For obvious reasons, companies entering foreign markets need to translate product documentation, legal documents or marketing texts into respective foreign languages. For them, high quality and accuracy of the translation is of crucial importance. But what to do if we do not speak the target language and need to verify whether the received translation is correct?


In such cases we can opt for a back translation – a little-known service offered by translation agencies. If done correctly, it lets us check the received translation without having to use a dictionary, consult Google Translate or seek help from linguistically gifted friends.


Back translation – what is it?

The answer is hidden in the name itself. A back translation (less commonly: “backtranslation”) is a reverse translation. A text that has been translated into a target language is translated once again – back into the original language. Then, both documents (the original and the back translation) are compared and checked for major inconsistencies. Therefore, back translation is nothing else but a form of translation quality check. It is important not to commission this task to the author of the first translation, who probably remembers the phrases used in the original text.


In what situations does back translation come in useful?

Ordering a back translation is a good idea when we need to be 100% sure that the translation we received is a fully accurate reflection of the original text. That is why back translation is usually applied to medical, technical and legal texts – in short, to documents where no errors or distortions are tolerated. Some companies and institutions require applying this procedure to every commissioned translation.


Back translation is also a good idea in the case when we have no knowledge of the target language and therefore are unable to assess the quality of the translation. A client who needs a translation into Japanese and gets a back translation in Polish can check the translator’s work on their own. On the other hand, back translation of texts which can be interpreted in many ways lets us check how much creativity was employed by the translator.


Is back translation a golden mean in the translation world?

When choosing this option, we have to be aware that back translation cannot give us an identical copy of the original text. What is more, this service does not include proofreading or editing, so the final text might contain minor errors or poorly constructed phrases. That is why during the compatibility check you should only pay attention to significant differences. For obvious reasons, reverse translation is not a good solution for literary and marketing content, which is usually ambiguous, or for texts full of errors hindering their comprehension.


When ordering a back translation, you must remember that the process of translation delivery is longer and its cost is higher – after all, you are ordering two translations instead of one. If you really need to check the correctness of a translator’s work, and you are not obligated to order a back translation, asking for a translation revision might be just enough. In each case, it is worth to do a quick check of a translation agency considered for this task. Good customer service, positive reviews from other clients, and quality certificates certainly give you a green light to proceed – you can be sure that your text is in good hands.