What is Back Translation, and Why is it Important?

Feb 17, 2023 | Language, Translation

Back translation is a technique often employed to guarantee that the language translation is done precisely and accurately while also considering the cultural context of the target language. It’s no secret that the translation process is rife with challenges as it is, which is why there is a need for a language service provider.

Discover the importance of back translation and how it can ensure translation accuracy.

What is Back Translation?

This method is a quality assurance technique that involves translating materials and then translating them back into the language of the original source text. It requires the service of a different translator. Translating a text that is already translated back to its original language might seem tedious, but back translation ensures accuracy.

In this process, the two documents are compared: the original text and the translated text. Analysing translated documents is a great way to identify potential gaps in the translation process and ensure the accurate depiction of relevant information. The new translation can determine if the translated text was accurate and precise.

woman with headphones writing notes and looking at her laptop screenThe 3-Step Back Translation Method

By identifying and correcting any errors in the translation process, back translation can help to improve cross-cultural communication and understanding. In essence, back translation involves three basic steps.

Step 1: Translation

The first step in back translation is to translate the original document from its source language to the target language. This translation is typically undertaken by a professional translator who is fluent in both languages and has expertise in the subject matter of the document.

Step 2: Back Translation

The second step is to translate the translated document back into the original language. This translation is typically performed by a different professional translator who is also fluent in both languages and has expertise in the subject matter of the document.

Step 2: Comparison & Reconciliation

Finally, this process involves comparing the original document with the back-translated version to identify any inconsistencies or errors. It also involves the reconciliation process of the meaningful differences between the translated materials and the original source text.

Why is Back Translation Important?

The use of back translation to the original language is one of the so-called “blind tests” to assess the quality and accuracy of the translation project. Many translation services use back translations to potentially spot any errors and gaps between the translated materials and the original text. Here are some of the reasons why back translation is essential:

someone correcting document in spanishAccuracy

Testing for translation accuracy is the primary reason to use back translations in a project. The back translation process ensures that the original source text’s intent and meaning are preserved in the translated content. Ensuring accuracy helps to overcome any gaps or inaccuracies by the original translator.


Another purpose for doing back translations is to ensure consistency in the style, tone, and message of the translated content compared to the original text. Translation is not just about conveying a message from one language to the target language. It is crucial to consider the delivery of that message and any cultural undertones.

Cultural Meaning

Speaking of cultural undertones, a good reason to tap into back translation services is to ensure that the translated text preserves the cultural meaning and context of that particular text. As mentioned previously, back translation allows you to spot errors and identify gaps in the meaning of the translated materials. It is critically important for specific types of text wherein cultural relevance can potentially change the meaning of the text.

Moreover, doing back translations is critically important if the text could potentially impact the reputation of the organisation to which the translation is tied. You would not want to be identified as being culturally insensitive or linked to using inappropriate comments.

Clear Audit Trail

Performing back translation also offers benefits when it comes to giving clear documentation of all the phases of quality control. When you hire back translators, you will get the back translation, a report document citing the potential issues of the original translated document, and the reconciliation report detailing how those issues could be resolved.

The entire process is easy to track, so it creates more accountability for the person responsible for the translation. Every decision made for the translation process is accessible; everyone involved will know why such decisions were made. Consequently, it will help improve your translation process in the future to maintain the quality of your translated work.

Quality Assurance

All of these factors above for doing back translation boils down to one thing: quality control and assurance. Working with back translators helps assess the accuracy and consistency of the original translations against the new ones. It is just one step to ensuring that the translation job is consistent with the standards set by the organisation.

When Do You Need Back Translation?

Back translation is a method of translation that offers benefits for specific purposes. Ensure you understand when and why you need to do the back translation.

There are two general situations wherein back translation is necessary:

  1. You want to ensure the highest translation accuracy
  2. You want to make more impact with your translated content

Content Subject to Regulatory Requirements

The use of back translation is highly important for specific industries that are subject to regulatory requirements. There are industries that require factual information, and accuracy is of utmost importance. Common examples of these are the medical, legal, finance, manufacturing, and technical industries.

