Ep. 561 – Understanding the Importance of Language and how it can Impact your Research Study with Jill Kushner Bishop, Founder & CEO of Multilingual Connections

My guest today is Jill Kushner Bishop, Founder & CEO of Multilingual Connections. 

Founded in 2005, Multilingual Connections is a professional translation service of documents and websites, foreign language audio transcription, multimedia localization, and interpretation services.

Prior to founding Multilingual Connections, Jill Culture was a Diversity & Language Consultant to Chipotle and started her career as an English and Spanish teacher to elementary school students. 

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Jamin Brazil: Hey everybody, welcome. You are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil and I’m going to try to get through this intro in this take. Today we are joined by Jill Kushner Bishop, the founder and CEO of Multilingual Connections. Founded in 2005, Multilingual Connections is a professional translation service of documents and websites, foreign language audio transcripts, multi-media localization, and interpretation services. Prior to founding Multilingual Connections, Jill, she was the cultural and diversity and language consultant to Chipotle and started her career as English and Spanish teacher to elementary school students. Jill, welcome to the podcast.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats, full-time on campus, full-time online, and part-time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three course certifications, insights design or insights analysis. In addition to the certification, all the course you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSU’s program at broad.msu.edu/marketing. Again broad.msu.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit HubUX.com. Language is really important and I am very thankful for how you started your career and the service you had towards our young people.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Thank you. Language has always been such an essential part of who I am and what I do and I was excited to bring language and culture and the understanding of the connection between the two, to all different ages.


Jamin Brazil: And language is culture isn’t it?


Jill Kushner Bishop: Absolutely. I mean you can’t express one without the other and so language is so tied up in who we are, what our identities are, how we transmit our culture, how we represent ourselves and the two are really intricately connected. As a translation agency, we’re always making sure that our clients understand the importance of culture and that it’s not just about the language, it’s not just about one for one, word for word translation, but that there’s so much out there and whether it’s translation or research, making sure you’re paying attention to both of those sides.


Jamin Brazil: What’s interesting to me as a research is, and I do a, not a syndicated, privately syndicated but publicly syndicated report on intergenerational difference, is that I’ve done this for years, language is so entrenched at a generational level, so for example Gen Z, they might use terms like drip, whereas Gen X might say you look nice or do you like my outfit.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Yes.


Jamin Brazil: Almost like an inappropriateness of encroaching on other generation’s terms. It doesn’t just happen at a generational level, it also happens at a regional level.


Jill Kushner Bishop: For sure.


Jamin Brazil: Which really starts bubbling up the importance of incorporating the localization of both surveys as well as qualitative discussions that are coming in.


Jill Kushner Bishop: For sure. You want to be able to connect with people and if you’re speaking a different language in that way with different slang, different intonations, different way of connecting, you’re missing out on opportunities to express your voice and hear other people’s authentic voice.


Jamin Brazil: Yes you are and you’re really disguising the insights that want to come out. That’s the key for us as consumer insights professionals is making sure that we’re able to draw out that consumer voice and then represent it in a way that’s compelling and accurate to our stakeholders. So I wanted to kind of pull back though before we jump into your business and talk a little bit about your background because language in a lot of ways, it is the foundation of like our homes define that. Tell us about your parents and how they informed what you do today.


Jill Kushner Bishop: It’s interesting because I can think about it in a number of different ways and on the language side, my parents grew up speaking English, but their parents spoke Yiddish and English. My brother and I growing up learned Hebrew and my parents were always kind of in the middle where their parents spoke Yiddish and didn’t teach it to them. They missed the opportunity to learn modern Hebrew like my brother and I did. Both of those generations would use that language in front of them when they didn’t want them to understand and they were always left out of the conversation. So it’s interesting those in between generations of when language is transmitted and when it’s not and when new languages become a part of who people are. So English speakers, but they both started out as teachers. My mom was an elementary school teacher and my dad was a permanent sub for some, I think so challenging students who he tells me he used to bum cigarettes from and get down on the floor and do pushups with. That was a temporary measure for him. He went onto work in the computer industry and my mom started a number of different businesses and wound up in the senior independent living, assisted living facility world. Seeing them doing a variety of different things along their paths and try different businesses trying to figure out what was going to make financial sense for them, be fulfilling for them, kind of gave me the idea that you don’t necessarily have to just pick one thing and do it for the rest of your life.


