Planning a back translation

Receiving complaints, concerns, or running into legal and regulatory issues are all more good reasons to consider a back translation. This is the process where a translated document is translated back into its source language by a different translator. It helps to check how close the original translation was to the source material, and highlight any inaccuracies and mistakes. Key things to consider when planning a back translation are:

  • Inform the LSP that this is a back translation project
  • Give the source files to the LSP
  • Avoid sending PDFs or other graphic files as sources files
  • Recognize the difference between difference in words and difference in meaning

Back translating is generally done when accuracy is of paramount importance. With medical translations, for example, even small errors in translation could result in serious issues, so it’s vital to make sure the text perfectly matches its source.

Inform the LSP that this is a back translation project

Don’t make it a secret – it’s not to your advantage and nobody is going to be “biased” because they know.  Plus, it makes your job easier later when the file is delivered the way you need it to be with all issues resolved.    

Give the source file to the LSP

In a proper back translation process, the translator does not have access to the source file, however, the LSP needs access to it for two reasons: two give it to the editor to remove discrepancies that might be created due to the back translation and to reconcile the back translation against the source (unless you want to go row-by-row and do it yourself).

Avoid sending PDFs or other graphic files as sources files

The deliverable of a back translation is a bilingual table.  The easiest way to get the source content into this format is by having a filetype where the text can be transformed into this format.  PDFs and graphic files are designed to prevent text manipulation, so you’re asking to pay extra if you provide source files in this format.  

Recognize the difference between difference in words and difference in meaning

The final deliverable will be a bilingual table in which each row is a segment (the general term for what we in the industry call a title, heading, sentence, bullet point item or any other isolates string of text).  On the left side will be the source and on the right side will be the source – again – from the back translation. As the translator reviews the rows, they will be looking to ensure the meaning of the segments are identical – not the words.  

When you review the bilingual table yourself, keep in mind that the goal is to ensure retained meaning, not terminology.  Just like different people say the same thing in more than one way, they can write different things that mean the same thing.  If there are any discrepancies in the translation, they will be highlighted and dealt with according to your instructions. Note: colloquialisms, metaphors and other highlighly connotative language that was literally (incorrectly) translated will be translated back into the source with the same literal meaning.  The source and target will match, but the meaning will have been lost in the translation. This means that the method of back translation does not work for detecting poor translations of highly connotative or transcreation work.


Back translations can be an effective way of validating your translations as they bring a fresh pair of eyes to the translation. Anything your first translator missed is likely to be addressed by the second. The key thing to remember when planning a back translation project is to be transparent with the LSP: tell them that it’s a back translation project, supply them with everything they need and ask questions about every single concern you have.  By following these steps, you’ll have a solid starting point for a planning a back translation.

If you’d like to learn more about how BURG Translations helps you ensure high quality  translations, contact us

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