Case Study - Coding Chinese Verbatim

Film coding – it’s all Chinese to me!

Open-Ended Survey Coding Case Study

Client approaches RP Translate to develop a methodology

Coding Chinese Verbatim

Our client is the film and home entertainment specialist arm of a global media research corporation, looking to bring an understanding of the power of film advertising within the Chinese-speaking market to their end-client through a monthly ongoing online self-completion survey to a selected panel of over 1000 respondents across multiple Chinese-speaking countries.

 Chinese filmgoers

It was key to find an ongoing solution to identify effectively and correctly the films mentioned and code them efficiently so that they could fulfil their client’s requirements for accurate, timely and up-to-date information through a supplier who can handle the Chinese responses in all their relevant variants as a single project.  They approached RP Translate, already a key supplier for multilingual coding projects, as a particular specialist in traditionally difficult-to-handle areas.

The initial perception of this project was that once the majority of the film titles had been identified in the first two waves, subsequent waves should be simply a question of applying the established codeframe and adding a small number of additional films as they are released into the market.  In cost and time terms, this inferred a larger initial set-up cost, then proportionately reducing costs for subsequent waves.  However this turned out to be false.

Multilingual coding costs are calculated using an algorithm based on the number of items to code and the number of codes required with time factored in relating to any research requirements. In this particular case, the time taken to code each wave of responses was remaining constantly higher than anticipated, even with what appeared to be an established codeframe.

RP Translate worked together with the client to analyse the key issues encountered and produce a methodology which could be consistently applied to take full advantage of the previously-coded waves. The solution was a bi-lingual, searchable spreadsheet of film titles covering both written forms of Chinese from all relevant countries** and a fixed fee per wave thus ensuring that the client could fulfil their client’s brief in the most time-efficient and cost-effective manner.

Chinese is notoriously difficult to code.  It is a language to which most standard coding approaches cannot be applied due to the unique difficulties presented in the source material for coding.  RP Translate’s unique understanding of Chinese and its intricacies empowered the client to develop a cost-effective solution to the challenge presented and working in partnership created a solid platform to carry the project forward with confidence.

From an initial position, RP Translate’s solution has allowed a fixed fee per wave to be introduced, and more than a 50% cost-saving for the client from the starting point on a month-to-month basis. Timings have also been significantly reduced, allowing our client to budget both their time and costs effectively and with confidence for this particular project on a longer-term basis.

UPDATE February 2014 :  After the first set of coding, the client engaged RP Translate for a 12-wave/12-month period, the initial projected period of study.  Its success was such that the study period has now been extended into its second year.

Key issues encountered in the coding process :

  • Responses are of varying quality and discernibility.
  • Many of the film titles are not standardised (‘Life of Pi’ becomes ‘Boy in boat with Tiger’).
  • Many of the film titles are of Chinese origin and not released or for release internationally, so extensive research and in-depth knowledge of Chinese film industry output is required.
  • Inconsistency of respondent input process:  Where pinyin* is used on a QWERTY keyboard to input the film titles, often the incorrect characters are selected.  This gives an entirely incorrect meaning to the characters and subsequent difficulties in deciphering the respondent’s true intent.  One example of this was where incorrect selection led to a completely new and hitherto undiscovered film ‘Morning Sickness’.  The coder was able to go back to pinyin basics, unravel the mystery of the poor allegedly pregnant heroine and discover that she was, in fact, probably an anti-hero from the film ‘Cloud Atlas’ (pinyin: ‘yuntu’).
  • Chinese variants:  different Chinese-speaking countries use different forms of written Chinese.
  • Duplication of titles: many films have identical titles, especially if translated.
  • The huge number of films on show in the target countries at any given time (the RP Translate Coding Team identified nearly 800 separate films over 3 waves of research).
  • A machine-driven solution was out of the question, as there were too many ongoing ‘human’ variables to create a realistic algorithm for the scope of the coding required. 

GENERAL INFORMATION

Our client provides market research and consulting services to the entertainment industry. 

RP Translate Limited is a well-established translation agency specialising in providing global localised foreign language solutions to the Market Research Industry.

*Pinyin is the phonetic standard adopted for Chinese character pronunciation. 

** Chinese
Chinese is a character-based language (of which there are some estimated 40,000), but the difficulty arises in pronunciation.  Each character is assigned its own syllable for speaking, but as it is not possible to produce 40,000 different syllables to reflect all the characters, Chinese additionally adopts a series of tones.  So, for example, the syllable ‘li’ can be pronounced several different ways depending on the tone, and it is the combination of tone and syllable which give meaning.   ‘Li’, depending on context and tonality, can mean, amongst other things, ‘bright’, ‘in’, ‘force’, ‘from’, ‘interest’, ‘stand’ or ‘reason’.  

Spoken Chinese has two key dialects, dependent on location (not necessarily ‘country’) :  Mandarin or Cantonese.  There are also numerous dialects.  The spoken dialect is independent of the written form and the dialects can differ significantly in pronunciation and the number of tones.

Written Chinese takes two key forms, dependent on country: Simplified Chinese for Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Traditional Chinese for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and other overseas Chinese communities.  Even across countries using the same form of Chinese, the application of characters can be country-specific. 

There are estimated to be over 1 billion Chinese speakers globally today.

For more information, please visit our Coding and Theming page and our China page, or contact ruth@rptranslate.com

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