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What is back translation?

What is back translation?


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Back Translation

What is a back translation?

What’s back translation? A back translation is the process of taking a document that has been translated into another language and translate it back into the original language to compare both translations. A back translation can be performed by a translator who was not involved in the original translation.

For example, you may have a document that was already translated from Spanish to English by translator A. You then give that translated English letter to translator B, asking them to perform a back translation from English to Spanish.

Are back translations useful?

Why is back translation important? Back translations help to identify any errors or ambiguities, helping to evaluate the equivalence between texts.

However, using a back translation to gauge the accuracy of a translation is not an effective strategy for the following reasons:

  • Language translation is an art, not a science. This means that individual translators will use slightly different words to try to best capture the essence and nuance of the meaning the author is trying to convey. The mapping between source and target languages is not symmetric.
  • The resulting documents can be very different from the original and create a vicious circle. For example, if an original translation from Japanese to English is accurate, and a back translation to Japanese is not so accurate, one may want to perform another back translation. This can quickly degenerate into an infinite regression that gets you nowhere near your goal.

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