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Applicability of the Global Competency and Intercultural Sensitivity Indices in the Japanese Educational Environment: Comparative Assessment of Validity and Reliability Testing


Translating survey instruments from one language to another poses unique challenges and requires careful consideration of multiple issues. This paper examines the translation and application of instruments known as the Global Competence Index and Intercultural Sensitivity Index from their original English to Japanese. A thorough discussion of translation issues is included, and the paper presents detailed results from a pilot study of the version that has been translated to Japanese. The reliability and validity of Japanese translated instruments are tested and compared with outcomes from the original English-language instruments. The results indicated that the translated instruments are equally valid and reliable when used in Japanese language environments.

Keywords: instrument translation, psychometrics assessment, reliability and validity testing, English-Japanese forward and back-translation.

Japanese Translations of the Global Competency and Intercultural Sensitivity Indices: Validity and Reliability Testing

This paper will present Japanese translations of both the Global Competency Index (GCI) and the Intercultural Sensitivity Index (ISI), developed by Olson and Kroeger in 2001. The GCI and the ISI are typically deployed in intercultural and educational research to measure an individual’s understanding and awareness of global issues, cultural differences, and that individual’s ability to adapt to such issues and differences (Sinicrope, Norris, & Watanabe, 2007). Both instruments have also been used to investigate the influence of international and cross-cultural experiences, such as academic classes dealing with cultural differences and study abroad, on an individual’s understanding of global issues and cultural differences (Williams, 2005; Wright & Clark, 2010). 

The original GCI and ISI were designed for these purposes and are grounded in cognitive development theory. The GCI quantifies individuals’ global perspective development along three dimensions: substantive knowledge, perceptual understanding, and intercultural communication skills. The ISI measures intercultural sensitivity along a six-level continuum, with ethnocentrism on one end and ethnorelativism on the other. The pair of instruments is a non-commercial and independently developed assessment tool. Permission for administering the instrument was obtained from the original authors in 2013. Sinicrope et al. (2007) describe the GCI and ISI as instruments capable of assessing individuals’ global competence based on their current cognitive development, perceptual understanding, and interpersonal communication skills.

To date, use of these instruments has focused on the English-speaking world despite Olson and Kroeger (2001) suggesting that application to diverse populations and cultural environments would help generate a more comprehensive picture of global competence and intercultural sensitivity. This paper applies the instruments in a novel cultural and linguistic setting: Japan. In Japan, the concepts of international and cross-cultural understanding have been paid close attention in recent decades. Since the 1990s, key words such as “global” have increasingly influenced multiple aspects of society, including the educational system. Seeking to improve international understanding, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has implemented Foreign Language Activities in the upper grades of elementary schools. Internationalization, globalization, and cross-cultural understanding are all in various stages of development. Yamamoto (2014) gives an overview and discussion of these concepts, including definitions and interpretations of global competence and intercultural sensitivity from the perspective of the Japanese research community. A primary issue is that Japan needs a better understanding of its citizens’ levels of global competence and intercultural sensitivity. Translating the GCI and ISI for implementation in Japan can help the Japanese research community improve understanding and valuation of these and related concepts. In addition, translated instruments can help to compare and contrast research conducted in Japan with existing international studies using similar frames of reference. 

In any translation, equivalence between the original and translated versions is a main focus of attention. A simple translation of instruments like the GCI and ISI poses a risk that the meanings of assessment items become altered or lost. If this happens, the instrument may end up assessing different factors depending on the language. Accordingly, the authors chose to use back-translation to confirm that the translated assessments function equivalently in Japan, with Japanese speakers. Back-translation, while not perfect, is a longstanding and tested method of minimizing differences between, and maximizing the equivalence of, original and translated assessment instruments in cross-cultural research (Brislin, 1970; Maneesriwongul & Dixon, 2004). The details of the translation process and the specific back-translation implementation will be analyzed and discussed.

