Back translation – what is it and how can you benefit from it?

When it comes to measuring translation quality, there are a number of ways at your disposal. The most common methods used by translation agencies range from special internal procedures to sample QA checks. But what about back translation? Although commonly used in certain sectors (especially pharmaceutical translation), it’s still relatively rarely heard of.

What is back translation?

In layman’s terms, it is when you take a translated document, and translate it back into the source language to check whether it’s accurate and the quality is good.

How does back translation work?

In order to perform a back translation, you’ll need an independent translator with no prior knowledge of the source text. They’ll then take the translated document and translate it back into the source language. It obviously won’t be 100% the same as the original document, but it will help you to see where inaccuracies and errors have occurred in the original translation. They are also sometimes done literally so that you can see the real meaning of the text.

What if inconsistencies are found?

As it is going to be more literal, again, it’s pretty likely that the original and the back translation are going to differ. But, if you do find issues, you can then send your translations back to the original team of linguists to check what’s happened. As the issue could relate to either the original or the back translation, it’s always advisable to get both checked so that you can find out where the actual problem came from and then fix it.

Is it really necessary?

While it may sound like a lot of work at first, there are certain instances where it can prove really useful. If you’re doing a transcreation project, for example, and the target text ends up being considerably different from the source, carrying out a back translation will help you understand what your new text is about. 

Plus, if you’re having medical documentation translated, many ethics committees and IRBs require you to submit back translations together with your translated documents. As medical and pharmaceutical translations require such a high level of accuracy, it’s no wonder that they’ve become a legal requirement for most.

If you would like to know more or to get some of your documents back translated, please get in touch. We’re here to help!

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