the concept of "back-translation"- definition and what it is used for

By Slava
Sep 11, 2013 · 3 min

It is not very common to hear about this but it happens every day... Market surveys, Gallup polls, sociological studies, medical forms, psychological examinations, informed consent forms, client-satisfaction assessment, pharmaceutical queries, research study protocols, and an endless list of other contexts explore the benefits of back translation, as performed by trained professional translators.

In brief words, back translation can be defined as the procedure according to which a translator or team of professional translators interpret a document previously translated into another language back to the original language. Usually this process is made by a translator or translators who had not been previously involved in the project and who have no prior knowledge of the objectives or its specific context.

Back-translation is a very helpful tool while considering particular attention to sensitive translation problems across cultures. Professional translation services will minutely observe the conceptual and cultural correspondence of the two texts (original and translated texts). The process of back translation is especially useful for professional translators who wish to ensure the most absolute quality and accuracy to their clients. Despite taking extra time, back translation as performed by translation services is an excellent way of avoiding errors later on during the decision-making process.

A good example that makes the case for back translation is the use of this translation procedure in every step of a global market research, because inconsistencies in translated questionnaires will certainly disrupt the accuracy of results and jeopardize the truthfulness of the final results. The translation of the answers to these questionnaires takes even further consideration as marketing teams depend on the little shades of opinion from consumers to prepare campaigns that make the difference and bring value to the final customer. The professional translator who can translate faithfully makes the bridge between word and action across cultures and distances.

Comparison of a back-translation to the original text is sometimes used as a quality check on the original translation. A famous humorously telling evidence for this comes from literature and it was branded by Mark Twain when he published his own word for word back translation in English of a very unhappy French version of his famous short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," which Twain titled as “The Jumping Frog: In English, Then in French, and Then Clawed Back Into A Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil” in his new English text.

back translation provides extra checks and different translations. What is important for clients is that they have a good translation they can trust, which can only be assured by a trained professional translator or team of translators who possess the skills to give a nuanced assessment of the translations.

When every small detail counts and extra-edge is guaranteed by quality, precision and accuracy, back translation should be looked upon as an available quality assessment tool by both clients and translation agencies/translators. After all, how many of us can allow to postpone investing in quality services when all businesses are converging to the global audience?

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