an item rather than looking at the costs and the desired profit.

I designed a basic curriculum, put together a PowerPoint presentation, and then set out to write a small quiz. I gave this quiz to the participants before and then right after the presentation. This way, I can (ideally) measure the impact of my presentation and see if they learned any of the concepts.

Just making this quiz turned out to be a major production. The quiz was multiple choice and only had four questions. I wanted to have it translated into Setswana because I know a few of the clients do not speak or understand English.

I will never forget what it is like to take a test I didn’t understand. In middle school, my class got a transfer student who was an Iraqi refugee. To teach us about the difficulties of being in another culture, my teacher, Mr. Hinchman, had her write a test entirely in Arabic and then made the class take it. Needless to say, she was the only one who passed. It looked like a bunch of gobbledygook to me.

With that in mind, I got a lot of help from the nurses at the center to translate the whole thing. Then I took the translation and had someone else in the office translate it back to English to make sure it was a good translation (a little trick I learned here called “double translation”).

There were a few minor adjustments. Setswana is a very tricky language because there is no standardized form for it, spoken or written. To compound the difficulties, each region of the country has its own little quirks and ways of speaking Setswana. After a few edits and then re-edits, the quiz was ready to go.

The presentation went a lot better than I thought it would. I would talk about a slide and then one of the women would translate it into Setswana. We went through how to cost items and then I had them do two example problems. More encouraging was that the quizzes I made up showed that the participants had a 30% improvement from the scores on the pre-quiz.

They all thanked me and seemed genuinely excited. From now on, they are going to work on calculating the costs of items they make rather than just assigning a price.

Peace Corps service can be thankless at times because there are few tangible results. Today was a great day because I actually saw results of the work I am doing.