Jamin Brazil: I love that. I love that framework. It’s interesting that you came from a family of teachers. My wife is the same way. Her mom and dad both taught and now she’s a sixth-grade science teacher at an elementary school. It is so interesting how your description of how you would have some people in the household, members of the household, who would be able to have a conversation that other members of the household wouldn’t be able to have.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Language and be exclusive and it can be inclusive, it depends which side of the desk you’re sitting on or which side of the sofa.


Jamin Brazil: Right and in a lot of ways being multi-lingual is a super power.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Absolutely and that’s why I went into education actually with a degree in 6th through 12th grade Spanish teaching. I loved helping bring language and culture to my students and then after graduation, I went to Israel and taught high school English as a volunteer, came back and decided that I needed to continue my graduate studies. So I left teaching from a formal perspective, but it was always part and through graduate school and then through early stages of my business, which I originally established as a corporate language training company and only later became a translation agency and only later started focusing on market research.


Jamin Brazil: It’s a good segue. Tell us about your business Multilingual Connections.


Jill Kushner Bishop: I’m a linguistic anthropologist by background. I got my doctorate in linguistic anthropology looking at efforts to keep a dying dialect, Spanish spoken by the Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492, spoken by their decedents, from disappearing. I planned on staying in academia, but I wound up getting a job opportunity as a user researcher for a business and technology company. That opportunity brought me back to Chicago and allowed me to continue doing researching, albeit in a very different way than in the field in Israel collecting songs and stories from elderly speakers of this language that I was fascinated by. After a couple of years, I wound up having an opportunity at Chipotle and Chipotle was really interesting as a leader in understanding the importance of language and what it could do for employees. At the time, and this was in the early 2000s, many of their line employees were Spanish speaking. The company knew that if they invested in developing the English skills of the Spanish speaking employees, they’d have more productive, more engaged workforce, they’d have happier customers who got the burritos right the first time, and they’d have less food waste, more promotable workforce, and overall a more productive and financially stable company. I was brought on to oversee and roll out training programs in about 100 different Chipotle locations in their central region. It was an amazing job for somebody who loved language culture teaching and burritos to be able to go into the restaurant, hang out with the line employees, and bring training to people that are usually overlooked after their first one-week onboarding training. Much of corporate training dollars goes to the executive level, middle management level and so for hourly employees to get training in language and communication skills to help them do their jobs better, they were so incredibly appreciative and we saw such tremendous improvements in morale and engagement and promote ability. So I really enjoyed it, but I also started thinking about companies that didn’t have the luxury of a dozen people like me doing these services. So I started planning my exit on thinking about ways that I could help companies on the language and culture side. In 2005 when I started the business, we were exclusively going to be a language training company, going into hotels and restaurants and helping improve communication at work. But soon after, I started getting requests for translations and then a couple years later, I decided why not open a language school for adults and children, do bilingual boot camps for immersion weekends and after school programs for kids and summer camps and adults’ programs. Then I realized that I could do it all and do it well. So I closed down all of the training to focus on our translation side. It was really difficult for me because the language training was so tied up in my own identity professionally and personally. But I realized if I was going to run a business and run it successfully, I had to do less and do it better. So for the last eight years, we’ve focused on translation, transcription, voice over and subtitling. But in the last year, given that so many of our clients are within the research space, we started offering multilingual moderation and research support services. That’s something we’re really excited to be able to bring to people who might need just a freelance moderator for a handful of interviews or somebody to monitor online bulletin boards and to do some report writing, really whatever our clients need. We have people now in about 20 different languages.


Jamin Brazil: Where are you guys located?


Jill Kushner Bishop: We are in the Chicago area in Evanston, Illinois. But most of our team at this point is global and fully remote.


Jamin Brazil: Let’s talk a little bit about qualitative, I want to talk about two things quant and qual. So actually let’s start with quant. It used to be the case for quantitative research that if I had a survey that was being done in multi languages, I would have it translated into the language from English to let’s say Spanish, and then I would have it back translated into English. Is that a practice that is still done?


