Can Translation Go Backwards and Forwards at the Same Time?

Backwards and Forwards

As a professional German translator, have you ever been asked to do a back translation after completing a forwards translation and have been too confused to answer? Not every English German translation needs to be back translated. In fact, the exercise tends to be used whenever the translation task is quite delicate or particularly important to get right. The time taken to do the whole translation is correspondingly longer and the client will be expected to pay for the extra service, that’s for sure.

Back translations are basically exactly what the term implies. When a text or document is translated by a professional German translator, the first translation is known as the “forwards” translation. For the average translation task, as long as the translated document or text extract has been proofread thoroughly, that should be sufficient. But when the document demands exceptional degree of accuracy and there can be no possibility of an error in meaning, then that’s when a backward translation may be requested.

A back translation starts with the text that has already been translated once and then it is translated back into the original language. Of course, if the back translation is done by the same translator who performed the forwards translation, then it wouldn’t be much of a surprise that the end product is identical to the original. However, this is not a very useful exercise. The back translation is normally done by another German translation service that has had no hand or knowledge of the forwards translation. If the end product of the back translation matches the original document very well, then the conclusion is that the forwards translation has been done very well, too. Remember that it is the forwards translation that is the ultimate goal. It’s just that some clients want a translation of superior quality and a back translation is certainly a good way of making sure that is what is received.

One other task that often goes along with a back translation is reconciliation. This is basically a careful analysis of the back translated copy and the original to check for differences. The reconciliation reports records all the differences and how serious they are and this information helps to provide a basis for amending the original forwards translation, the whole procedure considerably lengthened but yielding a much better final version.