Back-translation: Virtuous circle or eternal triangle?

Back-translation may not always be the best step forward…

Sometimes, we are asked to do a back-translation of other translators’ work. Here, “translation” should really be called “interpretation”, because every sentence is only a translator’s interpretation of what they think the original means. A back-translation is merely an interpretation of an original interpretation – and then you can add the reader’s interpretation of the interpretation of the preceding interpretation.

On and on it may go – until, like the confused centipede, everyone ends up lying “distracted in a ditch, considering how to run”…

In back-translation, there’s more to it than just re-translating. There are personal points of style to bear in mind. The chances that two independent translators will produce exactly the same wording are practically zero.

Rather than asking for a back-translation, it is often smarter to request a review and judgement of what you have already paid for.

This option involves an expert translator who reads your translation, compares it to the original document and gives you a report saying, for example, that “line 17 of the German says that it’s X, but the correct meaning of the original English is Z”.

The solution is:

  • reliable and credible
  • gives you the specific information you need to repair any errors
  • costs much less than a full back-translation and
  • reduces the risk of endlessly revolving disputes

 Cost Estimator

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in original document?
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(approximate conversion)