Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine, Bilingual Study

March 1st, 2012 | EVALUATION

This bilingual study for the Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine exhibition was conducted by the Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI) for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The Against All Odds exhibition was a partnership between NMNH, the Chilean Embassy in Washington, DC, and the U.S. State Department, and tells the story of the 69-day saga that ended when 33 miners were lifted to the surface as heroes. Against All Odds was one of the first bilingual exhibitions at NMNH, and the interpretive team chose to use bilingual graphics for three primary reasons: (1) for English, Spanish and other-language speakers, to appropriately set the scene for the story in Spanish-speaking Chile; (2) to attract new Spanish-speaking audiences to the Museum; and (3) to make the current Spanish-speaking visitors feel that the Museum speaks to them and their needs. The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which the bilingual exhibition was being received positively by visitor groups, with a focus on both Spanish-speaking groups and the general public. As one of the first NMNH efforts in bilingual interpretation, there was a primary interest in seeing see how Spanish-speaking visitors reacted to and received the bilingual exhibitions. A secondary focus of the study was to determine the opinions of non-Spanish speakers of the feasibility and continued support for bilingual approaches. The results of this study are also meant to inform future bilingual efforts by NMNH. Methods included the following: 1) in-person interviews with members of Spanish-speaking visitor groups (n=77) 2) surveys with general audience members (n=301). Interviews with Spanish speakers were conducted with groups who spent at least one minute in the exhibition, and they were intercepted and interviewed after completing their visit to the exhibition. Likewise, survey respondents were intercepted after they had finished in the exhibition as asked to fill out a short survey about their experiences in the exhibition. Looking specifically at how the exhibition impacted their experience, 82% of Spanish speakers said that it helped them better understand the exhibit content. Reasons given include that it's their native tongue, they understand something better when it's in Spanish, some members of the group don't speak English, and that having content in both languages helps them understand the content better. When asked whether having the exhibition in both Spanish and English changed how they interacted with other members of their group, they said it helped them understand the exhibit better, they could share their thoughts with other members of the group, and some members of their group didn't speak English. When asked whether the exhibition being bilingual changed how they felt about NMNH, more than three quarters (78%) said yes. Mostly, they felt this way because they perceived there to be a lot of Spanish speakers, it was generally thought of to be better, it made the content more accessible, and because it was easier to understand if it was bilingual. There was a difference noted between English and Spanish speakers in whether visitors were surprised the exhibition was in Spanish. Interestingly, Spanish speakers tended to be more surprised that it was bilingual (29%) compared to non-Spanish speakers (8%). In addition, 80% of Spanish speakers and 39% of non-Spanish speakers said having the bilingual approach added to their overall exhibition experience. When asked how it added to their experience, many of the comments talked about accessibility (e.g., someone doesn't speak English as their primary language), and about bilingual approaches being more inclusive for diverse audiences. Only one individual out of the 263 respondents to this survey item said the bilingual approach detracted from their experiences. A number of recommendations for future bilingual exhibitions at NMNH are included in the full report, that could be applied to other institutions as well. The appendix of this report includes the interview instruments (English and Spanish), surveys (English and Spanish), and coding rubric used in the study.



Team Members

Steven Yalowitz, Evaluator, Institute for Learning Innovation
Smithsonian Institution, Contributor
Emily Craig, Evaluator, Institute for Learning Innovation
Kara Hershorin, Evaluator, Institute for Learning Innovation

Related URLs


Access and Inclusion: English Language Learners | Ethnic | Racial | Hispanic | Latinx Communities
Audience: Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Education and learning science | Engineering | History | policy | law
Resource Type: Coding Schema | Evaluation Reports | Interview Protocol | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Rubric | Summative | Survey
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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