Here’s the truth: Back translation is expensive. It’s equivalent in cost to three or four editorial passes and it is only useful to reviewers and participants in the quality control process who do not speak the target language. They need the back translation to follow the conversation of target language speakers.
The Back Translation Process
If back translation is used, it begins once the forward translations have been completed and reconciled into a comprehensive draft. The translation team, all native speakers of the document’s source language, back translate the draft without access to the original document. Afterwards comes the reconciliation: reviewers compare the back translation to the original document.
Why We Don’t Recommend Back Translation
Bilinguals involved in the quality control process don’t need it because back translation really only provides a content check for omission, addition and egregious mistranslation – the kind of careless errors that have become increasingly rare. Improved translation technology helps translators manage their work so that these problems are very uncommon in professional translation workflows.
Back translation is a blunt instrument when a scalpel is required for the more nuanced problems of style, voice/register and terminological consistency.
Back translators who are properly briefed can contribute more to the process, but it is our view that money allocated for back translation is better spent on sequential editorial steps to check for a wider range of errors and refine the quality of the translations.
Quality assurance is a fundamental component in any high-stakes translation workflow, but it’s critical to choose the right tools for the project. Review that focuses on the full range of translation error provides a more comprehensive and cost-effective result than back translation alone.
Now over to you. What are your views on back translation?