Using bilingual assistants when researching culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities can dramatically improve research outcomes, a new study has found.

The use of first language research assistants can deliver a deeper understanding of participants’ experiences, essential cultural knowledge and important contextual information or perspective. It can also make research more valid by gaining access to people who may not typically participate in research, the report said.

The study, titled ‘The First Language Advantage: working with bilingual research assistants’, was conducted by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES.
Researchers Stella Mulder and Monica O’Dwyer considered the use of bilingual research assistants in a longitudinal study conducted by AMES Research and Policy Unit between 2008 and 2012 on the employment experiences and aspirations of newly arrived migrants.

The analysis found the practice delivered both quantitative and qualitative advantages and more valid results.

“We found that employing people who share the language and cultural backgrounds of research participants gave us access to people who may not typically participate in research,” Ms Mulder said.

“Beyond language, bilingual research assistants bring cultural knowledge and a familiarity with a cultural community which can be very helpful in understanding the experiences of research participants,” she said.

“Bilingual research assistants have a capacity to contextualise issues from a cultural point of view and this can have an important influence on the research,” Ms Mulder said.

The researchers also said the views and experiences of recent migrants with low levels of English were commonly underrepresented in research.
“In the original longitudinal study, we were interested in understanding the employment experiences of a group of people who arrived in Australia with low levels of English,” the researchers said.

The study’s findings are expected to inform service delivery as well as advocacy programs in relation to employment.