Review of the Literature

The GCI and ISI consist of a 49-item quantitative survey instrument using a five-point Likert scale ranging from one (“does not describe me at all”) to five (“describes me extremely well”). The GCI is constructed on the basis of a literature consensus partitioning global competence into substantive knowledge, perceptual understanding, and intercultural communication skills (Olson & Kroeger, 2001). Kegan (1994) categorized global competence as consisting of cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal components. King and Baxter Magolda (2005) characterized global competence similarly, in their theory of intercultural maturity, as consisting of thinking, feeling, and relating domains. The ISI is based on Bennett’s (1986) Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). The instrument consists of two parts: 25 items developed based on Bennett’s DMIS and 24 items constructed on the basis of global competence and intercultural communication awareness and skills (Olson & Kroeger, 2001). The instrument scores participants’ self-assessed intercultural sensitivity and global competence. The lower the score, the less sensitive and competent the participants are in intercultural and global contexts.

Previous studies employing the GCI and ISI have tested its reliability. For example, in a study conducted by Williams (2005) employing the ISI, the authors reported a Cronbach’s alpha of moderate reliability (α = .56 on the pretest and α = .67 on the post-test). Similarly, in the study Write and Clarke (2010) conducted, a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.73 for the pretest and 0.69 for the posttest were reported for instrument reliability. Similarly, Burkart and Thompson (2014) applied these instruments to over 400 Florida preservice teachers’ and reported Cronbach’s alphas of 0.88 for the GCI and 0.72 for the ISI. Williams (2005) stated that the ISI is one of the most reliable instruments for locating an individual along the spectrum of six intercultural sensitivity stages from Ethnocentric to Ethnorelative, predicting attitudes and behaviors at their current cognitive developmental level. 

Given this background, these two instruments will prove useful for conducting research in Japan, providing a suitable translation is developed. Ideally, translating psychometric assessment instruments involves accomplishing semantic equivalence, idiomatic equivalence, experiential equivalence, and conceptual equivalence (Borsa, et al., 2012). Put more generally, problems can arise with translations of individual words or phrases, with idioms, and with culturally specific elements. For words and phrases, equivalent dictionary definitions may hide differences in nuance or implication. For phrases and sentences, the likelihood of different nuances or implications arising is greater. Idiomatic expressions are one example of combinations of words that are difficult to translate, though the individual words in the expression may present no translation problems. Culturally specific concepts, ideas, and experiences pose further challenges, as the experiences of individuals using different languages can differ in ways that can influence interpretation of any written expression. Thus a simple translation, carried out by one translator with one set of cultural experiences, could easily give rise to an assessment item that fails to measure the attitude being measured in the original instrument.

One approach to developing such a translation is the technique of back-translation. Back-translation consists of a retranslation of the translated instrument from the target language to the original language. This back-translation is then checked for equivalency of meaning with the original. Should inconsistencies arise, the original translation is revised, back-translated again, and once again compared to the original instrument. The process is repeated until consistency between the original version and the back-translation is achieved. Back-translation is thus an iterative process. Early reports on the success of back-translation in cross-cultural research include studies by Fink (1963), Werner and Campbell (1970), and Sinaiko (1963). Fink translated a survey from English to Thai to Lao, and then back from Lao through Thai to English. When differences arose between the meanings of the original and back-translated English, the process was repeated, and the original version then revised where necessary. Werner and Campbell also used an iterative approach, with the original English being updated in the process. Sinaiko studied expert translators and interpreters in conditions resembling those found in international conferences and found that such translators could produce documents with little if any change in meaning, provided revision of the original version was a part of the process.