Jill Kushner Bishop: It is still done, though far less. We periodically have clients that request that back translation, but for the most part, when we’re doing an outbound survey, we have two linguists work on it. So first a professional translator who is a native speaker of the target language and of the region. If we’re doing Spanish for Spain, that’s going to be very different than Spanish for Latin America for example or for the US. Then we have a second translator who works as an editor and a proofreader. They do side-by-side comparison to make sure the content is accurate and then do the proofing and the polishing. If we’re doing back translations of opens, we’ll only typically use one translator in that because it just gets too expensive and too time consuming. But because we do that two linguist service for outbound, there are fewer requests for that back translation just for informational purposes to make sure things translate.


Jamin Brazil: That actually makes a lot of sense that you would do it that way. In fact, I think it is a better practice than how we used to do it just because when it would get translated back into English, there’s always some sort of artistic license that needs to be connected with translation and sometimes that can get kind of screwed up when it comes back and can cause a lot of confusion for clients.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Absolutely and I’m glad you mentioned that because we always talk about translation as part art and part science and you can’t have one without the other. Those slight nuances make all the difference. When you’re just doing the back translation to make sure the content is there, you might miss whether the nuance is there. The words might make sense, but are you really getting at the heart of the issue. That’s something you can’t always detect.


Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting too, I’m seeing survey designs change pretty dramatically for the first time in my career. Basically for the last 25 years, surveys have maintained the basic format that was created back when we did CADDY or telephone based or in-person research. In other words, you had long questions and answer choices that would be equally as long. Really for the last, I would say through COVID, as more and more researchers moved strictly online, we’re seeing a lot shorter question format and even quite shorter questionnaires which, in a lot of ways, speaks to how people are reading now, but not necessarily communicating at a language level. So I’m curious, are you seeing similar trends?


Jill Kushner Bishop: I haven’t noticed that, but that’s something, and as owner, I’m not managing the projects and so I’m not evaluating all of the documents from start to finish, but it’s something that I’m curious about and what the motivation is. You said that people are reading differently or is it that we’re just so beyond we just can’t take any more content so we’re only going to answer things if they’re in short little bites?


Jamin Brazil: Some research I’ve done, if you look at younger audiences, actually the younger the audience, then the less proclivity they have to spend time giving you feedback, which means that the implication there is you need to really be focused on the questions that you ask. But in addition to that, the interpretation of the questions or if I’m going to read, let’s say two sentences, then I need to process those two sentences. But the internet has largely trained people to be headline oriented or thumbnail framed which is changing the way that people are internalizing the words that they see.


Jill Kushner Bishop: That makes a lot of sense and it means you have to make sure that the questions that you’re answering get people immediately and that they connect to them. When you think from a translation perspective, you’ve only got five or seven words instead of 15. You have to make sure that they’re the right words and phrase in a way that is going to convey things accurately, efficiently, and on a cultural level with that nuance that will make people feel like the questions were written for them and not translated.


Jamin Brazil: It’s just an interesting trend that I just started noticed. Maybe we revisit this in a year and see if you’re seeing the same thing.


Jill Kushner Bishop: For sure, absolutely.


Jamin Brazil: You’re an entrepreneur, which is a terrifying prospect. I think its Elon Musk that said, starting a business is a lot or operating a business is a lot like staring into the abyss while chewing glass.


RESPONDENTS: Sounds about right.


Jamin Brazil: I know and that certainly kind of resonates with me on various ventures that I’ve done and am doing. I am curious, if you were to go back in time, what’s some advice you would give your younger self?


Jill Kushner Bishop: I’d probably start with take at least one business or accounting class in college. I started this completely blind and I also when I started the business, I thought it was just going to be me consulting. I had my stack of business cards, I had my flip phone, I had my laptop, and a website that my husband designed for me and the yellow pages. I was like, OK, I’ll go and worst-case scenario, in a few months if this isn’t working, I’ll do something else. I never expected to build a business. I never expected to have 32 employees across multiple continents and doing the type of work we do. I’m actually glad because I don’t know that I would have done it had I known. I think I would have felt too intimidated by that. So looking at things, taking things bit by bit, and being flexible enough to pivot. I mentioned before, the language training classes that we did that I loved and it was so much a part of who I was. We brought people into our space, we had four classes and a cafe area and I would watch these little kids run around and sing in Korean or Chinese and hear stories of people taking our bilingual boot camp or doing private lessons and then going on a destination wedding and coming back with all these wonderful things to say. So there was so much immediacy and I loved it. But financially, it just wasn’t viable, it was scalable or sustainable and I had to make the really difficult decision to close it down. So being open to pivoting and I probably should have pivoted earlier, but I just wasn’t ready. At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal whether it happened a year or two earlier or not, but you have to be flexible and open to opportunities. You also have to be willing to look at things and be really honest and if the baby’s ugly, say it’s ugly. If you’re losing money, you have to figure out ultimately what’s going to make sense in the long term and how long are you willing to do something that you love even though it doesn’t make business sense and sometimes there’s still justifiable reasons to do it, but other times there’s not. In my situation, there was certainly not. But I would say also, surround yourself with people that know more than you, smarter than you, more experience with you. I did that later, but again, because I wasn’t sure what kind of business I was building, I was just kind of figuring it out. Now days, I would have involved more people sooner and been more strategic. But I’m thrilled with how things turned out. You never know if you had made those decisions earlier on and they might have brought you in a different direction and that could have been better and it could have been worse. But I think just being open to all different possibilities. I’m glad I took the risk and I’m thrilled with where we’ve gotten to at this point.


