Back Translation – What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Adding Redundancy to a Translated Document

Blind Back Translation

What is back translation? This is something you might be wondering if you haven’t come across the term before. Boiled down to its core, a succinct definition is when you take a translation document that you have had some translate into a target language, and then using a different translator, translate it back into the original source language. Simple, right? But why ask for a it in the first place?

Let’s look at why a translations service, or client, might want to perform this extra proofing step.

Imagine you’re working with a Spanish translation agency on an important translation document for an informed consent form opens in a new window (ICF) for some sensitive medical or pharmaceutical trial taking place in a Spanish-speaking country or region. Any error, no matter how small (vocabulary, syntax, cultural misunderstandings) could lead to big legal problems down the line. Back translation allows for an extra level of proofing insurance. It helps by looking at subjective aspects of a translation as well as technical integrity. This is particularly true for those special types of documents that an entire commercial endeavor may hinge upon.

There is a good analogy in the accounting field. The double entry bookkeeping method guides accountants into redundant record keeping always ensuring that Assets = Liabilities + Equity.

How Does Back Translation Work?

Reversing the translation offers individuals unfamiliar with the translated language a feasible way for comparing the translated text with the original document. This lets them work through any linguistic uncertainties, perplexities or mistakes that may have arisen during the translation process.

This “reverse translation” procedure, while costly, offers clients an independent proof of a vital document. A document that not only deals with the technical aspects of a given translation, but also delves into nuanced linguistic areas.

Take for example our Spanish translation agency translation document example from before. An independently translated document like the informed consent form, translated as literally as possible back into the source text, can identify small mistakes and nuanced language issues. This can be words with unclear or double meanings. Or a vocabulary used by different segments of society, unintended meaning coming from differences in syntax between regional dialects, etc. Or it can identify any other problems that can be associated with translations from one language into another. All this, without the need of understanding a second language. Once the back translator completes the work, you can compare it to the original and correct any lingering translation issues.

When is it requested?

When you ask for reversing the translation, in essence, you’re asking for a completely new translation. The only difference is that it happens to be back into the source language. This means that translation costs will double. In essence, you’ll be paying for two translations for one document. You should only reverse the translation in very special cases, generally in the legal, scientific or medical fields. Even then, only for documents that you consider being of high value or carry extra risk.

Why does the cost at times more than double?

Vendors usually bill translation based on the total number of words that will undergo translation. After a translator completes a job, the number of words in the target files increases by as much as 30%.

Translated files often grow 20% or more after translation. When this file is requested to be translated back to its source language, its translation cost will increase proportionally.

What is blind translation?

This refers to the fact that the translator that is translating the translated document back to its original source language, has no access to the original source. It is therefore blind to the original. This ensures that a completely objective reverse translation takes place. Translation memories, glossaries and other assets that the original team of translators use should not be available to the blind translator in the reverse translation process!

Is ISO 9001 certification helpful?

Working with a translation vendor that is ISO 9001 certified may be an alternative option. Regulatory bodies may forego a request to have you provide a blind translation if you can provide the ISO 9001 certification of your translation vendor.

GlobalVision is ISO 9001:2015 certified. We also offer our clients certified and notarized translations when needed to help avoid the extra translation step.

Certificate of Accuracy

When requesting a translation whose intent is to satisfy regulatory bodies requirements, make sure you ask for a certificate of accuracy from your translation vendor. The certificate should document the steps undertaken during translation. This includes the name of the project, date, languages and name of the project manager in charge. Basically, you need all the information that can give you and your vendor a way to track down all the details of the translation, in case an audit is to take place.

Be careful to make sure that the certificate of accuracy is not a disclaimer that relieves the translation vendor from any liability associated with bad quality of the translation. We’ve seen many that are just that!

How Else Can you Minimize It?

As a general rule, it’s best if you work with a quality transition agency. One that already has a rigorous translation proofing process rooted into the structure of how it operates. Check out their quality management system and how it deals with every translation document it comes across. Particularly when certified translations are needed. This will minimize rework and give you the peace of mind that all of your translations are accurate. But of course, if you want to go the extra mile for truly sensitive materials, back translation is available. It offers additional translation security when it’s needed most.


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