Brislin (1970) presented a theoretical analysis of back-translation, focusing on “(1) factors that affect translation quality, and (2) how equivalence between source and target versions can be evaluated” (p. 185). He argued that “a functionally equivalent translation” (p. 185) can be arrived at by careful study of the original and translated versions. In some cases, the research Brislin discusses involved developing an instrument for de novo studies of different cultures. This differs from the translation of an existing instrument already in use in a specific culture, such as medical or psychological assessments, or assessments used in psychological and social science research. With a previously developed and in-use instrument, translators do not have the option of modifying the language of the original version, an option that Brislin recommends in his 1970 paper. Recent examples of translations of existing instruments that employed back-translation are: the Ego-Resilience Scale (ER89) for use in Chinese (Chen, He, & Fan, 2019), a cultural intelligence scale translated for use in Eastern Europe (Johnson, 2018), an oral health impact profile translated for use in Germany (John, Patrick, & Slade, 2002), the same oral health impact profile translated for use in Iran (Motallebnejad, Hadian, & Mehdizadeh, 2011), and a five-faceted mindfulness questionnaire translated for use in China (Deng, Liu, Rodriguez, & Xia, 2011). These instrument translations relied on back-translation without modification of the original instrument’s question wording. Though the specific details differ, these studies employed back-translation along with evaluation of the accuracy of the translation itself and included comparison of the original version and the back-translation by other native speakers. In all examples multiple iterations were carried out and, in some cases, the validity of the instrument was further tested by comparing results with speakers of the target language to results with speakers of the original language.

In Japan, back-translation has frequently been used to adapt English-language assessment instruments for research use. Examples include Mimura and Griffith’s translation of the perceived stress scale (Mimura & Griffith, 2004), Shibata and Doi’s translation of a perceived restorative scale (Shibata & Doi, 2008), Kataoka, Koide, Koide, Ochi, Hojat, and Gonnella’s 2009 translation of the Jefferson scale of physician empathy, as well as Tsutsumi, Ishitake, Peter, Siergrist, and Matoba’s translation of the effort-reward imbalance questionnaire (2001). Linguistically, Japanese and English differ greatly. Furthermore, the cultural backgrounds and environments of Japanese and English speakers differ considerably. These linguistic and cultural differences can pose challenges for any translation process. The strategies that translators choose can result in different translation outcomes (Tobias, 2009). Errors frequently occur even in professional medical translation where accuracy is vital (Anazawa, Ishikawa, & Kiuchi, 2012). While these differences do pose additional problems for back-translation, the multiple back-translation studies cited above demonstrate that back-translation is a reliable process for producing instruments with validity for research in Japan across a variety of disciplines. Even more specific to this study, cross cultural knowledge and sensitivity has also been studied in Japan using instruments originally developed in English but adapted for use in Japan. Notable examples include Yamamoto (2014) and Yamamoto and Tanno (2002), where a Japanese version of the Developmental Model of Intercultural sensitivity (DMIS) was translated and applied to Japanese participants, and Fukuhara, Bito, Green, Hsiao, and Kurokawa (1998), where a Japanese version of the HF-36 Health Survey questionnaire was developed and validated for use in Japan.

Maneersiwongul and Dixon (2004) provide a review of the various methods that have been used in instrument translation. They examined 47 instrument translations and classified them into 6 varieties: forward-only translation, forward-only translation with testing, untested back-translation, back-translation with monolingual testing, back-translation with bilingual testing, and back-translation with both monolingual and bilingual tests. They discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each of these approaches, and caution that researchers should present evidence that they have achieved “semantic equivalence” between the source instrument and the translated instrument before the instrument can be used in research or clinical practice. For back-translation alone, Maneersiwongul and Dixon (2004), in summarizing 13 studies, report that multiple iterations of the translation process were typically carried out, either for the whole instrument or for specific items that proved problematic. They suggest that the most reliable method is to use separate translators for forward and back-translations. 

In summary, back-translation is a respected and valid approach to producing translated versions of assessment instruments, for use as both tools of research and clinical assessment. Back-translation is thus appropriate for translating the GSI and ISI from English to Japanese for use in analysis of global competence and intercultural sensitivity. The literature presents several variations of back-translation and methods for verification of a given back-translation. The consensus is that this process is not without difficulties, and those employing it must exercise diligence at each step to ensure that meanings are not added or lost. The lack of a specific and universal procedure suggests both that the technique is still in the developmental stage. Furthermore, adaptations to unique cultural and content requirements necessitate flexibility. Additionally, resources such as the translators’ subject knowledge, financing, and time can impose constraints on the back-translation process (Cha, Kim, & Erlen, 2007). Therefore, a specific back-translation will rely on the accepted process of iteration and comparison, but may differ in the details because of the circumstances of the translators, and the characteristics of the instrument itself.


