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Handling back translations

What is a back translation?

A back translation is where a translation done into a target language is translated into the source language again.

For example if a clinical trial company had a text translated from English into Swedish, they would then perform a back translation into English, to find out what the Swedish translation says, and identify if any errors or misunderstandings have been introduced in the Swedish text, that means it deviates from the original English meaning.

The back translation is performed by a Swedish to English translator. They should be informed that it is a back translation they are performing, but they should not be given access to the original English source text.

Some clients will then continue with a process of reconciliation. They may arrange for two Swedish translations to be performed, and then for a third party to compare the two translations, take the best of both, and produce a final translation.


Instructions to linguists:

As this is a back translation, you will need to stay closer to the source text than normal. It is especially important that any small errors or weak sentences in the source text are not ‘ironed’ away. The main point of a back translation is to find shortcomings in the original translation, and any errors in the source language must be marked and commented.