Back-Translation: Verifying the Accuracy of a Translation

Polishing Translations Through Back-Translation

February 9, 2015

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The process known as back-translation serves to avoid subtle alterations in nuance and ambiguities in a translation project. In this process, a translated document is translated back into the original language by an independent translator without reference to the original document. The back-translation is then compared with the original document to verify the accuracy of the translation, and any necessary refinements that can be made. To eliminate any lingering concerns over a piece of translation, please consider commissioning a back-translation.

Circumstances that May Merit a Back-Translation

A back-translation is an effective tool in situations where a relatively high degree of accuracy is required, such as in pharmaceutical documents, patent application documents, and market research. It can also be utilized when translating documents into multiple languages. In the case of Japanese-English and English-Japanese translation, it may be relatively easy for companies in Japan to verify the delivered translation and pick up on any points of doubt or concern. However, could you do that in the case of, say, a translation from Japanese to Arabic? Even if it can be confirmed that the commissioned translation has been turned into Arabic, it is difficult to verify that the translation is genuinely correct.

The Back-Translation Process

As an example, let's look at the overall process for an English to Japanese back-translation. First, if a translated text already exists the process is as follows.

  1. Preparation of the (Japanese) original and (English) translated text
  2. The English translated text is translated into Japanese without sighting the original Japanese (back-translation).
  3. A third-party proofreader objectively checks the Japanese original, the English translation and the Japanese back-translation against each other.
  4. The proofreading results are compiled, and at the same time an accurate English version reflecting the proofreading results is completed.

In some cases, the process continues by carrying out a translation incorporating, from the beginning, the back-translation.

  1. Preparation of the original (Japanese)
  2. Under normal practice, the Japanese original is translated into English by a Japanese-English translator
  3. A separate English-Japanese translator translates the English version into Japanese without sighting the Japanese original (back-translation).
  4. A third-party proofreader objectively checks each of the Japanese original, the English translation and the Japanese back-translation.
  5. The proofreading results are compiled, and simultaneously an accurate English version reflecting the proofreading results is completed.

Ambiguity gives rise to uncertainty. There is also a risk of descending into excessive suspicion. By verifying the translation in an understandable way rather than leaving the ambiguity in place, uncertainty is transformed into confidence. This is what back-translation is.

Proofreading, the Key to Back-Translation

The process of back-translation requires more work than straight translation. The important process that ought to involve the most work is the proofreading that follows the back-translation. The proofreading is meticulously carried out by a proofreader who has high levels of understanding of both the source and target languages. On occasion, the proofreader may need to consult the assigned translator as part of the proofreading task. Here the key is how thoroughly any subtle mistranslations are identified and amended. If this work is not carried out meticulously, back-translation becomes simply a waste of time and money.

More Haste Less Speed; Be Sure to Obtain a Highly Accurate Translation

The tasks of checking a delivered translation and inquiring with the translation agency regarding points of ambiguity or doubt can be surprisingly time-consuming. Utilizing a back-translation is a sure way to address this because of the intervention of a professional translator and proofreader.
Depending upon the type of translation being sought, back-translation presents an important method of securing a highly accurate translation.

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