The instrument translation method used in this study involved a team of scholars and multiple iterations of forward and back-translation. First, a Japanese-English bilingual researcher, with a background in educational psychology and psychological assessment, translated all 49 items of the original GCI and ISI from English to Japanese. The translated Japanese text was reviewed by a Japanese native speaker specializing in Japanese language acquisition. During the review process, potentially ambiguous phrases in Japanese contexts were revised. Following the review, a pilot study of the translated version was conducted to assess initial reliability and validity.

Once the initial translation was prepared and tested, the back-translation was undertaken by an English-Japanese bilingual researcher, with a background in educational and cultural psychology and whose first language is English. An initial back-translation was prepared and returned to the original translator. The original translator and an additional reviewer, a native English speaker, compared the back-translation with the original English version, noting a few small discrepancies in nuance for some of the items. To eliminate these discrepancies, these items were retranslated from the original English item into Japanese and resubmitted to the back-translator. This cycle was repeated twice more, for a total of three revisions to the back-translation.

Figure 1. Back-translation Flowchart

The original instruments and the back-translations of both instruments were then presented to four native English speakers, all academic professionals from multiple fields: Economics, TESOL, Political Science, and Mathematics. They were asked to compare each item of the original instrument with the same item in the back-translation and rate, using a four-point Likert scale, whether they would respond to both items identically. For each item comparison, they responded to the following statement: “I would answer the following questions identically for both versions.” A rating of 4 corresponded to an answer of “definitely would,” a rating of 3 to “likely would,” a rating of 2 to “unlikely,” and a rating of 1 to “definitely would not.”

Figure 2. Back-translation Flowchart

Feedback from the reviewers led to further revisions in the back-translation. The majority of items were rated as either 4 or 3 by all raters. However, a few items received a 2 by one or more raters, corresponding to “unlikely” and indicating that they would not respond to the items with the same level of agreement. In response changes were made to the wording of the back-translation and in some cases the Japanese translation. This process was carried out through individual discussions between the Japanese version translator, the back-translator, and the reviewers. The final back-translation was then given to two additional native speakers, an economist and a TESOL professor, for one more check. Once a final back-translation was prepared to the satisfaction of all parties, the back-translator was shown the original items, and confirmed the modifications that resulted from the review process.


The results of an initial assessment of the translated version indicated high reliability. Participants in the Japanese version of the GCI and ISI were recruited from Colleges of Engineering and Economics in a Japanese mid-size public university (n=58). The instruments were distributed via classroom instructors, having no affiliation with this project, at the end of a regular class period. Participation was completely voluntary. Cronbach’s alphas for the Japanese language instruments in this pilot study were 0.82 for the GCI and 0.77 for the ISI, indicating high reliability (Figure 3). 

Figure 3. Scatter plot of pilot results compared with Burkart and Thompson (2014)

The first translation was capable of assessing global competence and intercultural sensitivity with the reliability for Japanese speakers being similar to the reliability of the original English version for English speakers. However, the back-translation process called attention to the need for further modifications. As previously noted, during the comparison of the first back-translation with the original English version for English-speaking academics, the majority of items yielded ratings of “definitely would” or “likely would” across all raters, for both the GCI and ISI. For a few items however, one or more reviewers stated they would be “unlikely” to answer both questions identically. Modifications of both the Japanese translation and the original back-translation became necessary. We will discuss each instrument in turn, starting with the ISI. Our discussion includes specific examples of the iterative and negotiation processes we employed.

