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What is Back Translation? Is It Necessary for Your Business?

Posted by Anne Q. on December 13, 2021.

Normally, three steps – translation, editing, and proofreading are enough to guarantee the quality of a translation. However, when handling a highly creative or sensitive translation project, you may want to take the quality control process even further by using an additional step called back translation.

So what exactly is this back translation method that is quickly gaining much popularity nowadays? Is it necessary for your translation projects? Let’s discuss and find out the answers in our today’s post.

What is Back Translation?

Back translation (also known as reverse translation or re-translation) is the process of re-translating the previously translated content back to its source language. Let’s take an example to make it easier to understand. Your source content is in English and you have it translated into French. After receiving the French translation, you want to translate it back to English. This process is called back translation.

At this point, you might wonder what is the point of translating content back and forth like that? The purpose of reverse translation is to verify the accuracy of the translated content. It is a three-step quality assurance method:

  1. Re-translate the content in the target language back to its source language.
  2. Compare the back translation to the original content.
  3. Reconcile (edit and adapt) significant differences between the two versions optimize the final translation.

Back translation process

Back translations are typically done by a translator who was not involved in the original translation. This is to guarantee that the translator is not affected by the original text, giving you the most objective results.

Clients sometimes use the two terms – reverse translation and double translation – interchangeably. In fact, they are two completely different methods. Double translation refers to the translation technique in which one translator creates multiple translated versions of content.


The Benefits of Back Translation

Back translation adds an extra layer of assurance to your translation projects, making sure that the translated content sounds exactly like what is intended. It aids in the identification of any linguistic nuances that may cause confusion, ambiguity, or errors, as well as in evaluating the equivalence of meanings between the source and target texts.

The accuracy of the translation can be confirmed by comparing the reverse to the original text. That means your company can rest assured that the translation will be completely understandable in the target language.

This method is sometimes used to test the ability of a translator or translation agency when you are looking for a suitable translation partner.


When Do You Need Back Translation?

Back translation comes in handy when you handle the following types of content:

#1. Creative Content

If your content includes product names, taglines, titles, slogans, clever phrases and puns, translators usually go beyond translating and take their creative liberties to adapt the content for the target market. It is called transcreation.

Creative Content for back translation

Back translation is important for creative content

Since the translation is not one-on-one correspondence to the original, it’s not easy for you to evaluate the quality just by reading the final translation. Thus, reverse translation comes in handy to help you verify it.

#2. Highly Regulated or Sensitive Content

The use of reverse translation is needed when factors such as regulatory requirements, ethics committees, and institutional review boards are highly considered in your industry.

Content in the following fields should be back-translated:

    • Medical and Healthcare – Pharmaceutical guidelines, medication inserts, medical device instructions, clinical research and trials, consent for treatment, scientific formulas, etc.
    • Legal – Insurance, contracts, customs documents, lawsuits, etc.
    • Finance – Regulatory documents, financial reports, audits, etc.
    • Technical – Instruction for use, safety manuals, etc.
    • Data: Questionnaires, polling, survey results, research papers, etc.


When Shouldn’t You Use Reverse Translation?

Using back translation might not be necessary in the following cases:

    • Your content is not too sensitive – Not all content or parts of content needs to be double-checked.
    • Creative expression, style, and grammar are more valued in your project over utmost accuracy.
    • Your budget is limited – Re-translating content back into its source language necessitates the involvement of a second or even third translator, which can double or triple project costs and of course lengthen the turnaround time. To save cost and time, you can skip this step unless your content is a highly regulated field.

Alternatives for reserve translation which are less expensive is to use review/proofreading services from a second linguist or QA checks to spot errors.


Wrap Up

Back translation adds an extra layer of quality control, ensuring that translations are 100% accurate. Thus, accessing this additional quality assurance method in translation is critical, especially for sensitive, regulated and creative documents.

Need quality back translation services? Work with GTE Localize. As an experienced translation and localization agency, GTE Localize works with a team of native linguists who have a deep understanding of not only the language but also local regulations and customer behaviour to bring you the best-in-class reverse translation services.

Back translation services

Contact our team for a 1:1 consultancy and get a free quotation today!