When looking at having documents or videos translated online, there are a vast range of options available. One of these options is back translation. There is much debate online about the use of back translation and its use as what is effectively a proofreading tool, but before being able to make a decision on its usefulness, we’ll need to consider what it is, who uses it and ultimately, why?
What is Back Translation?
Back translation can be defined as when a translator or team of linguists works to translate a document which has been previously translated back into its original source language.
To consider an example, Don Quixote was originally written in Spanish in 1605 but consequently to being one of the most popular books of all time, it has been translated into many different languages all over the world. A back translation of Don Quixote would consist of a translator not using the original Spanish version in the source languages, but rather translating an English or German version of the book back into Spanish.
Who uses Back Translation Services and Why?
Back translation is used when translating sensitive documents where there are potential literary issues arising between cultures or languages that need to be considered and thoroughly vetted before publication. Back translation serves as a proofreading and editing aid, highlighting any discrepancies or inaccuracies in an original translation.
But this form of translation aren’t only useful as a reference or proofreading tool. They can be invaluable when used in line with questionnaires or surveys. For instance, in a translated questionnaire, cultural or grammatical inaccuracies could potentially affect consumers’ understanding of the questions and therefore negatively impact on results
Back translation services can be invaluable in industries where impeccable levels of accuracy and detail are required such as in medical translation, legal translation, financial translation or academic translation.
Benefits of Back Translation
There are some significant benefits to using back translations. Some of these include:
- Attaining a greater level of translation quality assurance.
- Ensuring facts and figures are not missed or misinterpreted in a translation.
- Ensuring key points and statistics are quoted.
- The use of back translation as an editing resource can ensure the highest quality translations.
- Back translation can allow the picking up of translational errors prior to publication, saving time, money and company reputations.
- Translator training and development through back translation feedback and results.
Disadvantages to using Back Translation
As well as the benefits, however, there are some significant downsides to using back translation services on your projects. These include:
- The cost of back translations often equals that of the original translation, meaning twice the budget.
- Trustworthiness can be a factor. If you are using the same company for back translation and the original translation work, it can be hard to be sure that you are receiving a professional translation as paid for, and no corners are being cut.
- Localisation can have a huge impact on a good translation. When requesting back translations, it’s important to ensure that the back translator has the same cultural knowledge and context of what is required as the original translator.
- Translation is a creative process involving literary choices and context. Expecting a back translation to be identical to an original can be unrealistic. Think of Chinese whispers, played with foreign speakers translating from person to person!
- Humour, cultural references and slang are often completely misunderstood in the back translation process which can lead to some pretty hilarious but unfair results.
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