Many of our customers ask if we can provide back-translations. Whilst we are always happy to provide the services you request, in this article I explain why using back-translations as a method of verifying translation quality is rarely the best approach. There is now a much better and more cost effective alternative.
The objective of a back translation is to check that the translation is a faithful representation of the original document.
The process involves a second translator translating the already translated document back into the original language and comparing the two versions of the original. The logic being that if the back-translated document matches the one submitted for translation then the translation must be a good one.
Good system, right? WRONG! - Here’s why.
Common sense might suggest that the translation process is symmetric in that if a document in language A is translated into language B and then that document is translated back from language B to language A then the two versions of A should be identical (or as close as possible to identical).
Unfortunately, where language is concerned, this is not necessary the case.
You see, implicit in any translation is a level of subjective interpretation and cultural adaptation which, ironically, makes the difference between a ‘good’ professional translation and a purely literal one such as those you may have seen produced by translation software such as Bablefish or Google.
In practice, this means that by the time the translation has been completed in one direction by one translator, and then back again by a different translator, any slight variations between the source document and the translation are going to seem even more pronounced because of the involvement of a second translator with his or her own preferences of style or vocabulary.
To get technical for a moment, unlike many mathematical formulae, there is no transitive relationship between inputs and outputs in the translation space.
In short, translation is an art not a science.
So, how does one go about assuring the quality of a translation?
In 2007 a new British Standard called BS EN 15038 was introduced to our industry which, for the first time, mandated that translation companies introduce rigorous and auditable checking processes to catch errors. These process are quite involved and I won’t go into detail here, there is a detailed article on our website at:
We were proud to be the first UK company to be awarded this accolade for our Business Critical Translations which, in summary, means we can guarantee to achieve a better quality result than could hope to be achieved using the well intentioned, but ultimately flawed, back-translation method.
The good news is that translations produced to Business Critical standard actually work out cheaper than back-translating a standard translation. They can also be produced more quickly as there are fewer steps involved.