Our clients often come to us to ask for a back translation, but what exactly is it and how can it help in the translation process?

Firstly, what is a forward translation?

In a standard, or forward, translation, the translator would aim to translate the text so it reads smoothly and fluently to a native speaker, using the correct terminology and most appropriate phrasing you would expect to see in that particular type of document. When a ‘translation’ is requested, we treat such requests as forward translations.


How does a back translation differ?

In order to create a back translation, the forward translated version of a file is rendered closely back into its original language by an independent translator. This translator has not seen the original source language file used for the forward translation.

It’s important to note that a back translation will be much more faithful to the source text than a forward translation. Because of this, a back translation may read somewhat stilted or odd in places, however the content of the source document (i.e. the forward translation itself) would be fully represented. Any errors (e.g. punctuation issues or spelling errors) in the forward translation would be closely replicated or pointed out, so that a client could subsequently address and correct these.


What kind of translation is it best for me to request?

Given the literal nature of a back translation, a forward translation is the most appropriate approach to translation if the document should read naturally in the target language or is intended for external use by native speakers.

However, back translations can be a useful assessment tool for clients who are unable to read the language of the forward translation sufficiently to verify the content. Using the original source document for comparison alongside a back translation, it is possible to check that the content has fully been implemented into the forward translation with the intended meaning for quality control purposes, without needing to read the forward translation itself.

It is worth noting, however, that even though both translators involved in the project are highly skilled and attentive, slightly different terms may be used to convey the meaning of their source texts and to transfer the meaning of the language. Therefore, it shouldn’t be expected that the original document and the back translation will be identical. Nuances and particularities of the language will not come across perfectly via a back translation, even when they read seamlessly in the forward translation. It is important to bear this in mind when quality-assessing such documents.


What can you offer at Parallel?

As all of our forward translations are carried out by experienced, specialised linguists and undergo a meticulous two-step in-house checking procedure, you can be assured of high quality translation from Parallel, meaning that back translations are often unnecessary. However, if a back translation is required by a Sponsor or for your own in-house quality control procedures, we offer back translations at our usual rates for each language combination.

If you would like a back translation, please specify this at the outset and we will ensure our linguists use the correct approach in their work to achieve the desired result for your purposes.


Please see our ‘Clients’ page for more information about the services we offer at Parallel.