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Why and When Should You Use Back Translation Services?

When documents are ultra-sensitive, and when there’s no room for errors, back translation can probably be the ideal solution. But what exactly are back translation services?

Back translation is  the procedure according to which a translator interprets a document previously translated into another language back to the original language. The first translation and the back translation are then compared and reconciled, with the purpose of testing the quality and accuracy of the original translation. 

So, we can look upon this type of translation as a quality check on the original translation, or view it as an additional quality assessment tool used by both clients and translation service providers.

Is Back Translation Important?

Since it’s a special type of translation, we may ask 2 questions:

  1. How important are back translation services?
  2. When does back translation become a real requirement?

In general, we need to admit that since back translation allows for an extra level of proofing assurance, it should only be demanded in very special cases, only for documents that are considered of high value or carry extra risk.

Therefore, this type of translation is vital in industries where impeccable levels of accuracy and detail are required ─ such as legal translation, medical translation, and financial translation.

Also, back translation services are also fundamental when used in line with international market research, as for example, in translated questionnaires, where mistranslations could affect consumers’ understanding of the questions and therefore negatively impact the research results.

Moreover, for many institutions and organizations, back translation is currently becoming a regulatory and legal requirement, and they consequently have to request back translation services to verify content ─ as in the case of, for example, clinical trials, where most Institutional Review Boards and Ethics committees require that certificates of accuracy and back translations are submitted with all translated materials, with the purpose of ensuring that translations of such important materials are accurate and of the highest quality.

In some other cases, other review boards and regulatory review processes request back translation in order to test and verify promotional and advertising claims in some industries, such as the pharma industry.

The Process of Back Translation

A provider of back translation services should follow a simple process, which consists, more or less, of the following steps:

 First step: The back translation is usually performed by an independent translation service provider with equal knowledge of the subject ─ but with no access to the original text.

It is referred to as “blind translation”, which means that the person who is translating the translated document back to its original source language, should have no access to the original source. Translation memories, glossaries and other assets that the original team of translators have used, should not be available to the blind translator in the reverse translation process ─ which ensures that a completely objective reverse translation is delivered.

 Second step: Once the back translation task has been accomplished, a reviewer will be comparing the original and the back translations to spot any potential issues.

Third step: As it’s never clear whether the issues stem from the original translation or from the back translation, the reviewer sends his report first to the original translator, and in case the original translator insists that he is correct, the back translator is consulted until eventually all issues have been sorted out.

 Fourth & Final step: The final translation is sent to the client, along with the back translation.

The Fors and Against of Back Translation Services

Since it’s regarded in the first place as an extra quality assurance tool, the following are some of the advantages of back translation:

  •   Ensuring the highest quality of translations.
  •   Allowing to pick up translational errors prior to publication and therefore allowing to save time, money, and brand image.

On the other hand, we can say that the following are some of the disadvantages:

  •   The cost of back translation often equals that of the original translation; therefore, it should be used when 100% precision is required.
  •   When requesting back translations, it is of significant importance to make sure that the back translator has the same cultural knowledge and context of what is required as the original translator.
  •   Slang and humor are often completely misunderstood during the back translation process leading to some funny but unfair results.

Back Translation or ISO Certification?

Sometimes regulatory bodies may waive their request for clients to provide a back translation if they can prove that their translation services partner is ISO certified in the field of translation. The reason is that these regulatory agencies are fully aware that back translation and reconciliation consist, in the last analysis, in adding two additional quality assurance phases to the entire translation process.

Why Contentech?

An ISO 17100 certified language solutions company, Contentech has been over the last quarter-century providing top-quality translation services to leading legal, medical, pharma, and marketing businesses, along with many more ─ professionally helping them to extend their global footprint across the promising MENA region.  

We not only deliver back translation services, but we also offer our clients top-quality certified and notarized translations to help them avoid the extra translation step.

If you would like more information about our back translation services, or any of our other services of website localization, mobile apps localization, subtitling, DTP, or transcription services, get in touch today and get a free quote. 

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