The back-translation of the ISI raised few concerns among all the reviewers. One area of concern was the translation of item 13, “I think that cultural differences across societies result largely from basic differences in belief systems,” which was initially translated as “私は社会における文化的違いは、信仰 (Italics added) における基本的理念の違いに起因するところが大きいと思う” (Watashi wa shakai ni okeru bunkateki chigai wa, shinko ni okeru kihontekirinen no chigai ni kiinsuru tokoro ga ookii to omou). This yielded a back-translation of “I think that cultural differences between societies are largely caused by differences in fundamental ideals based on religion or faith.” The phrase “belief systems” in the original version differs from the phrase “religion or faith” that the first back-translation yielded and drew the attention of the reviewers. The word 信仰 (shinko) in the Japanese translation was the cause. While the Japanese term 信仰 (shinko) has a core definition of ‘religion,’ the Japanese translator chose this term for ‘belief system’ because in the US, ‘belief system’ often refers to religion. However, Japan is neither a monotheistic culture, nor a culture with a monolithic faith, so ‘religion’ in a Japanese context includes non-theistic beliefs. Because the reviewers identified this wording as a source of differing interpretation, the Japanese translator modified the the Japanese placed 信仰 (shinko) with 道徳観や倫理的理念 (doutokukan ya rinriteki rinen). This phrase was then rendered by the back-translator as “morals and ethics,” and the item itself became, “I think that the cultural differences between societies are largely caused by different conceptions of morals and ethics.” At the conclusion of the analysis of the reviewers’ input, the back-translator had the opportunity to view the original items in English and agreed that “conceptions of morals and ethics” corresponded to the intent of the original “belief systems.” 

Another ISI item requiring discussion among the translators and reviewers was item 16. The original English was, “I feel most comfortable living and working in a community where people are like me,” which was initially translated into Japanese as “人種や文化が自分と同じような集団の中にいる方が、私にとってもっとも居心地のいい環境だといえる” (Jinshu ya bunka ga jibun to onajiyouna shudan no nakani iruhouga, watasinitotte mottomo igokochinoii kankyoda to ieru.) This was initially back-translated as “The environment in which I am most comfortable is one where I am part of a group of people who are of the same race and culture as me.” The Japanese translator used knowledge of cultural differences to conclude that a literal translation of the original English item could lead to misunderstanding by Japanese participants, who could assume that “people like me” (literal Japanese translation would be “私と似通った人々” watashi to nikayotta hitobito) meant people who share my hobbies, interests, or school class year. Even though this modification for the Japanese version resulted in a back-translation with differences from the original English item, retaining the alteration is more likely to result in Japanese readers interpreting the meaning of the item in the same way as a native English speaker would. When the back-translator saw the original version, he agreed that the departure from a literal Japanese translation of the original item yielded a back-translation that corresponded to the original survey authors’ intent. The phrase “people like me” has been used as a euphemism for “people of my religion or ethnicity” in racist discourse in the US. As a euphemism, its core meaning is thus disguised, and therefore requires a more explicit rendering in Japanese.

The GCI also required modifications. The connotations of some words led to difficulties in the translation process. For example, item 1 of the GSI, “I often find people from other countries and cultures to be exotic or unusual,” contains the word “exotic.” A Japanese word “エキゾチック” (ekizochikku) exists, but the judgement of the Japanese translator was that this word would lead readers to focus on Asia or even Southeast Asia specifically. This necessitated the addition of the modifier “または異国的で珍しい” (mataha ikokuteki de mezurashii) to the original Japanese translation. Discussion of meaning ensued among the various parties involved to arrive at a satisfactory final back-translation of ‘foreign and unusual.’ The final back-translation reads, “I think people from other countries, and their culture, are exotic (foreign and unusual).” The back-translator concurred with this modification.

Another item requiring negotiation among the translators and reviewers was GCI item 14, “I have lived abroad and experienced intense interaction with a variety of people from cultures different from my own,” which was initially translated as “海外で自分とは違う文化的背景をもつ人々と交流をした経験がある” (kaigai de jibun towa chigau bunkatekihaikei wo motsu hitobito to koryu wo shita keiken ga aru.) This produced an original back-translation of “I have experience overseas interacting with people with cultural backgrounds different from own.” The word ‘intense’ in the original was not translated into Japanese because an equivalent Japanese term did not immediately present itself. Without the word ‘intense’ the back-translation caught the attention of the reviewers. In response, the word 深い, which translates as ‘deep’, was placed before 交流 which by itself translates as ‘interaction’. The revised back-translation became, “I have extensive experience overseas interacting with people with cultural backgrounds different from my own.”

