Back Translations


Have you heard of this term? A back translation is a translation of a translated text, back into the language of the original text – made without reference to the original text. Back translation is not particularly common within the translation industry, due largely to the high cost of producing an accurate and reliable back translation. However, when used carefully, back translations can provide an effective way to check and verify the accuracy of the original translation provided one takes into account the following pitfalls.

The translator doing the back translation could be less competent than the person doing the original translation, introduce errors into the text, and wrongly call into question the quality of the original translation – leaving the confused client with the problem of what to do next. And of course a back translation by itself provides no guidance on how to fix an original translation which is not up to standard. If you request a back translation, it is important that whoever does it follows the same quality control procedures applied to the original translation. Then comparison between the original and the back translation should only focus on the differences which genuinely matter and ignore those that don’t.

For example, beware of focusing on subtle connotations or agonising over synonyms within the back translation, as it’s often the case that quite different subtleties and associations exist in the target language. It’s possible that source text ambiguities might be uncovered, and should be resolved by the author of the original source text.

We agree there is sometimes a case for back translation, as a protection against serious translation errors that even the best translators occasionally make. At the same time you need to be mindful of what a recently introduced U.S. standard states, that “back translations are no guarantee of accuracy.”

We believe if you require high-quality translation, choose a translation company that employs translators with the skills and experience to meet your requirements; and one which follows proven quality control procedures and practices. This way, you can usually avoid the additional cost and effort of back translation.

At NZTC, our Quality Assured Translation (QAT) process includes a unique translation verification stage that we feel provides the same benefits of back translation without the cost or potential for time wasted on raising unnecessary linguistic issues. Our initial translation is produced by translators who are native speakers of the target language and have lived within the culture where that language is spoken. Their translation is then checked by our editors who are proficient in the target language, but whose first language is the language of the original document. Our editors compare the target translation and the original text carefully on a sentence by sentence basis using a process very similar to back translation and by doing this can confirm that the translator has understood the original text correctly and conveyed the meaning accurately in the target language. Any ambiguities or uncertainties can be clarified in discussion between the editor and translator (and the client, if required), to ensure that the final translation is the most accurate possible representation of the source text.