Navigating Nuances of Language and Meaning: Challenges of Cross-Language Ethnography Involving Shona Speakers Living With Schizophrenia

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Abstract

For people living with schizophrenia, their experience is personal and culturally bound. Focused ethnography enables researchers to understand people’s experiences in-context, a prerequisite to providing person-centered care. Data are gathered through observational fieldwork and in-depth interviews with cultural informants. Regardless of the culture, ethnographic research involves resolving issues of language, communication, and meaning. This article discusses the challenges faced by a bilingual, primary mental health nurse researcher when investigating the experiences of people living with schizophrenia in Zimbabwe. Bilingual understanding influenced the research questions, translation of a validated survey instrument and interview transcripts, analysis of the nuances of dialect and local idioms, and confirmation of cultural understanding. When the researcher is a bilingual cultural insider, the insights gained can be more nuanced and culturally enriched. In cross-language research, translation issues are especially challenging when it involves people with a mental illness and requires researcher experience, ethical sensitivity, and cultural awareness.

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