Jamin Brazil: Of course I don’t probably have the opportunity to interview very many people that aren’t glad they took the risk. In other words, most of the people that I have on the show are people who have “made it” air quotes, whatever that is. But I will tell you that I completely agree with all points. I think for me, the biggest blind spot was accounting and there’s a difference between like applied accounting and being able to make money. I’m not talking about being an accountant, I’m talking about being an entrepreneur generating cash like what you did, but then being able to interpret that cash and in a lot of ways, it’s just a language isn’t it?


Jill Kushner Bishop: Yes. My balance sheet is a language that I don’t speak. But I’m glad that I have people that do speak it and there are other areas of the business-


Jamin Brazil: Who interpret it for you.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Yes, thank God. I think for the first year, I had to remind myself P&L, profit and loss, profit and loss, P&L, profit and loss and I was already running a relatively successful business, but I could figure things out, but it’s those little things, maybe not so little. I knew what it looked like, I knew what it did, but I would forget what it meant and forget what it stood for. But I had other things to bring to the business. Somebody that might have been able to understand financial statements from the beginning might not have had some of the creativity or the ideas behind the business. So you need a little bit of everything and you need people who really excel in all those different areas.


Jamin Brazil: It is interesting that we have a similar path. I think the other point that you said is that there’s sort of this journey or entrepreneurship and you have a vision of what you think it’s going to look like, but in a lot of ways the market will direct you if you listen to it.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Yes. I think about what my vision was and I think when I started the business, I thought I’ll make more money and I’ll have more flexibility than if I had a job. I don’t know how many years it took before that came true and some years it still doesn’t come true. So you have that vision and then you have the reality, which are often very different, but sometimes that reality is even better than what the vision was initially.


Jamin Brazil: For sure. If you had it to do all over again, would you?


Jill Kushner Bishop: That is a good question and I would say despite the fact that periodically I think, wow 30 years teaching high school Spanish with a Ph. D., I’d probably be doing pretty well. I would have summers off. Great vacation time. Lots of fulfillment. But I still think I would absolutely. There’s nothing that can compare to the ownership and creativity of creating a business not just for yourself and not just for your clients, but for your people. In the last couple of years, I’ve really shifted, of course I care about my clients and I love our clients. We couldn’t do what we’re doing with our clients, but I really want to create a great company for our people and keep them excited and engaged and connected to each other and to the work that we’re doing and to our mission of connecting people and creating connections across the world. It has been such an honor to see the friendships that have formed, the development, the careers that have been launched through hiring and retaining these amazing people. I think that in itself has been such a fulfillment that I can’t imagine I would have gotten anywhere else.


Jamin Brazil: My last question. What is your personal motto?


Jill Kushner Bishop: I don’t really have one I’ll be honest. However, when I think about what my personally and professionally, it’s always been about creating connection. My company is called Multilingual Connections, whether I was traveling internationally and trying to create connections, hosting foreign exchange students in my home, trying to bring connection to them, it’s my family or at work. The type of work we’re doing connecting people, whether its translation, transcription, or research, it’s always been about the connections. I think that could probably work as my motto if pressed.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Jill Bishop, the founder and CEO of Multilingual Connections. Jill, thank you so much for being on the show.


Jill Kushner Bishop: Thank you. It was great talking with you.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you enjoyed it. You can fill Jill’s contact information in the show notes. As always, if you screen capture and tag me on a LinkedIn or Twitter post with this episode, I will send you a free t-shirt.