Back Translation: What is it?

October 8th, 2015
Back Translation: What is it? | One Hour Translation

A back-translation allows you to compare translations with the original content for accuracy and quality.

When referring to back-translation within translation, a back-translation allows you to compare translations with the original content for accuracy and quality: it helps to evaluate equivalence of meaning between your source and target texts.

How Is Back-Translation Achieved?

A back-translation is achieved by taking the translated version of a file or document and having an independent translator, with no prior knowledge of the original content, translate it back into the original language.

Because of the nature of language, you won’t be able to achieve a 100% result; meaning the back-translation won’t ever be exactly the same as the original text, but it will help to identify any errors, ambiguities or confusion that may arise from the nuances of language. Generally, back-translations are performed as literally as possible, ensuring an accurate depiction of the real meaning of the translation in the target language. So, because of this, you’ll find that some back-translations may be unnaturally written, or artificial. But, if major semantic differences are found between the source and back translation, and it’s unclear as to whether the issue is with the forward or back translation, you may decide in favour of reconciliation.

Sometimes Back Translation is a Requirement

Some institutions and organizations request a back-translation to verify content, and for many this has become a regulatory and legal requirement. In clinical trials, for example, most IRBs (Institutional Review Boards) and Ethics committees require that certificates of accuracy and back-translations are submitted with all translated materials. This requirement is to ensure that all translations of such important materials are accurate and of the highest quality.

Other review boards and regulatory review processes request back-translations to test and verify promotional and advertising claims. The Pharmaceutical industry is an example of this. When you have valuable and sensitive information that must be completely accurate, regardless of the language it’s translated into, or if the forward translation has associated risk or is quite complicated, then it should automatically undergo back-translation as part of the whole translation process. Using the back-translation process helps satisfy legal and regulatory requirements.

The Results of Back-Translation and Reconciliation

Back translation and reconciliation add two additional Quality Assurance phases to the whole translation process. Besides translation, editing, and proofing, both back-translation and reconciliation provide two additional opportunities to refine and assess your translation results.

We certainly advise that you have these services added upfront to your high-risk, high-value multilingual translation projects, instead of taking the risk of a mistranslation not being discovered. As any experienced translator can attest to, one error, or just one mistranslated word, can have serious consequences. Unfortunately there are stories of translators mistranslating just one word, ruining research projects, and costing their clients a lot of money and time. Using back-translation and reconciliation services upfront can prevent any potentially serious errors; saving money, time, and lost opportunities due to incorrect translations. By using these services you’ll have peace of mind and you’ll be adding accuracy and quality assurance to your translation results. The alternative should not be an option!