Translation Musings: Are back translations useful?

Jun 30, 2015 | First Edition Translations, Language, Musings, Translation

bookFrom time to time we are asked to provide back translations as part of our clients’ quality control process. But what exactly is a back translation and why is it useful?

The idea behind back translations is really simple: you take a translated text, let’s say a consent form for a clinical trial that had been translated from English into French; then as an extra step before approval, you have it translated into the original source language – in this case English – by an independent translator. Once the back translation is completed, the original and the back-translated English text can be compared. If they are fairly similar, you can assume that your French translation is good, however, if there are discrepancies, there might be issues.

Back translation is often an obligatory step in preparing documents for clinical trials, marketing materials, various forms, questionnaires and reports. It can either be an in-house requirement or even a legal necessity.

A back translation can be helpful in confirming the accuracy of a translation or identifying problem areas in it, but it’s not foolproof. The same idea can be expressed in various ways in different languages, so a back translation could potentially imply that there is a problem with the translation when there really isn’t. Similarly, if there are typos, grammatical mistakes, or if the wrong terminology was used in the original translation, it might not necessarily get picked up during the back translation process. Last but not least, when there are issues with the translation, they won’t be corrected during the back translation process but you will need an extra reviewing stage during which a third translator checks and edits the original translation as required.

If you are in doubt about the quality of your translation, we recommend that you have it reviewed by a second mother tongue translator who compares it to the source text, checks for accuracy of terminology and if needed, polishes up the style. This way you can rest assured that your translation is good to go! If you have a translated document you would like to have reviewed, don’t hesitate to get in touch, we would be happy to help. Click here for a no-obligation quote or give us a ring on 01223 356 733.


image credit: tzankov