Remember a dream being in a dream in the movie “Inception”? Much like it, back-translated text is the translation of a translation. Befuddled? Let’s first start with the basics.

By definition, translation is the written interpretation of communication from one language to another. An accurate translation conveys not only literal word-for-word replacement but also the original intent and tone of a message. It is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes. But more often than not, the nuances, puns, and satire get lost in translation. This is especially so with machine translators.

Now that we’ve gotten the fundamentals out of the way, let’s talk about back-translation. Do you have a document you need back-translated? Are you wondering where to begin? Here, we’ll talk you through the process, the purpose, and uses of back-translation.

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This post has been updated in September 2021.

What is Back-Translated Text?

Simply put, back-translation is the reverse of translation. Say you’ve hired someone to translate a medical document for you. Back-translation is the act of using another translator to convert that material back into its original language. Easy peasy, right? But doesn’t it seem like a wild goose chase? Well, not quite.

Ten bucks say you’ve used that double arrow on Google Translate more than once. Exactly! Reversing translation is a must-do for those who do not speak the language. It is the most feasible way to countercheck that your translated text holds the exact same meaning as the original text. This process can be used on online translators such as Google Translate, and DeepL Translator. That as well as on human translators. Back-translation is a means of assessing the quality and accuracy of all translations.

How Back-Translation Works

Say you’re requested to provide a back-translation from German to English. This means that your original document is in English and you have already translated the text into the German language. You now need to hire a different translator who has not seen the original English text. He or she will translate the German document from scratch back into English. The translation should be done as literally as possible in order not to leave room for guessing.

What To Expect

Everyone owns a different command of language. Because of this, it is expected that both the back-translated English document and the original English text will not match. As such, there is no such thing as an absolute final translation. Language is more of an art than a math problem. The individual interpretation of nuances also contributes to differing results. As such, back-translation can help to suss out any ambiguities or confusion that may not have been previously perceived in the original English text. One can then rewrite the context in a more understandable and accurate way that leaves less room for speculation.

The Purpose of Back-Translation

Have you ever played the telephone game where a message is whispered from ear to ear down a line of people? The end result is usually absurdly different. The same case can apply to mistranslation. Here an example of what can slip through the cracks without back-translation.

The Notorious Incident

Ever heard of the story by Mark Twain, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”? The author back-translated the French version of his story only to find it deteriorating to gibberish. He then published all three versions of it under a new title. It was named “The Jumping Frog: in English, then in French, and then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil”. To some extent, his intent was to mock the limitations of word-for-word translations.

back-translation for language translation

Objectives of Back-Translated Texts

Here are some objectives back-translation can help you to achieve.

  • It helps to evaluate the quality and accuracy of the first translation. This is done so when the back-translated document is compared with the original content.
  • A wrongly back-translated context highlights linguistic ambiguity in the original document. This is useful for multiple translations to other languages in the future.
  • It helps you to ascertain if the translator you’ve hired is reliable in bringing forth the same tone and essence in your message.
  • The grammatical structure of languages is sometimes different. Online machine or human translators may wrongfully alter sentence structure and sequences. The resulting content can end up unnatural and awkward. As such, it can reveal the use of literal translation and limited linguistic capabilities of the translator.
  • Some words have double or different meanings between dialects and can be misunderstood. The back-translated text helps to identify these subtle unintended issues in order to solve them.
  • The back-translated text acts as vital proof of how precise both the technical and nuanced content has been translated.
  • It is important to do a back-translated check for brand preservation. This is especially so when the content is to be publicized to the masses.

What Needs to Be Back-Translated?

Words can travel worlds and cross boundaries. But the translators do the driving. Back-translators are here to ensure you are not driving in the wrong direction! Besides the application of personal checks on the interpreted text by online translators, there are many other official applications.

Applications for Back-Translation

  • Certain jurisdictional legal and regulatory requirements request for back-translations to verify content.
  • Back-translating instructional manuals such as those for medical or technical devices for accuracy.
  • Review boards (IRB) and the Ethics Committee require back-translated documents of clinical trials to ensure accuracy and quality of translation.
  • Instruction manuals and restaurant manuals of global brands to ensure brand guidelines are met.
  • For the purpose of testing and verification of content for promotion or advertising. This is especially in the context of brand localization.
  • It is sometimes part of regulatory requirements to have product packaging, ingredient lists and lab results back-translated.
  • When a certificate of accuracy is required for submission, back-translation becomes a requirement, especially for governmental paperwork.
  • Sensitive documents that require utmost accuracy such as questionnaires, protocols, pharmaceutical reports.
  • International treaties requiring accurate and detailed documentation.

