Back Translation: A Useful Quality Assurance Tool
December 1, 2023
What is back translation?
Back translation, also known as reverse translation, is the process of re-translating the translated content back into the initial source language. For example, a Korean translation of an English document is translated back into English, i.e. EN>KR>EN. Back translation is used as a quality control measure to ensure the translation is completely accurate. Translators can ultimately compare the two versions of the document in the source language to spot differences, guarding against potentially lethal mistakes in the rendition.
Benefits of back translation
But why is it not enough to simply check the original translation against the source text? What is so special about the back translation method? First, companies without sufficient knowledge of the target language required by them can assess the quality of the translated work. For example, if you have a new product to launch and need effective translation for the product content and promotion (especially if you aim to reach a global market and need to get the document translated into multiple languages), back translation can help ensure that your ideas are accurately and consistently presented in different renditions, without any meaning being diminished. Afterall, not everyone is a polyglot!
Translation is never just about presenting a message in another language. It is crucial to also consider the delivery of the message and the cultural implications, which is exactly the reason why companies may use back translation. By comparing the original source text with the back translated one, companies can not only quickly spot errors and gaps, but also check cultural relevance that could potentially change the meaning of the text, while minimising the impact of mistranslation on the reputation of the company. You definitely do not want to be seen as being culturally insensitive or using inappropriate comments!
When to use back translation
Back translation can be a useful tool, that’s true. But it does not necessarily suit every translation project. Back translation is a great choice if you want extra assurance on accuracy in projects where even one small mistake can have dire consequences. Back translation is essential to industries that are subject to regulatory requirements, such as financial, legal and healthcare sectors.
So back translation may be needed in the following types of texts requiring factual information and figures that could be lethal if mistranslated:
- Safety manuals
- Clinical research
- Financial reporting
- Contracts and lawsuits
Back translation, however, is not omnipotent. It is powerful when it comes to accuracy and specific terminology; it may not be the appropriate tool when you care about the creative expression and style more than a “perfect” translation. For taglines and slogans, back translating puns and wordplays might not mean much. Also, back translation will not identify ambiguities for you. That means if you want to check whether there are parts of the original text that can be interpreted in more than one way that could potentially lead to confusion and misunderstanding, back translation is not what you need