You need back translation to ensure the highest translation accuracy for various types of text or documents, such as the following:

  • Safety manuals
  • Clinical research
  • Informed consent forms
  • Medical devices labels
  • Legal documents
  • Clinical trials summaries
  • Copies for pharmaceutical companies
  • Scientific materials
  • Food product labels
  • Surveys
  • Financial reporting
  • Contract materials and documents

A long list of documents and texts requires back translation services. However, the list above should give you a good idea of when the use of back translators is necessary and how they can help maintain the intent of the text from the original source language to its target languages.

Creative Content

man and woman looking at a documentUsing the back translation method is also helpful when developing creative content. For example, if you have a new product that you are set to launch and need efficient translation for that product content, especially if you are trying to reach a global market.

Back translation services can help ensure that your ideas are presented accurately and consistently to a global audience. You want to ensure that your ideas and their exact meaning are not diminished as you translate the content into different languages.

In this case, a common example of content requiring back translation is marketing materials, advertising copy, promotional claims, and more.

What Back Translation is NOT

The back translation method should not be confused with any of the following:

  • It won’t translate expressions. This could be a challenge when dealing with a source text that relies on more than just translating words from one language to another.
  • It won’t spot grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. You need to perform a separate check for these since it isn’t the primary job of back translators.
  • It won’t factor in any ambiguities in the text. If you want to avoid any ambiguities in the translated text, ask a back translation expert to look into this.

Best Practices for Back Translation

The back translation method is highly effective and reliable, but it can cost time. It also requires more time than other quality assurance methods for translated projects. The need for another translation would mean that the actual translation process is automatically doubled.

Therefore, you must observe and follow the best practices for back translation to ensure optimum success. It is also vital to ensure you maximise the time and resources spent hiring back translation services.

Employ a Back Translation Workflow

Building a translation system is necessary to ensure the maximum productivity of any translation project. There are three steps involved during a back translation workflow:

  1. Translation of the original source text to the target text language
  2. Performing the back translation
  3. Comparing and reconciling the back-translated with the original translated materials

Identifying an efficient workflow will simplify the entire translation process. Therefore, you can get more done at the same time and ensure translation accuracy.

2 women looking at a documentChecklist for Effective Back Translation

In addition to having a solid workflow for doing back translations, you also need the following:

  • Use a different language service provider for the back translation from the one you hired to do the original translation. Therefore, you can ensure that the back translation is unbiased and objective.
  • Ensure that the language service provider, or back translators, don’t have access to the original translation.
  • Make it clear to them that it is a back translation job and give them the context behind the translation project. You want to emphasise if it’s for industries with strict regulatory requirements.
  • Hire an experienced language service provider to assess and perform the comparison of the back translation services from the original. Working with a third-party expert is recommended.

The Bottom Line

Back translation is vital to the quality assurance process. However, it is just one element out of many. It is important to understand when hiring back translation services would be most beneficial and when you are better off without them. It’s crucial that you manage your resources and time well if you were to see any significant results.

A back translator is not the end-all, be-all solution if you are looking for ways to optimise your translation projects. You might also want to consider other solutions, such as forward translation or using software with translation memory to assist with translation projects. Ultimately, it boils down to the purpose of the translation and the type of document you want them to work on.

FAQs on Back Translation

Who performs back translation?

You should hire a back translator who is different from the original translator. It will give you a fresh perspective and an additional layer of quality control in the translation process by minimising the risk of errors and ensuring that the translated document accurately conveys the intended meaning of the original document.

Why is it important to have a different translator perform the back translation?

man doing translation work and writing notesYou need a different translator doing the back translation to ensure their work is unbiased and independent from the other translation.

Using another back translator also allows you to identify and correct any cultural nuances or colloquialisms that may not have been accurately conveyed in the initial translation. This is particularly important in cross-cultural communication and international business contexts, where small linguistic or cultural differences can have a significant impact on the overall meaning of a document.

What is the purpose of back translation?

Translation is a complex process that involves transferring the meaning of a source text into a target language. However, different languages have different structures and nuances, which can make translation challenging.

Back translation is used as a quality control measure to ensure that the translated document is accurate and effective in conveying its intended meaning. By translating the translated document back into the initial language, you can identify any discrepancies in the translation process. Back translators can then correct mistakes if there are differences between the original document and the back-translated version.

My Language Connection is an accredited translation agency offering a wide range of customised translation services to suit all your requirements. With our personalised approach, we make it easy for businesses to achieve their goals in global markets. Get in touch today and find out how we can help.

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