Traits of a Good Translator

Back-translators are inherently translators. And we’re talking professional human translators. One with a conscious mind and a perspective. Anyone can type a sentence and get instantaneous results on an online translator. But not everyone has what it takes to be an accurate translator. Here are 5 traits to help you identify the good translators:

Proficiently Bilingual

This means that your translator should be able to easily switch back and forth between both the languages you require. He or she should be a native speaker in at least one of the languages. In addition, in-depth expressive knowledge of both languages is a plus. It will help to accurately reproduce the same tone and context of the original message in a translation.

Understands Cultural Contexts

Someone once quoted, “Translation is not a matter of words only. It is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” When it comes to localization, translating words constitutes only one element. Understanding nuances and being able to accurately convey them accurately plays a bigger role in successful marketing. Unfortunately, machine translators lack this capability to do so. A sentence is a structure of words and grammatical rules. But it is also an expression of cultural references and connotations. Being able to translate these differentiates a good translator from a great one. This goes for both translators and back-translators.

In-Depth Subject Knowledge

Say you’re translating a clinical trial report. Most involve bombastic words and complex names. You will need someone who is well versed in the terminologies and glossaries of the medical industry. It is thus advisable to seek someone who is just not proficient linguistically but is also familiar with the subject matter. The same applies to legal and business documentation where official regulatory codes are involved. Such is so as well for technical or instructional guidebooks.

Quality Assurance

Good translators always proofread, check for typographical errors and spellcheck. Proofreading consists of going through one’s final work and comparing it with the original content. Lastly, your translator should re-read the translated document several times without referring to the original text to see if it makes sense. The work should be done without cumbersome expressions. Direct word-for-word translations sometimes make the context senseless. It is impossible to have a 100% similar result in back-translation. The entire document should, however, read easily and contain the same message intent as the original material before translation.

Meeting All Deadlines

A good work ethic is desirable for all professions. One who not only ensures the quality of his or her work but also meets all deadlines. Deadlines are especially sensitive when it comes to legal or regulatory timelines, which apply in many cases of back-translation. A good translator keeps her word and always submits work on time.

back-translated languages

Where to Find a Back-Translator

Do you have some documents on hand that require back-translating? There are several ways you can do this depending on your timeframe, purpose, your accuracy needs, and your budget. Here are some options for your consideration:

Professional Translators

Where you choose to outsource your translation or back-translation can make or break you. Hiring a professional translator from a firm is usually more expensive. In return, they do provide accurate work most of the time. The other option of sourcing freelance translators may be affordable. It is however risky business as it is hard to ascertain quality. You never know whether he or she is as proficient as claimed. This might ultimately cause you to lose both time and money in the end.

One trustworthy alternative worth considering is to outsource your back-translation to quality-assured and affordable platforms such as this one. All work is thoroughly checked before being handed over to the client. In addition, the writers also come with recommendations as evidence of their proficiency. You can also rest assured that all your deadlines will be met.

Online Translators

The ever-versatile, convenient and quick online translator is always a good tool to have. Just as well, they are used to back-translate content too. If you are debating between using an online translator and hiring a professional one, this article will help you deliberate on your decision.

You will find that in some cases of back translation, the sentence not only differs but also makes no sense. This is due to the different sentence structures between languages. Online translators sometimes do word-for-word translation when there is a need for conscious human input. That said, they are still a great and free-of-charge tool to use when you require non-official and instantaneous back-translation. They are useful for checking translations used for internal or personal communication. Although, utilizing them for official purposes and mass publication should be avoided at all costs.

Certified Translators

In some cases, not only will you require a professional translator. You might even need one that has been sworn in by the court. This means he or she possess translation qualifications recognized by specified jurisdictions. In such cases, the translation is often certified with a corresponding stamp and signature. This is usually required for legal or governmental paperwork. Some examples include marriage, educational and birth certificates, business contracts, licenses as well as judicial letters.

The Process of Reconciliation

What happens when your back-translated content differs drastically from your original material? We recommend that you identify and record loud differences. Pass on these notes to your original translator to review the issues. Your translator may reject or accept the changes. It is however ultimately up to you to decide how you want to express your message. This process will also help you to decide if your translator is worthy of a long-term work relationship. The advantages of a regular translator mean better quality control. It also saves you time from having to constantly source for a new reliable translator.

All in a Day’s Work

Ultimately, machines do translations while interpreters do language. When it comes to getting your content back-translated, it all comes down to hiring the right translators. A translation can never equal the original, but this article aims to help you get as close as you can to accuracy. Keep those fingers crossed and back-translate!

Find the right translator for you today at Bunny Studio!