GCI item 10 needed modification as a result of the review process. The original English reads, “I am linguistically and culturally competent in at least one language and culture other than my own.” The original translation was “母国語や自国の文化以外の言語や習慣を用い、異文化環境でも適切に順応できる自信がある” (bokokugo ya bukoku no bunkaigai no gengo ya shukan wo mochii, ibunkakankyo demo tekisetsu ni junno dekiru jisin ga aru.) The first back-translation was, “I am confident that I can act appropriately in an intercultural environment, using language and customs that differ from my country’s language and customs.” The raters pointed out that ‘competent’ and ‘confident’ have different meanings. Accordingly, the Japanese was changed from自信, which means confident, to 能力, which translates as ‘ability.’ The back-translation became, “I have the ability to act appropriately in an intercultural environment, using language and customs that differ from my country’s language and customs.”


Given that translation is not an exact science, and that cultural differences can complicate the translation process, no translation can be without limitations, including the present translation. As Yamamoto and Tanno (2002) point out, in creating a Japanese-language version of the Intercultural Development Inventory, which is based on Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, an accurate item-by-item translation may be insufficient due to differences in cultural context between the original and applied instruments. In other words, what is different and how it is different in specific cultural situations must be taken into account when creating culturally suitable instruments. For future research, the individual items in the Japanese version of the GCI and ISI could be further explored with additional focus on Japanese cultural context, including linguistic, ethnic, and social considerations. To do so, a qualitative examination of the instruments is likely to be useful. A more refined Japanese version of the GCI and ISI could potentially be created via multivariate item analysis (e.g., factor analysis). Such an undertaking runs the risk of adding or eliminating questions, and thus departing from the original version. The benefit would be the development of an instrument better able to access intercultural sensitivity and global competence in Japan. In addition, the development of a Japanese version that departs somewhat from the original English version could lead to revisions of the English version that are informed by the modified Japanese version, and lead to a more valid and reliable English version. An analogy could be made with the back-translation process itself, but now at the level of two instruments seeking to measure the same factors and informing each other through subsequent rounds of revision.

The very notion of intercultural competence may differ depending on the main culture of those being studied, and which specific cultures are interacting. Also, the process by which one attains intercultural competence may affect what the concept means. For example, an adult or older student who achieves intercultural competence and sensitivity by language study at the college level, study abroad, or international work assignment, achieves that intercultural competence in a manner fundamentally different from a child raised in a multicultural family, or a child who spends his or her formative years in a culture different from the culture of his or her family. Perhaps a single instrument is inherently insufficient to measure intercultural competence and sensitivity for all people of interest, especially if the process of acquiring such competence and sensitivity is of interest. Further research is called for regarding this dimension of experience. The interplay between Japanese and English versions of the ISI and GCI discussed in the previous paragraph can contribute to such research.

Additional limitations arise from the original English version itself. For example, some of the items do not lend themselves to Likert-scale assessment as they seemed to be asking about either-or situations, which could confuse a reader, or generate a collection of 5’s or 1’s as answers. Also, the original wording of some of the questions may not be of the highest validity, even though the instrument as a whole has proven both valid and reliable. Where room for improvement exists in the original, it also exists in any translation.

Finally, now that a revised version of the Japanese version is complete, additional reliability and validity testing with Japanese participants is warranted for the future research. The authors would like to propose a test that would include bilingual participants using all three versions of the instrument: the original English, the forward-translated Japanese version that we offer in this paper, and the back-translated English version.


It hardly needs restating that global knowledge and intercultural sensitivity are increasingly necessary, for people who travel or study abroad, those who interact with people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, or those who simply need to better understand global events. Appropriate psychometric tools are necessary and useful for assessment of the current level of understanding and measurement of changes that may result from education, in-country exposure, and overseas experience, whether brief or extensive. Research using well-designed instruments can lead to improvements in educational and social policy, as well as individual and national growth. The authors of these translations of the GSI and ISI hope this work will make a small contribution to this vital field of research.


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Dr. Kaori Burkart is an Associate Professor at the Global Education and Intercultural Advancement Center at Oita University. She can be contacted at kburkart@oita-u.ac.jp.

Dr. Raymond Langley is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Oita University.

Dr. Christopher Burkart is a Visiting Professor of Economics at Oita University.

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