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What Are Back Translations and When Are They Necessary?

Back translation is the process of translating a previously translated document back to the original language, using a different translator. Depending on the size of the document, it can be costly to do, so it is not requested that often. However, there are instances when the process of completing a back translation is beneficial, or even necessary. It is a great way to verify the validity of the original translation work, and can help to avoid unnecessary issues once an item goes to print.

Since this process requires a second translator to review and re-translate the material, it will increase the cost of the translation project, so knowing when if a back translation will be beneficial to perform is helpful. If the original material contains local idioms or specialized jargon, it could certainly benefit to go through this process. This can help lessen the chances of having an overly literal translation that does not translate properly back into the original language. It may also be used to check marketing and advertising slogans. If a slogan is translated too literally, it often loses its meaning or advertising power.

You may have heard of the milk advertising slogan, “Got Milk?” When putting the slogan into Spanish material, it was originally translated as “¿Tienes leche?” This is a correct literal translation of the words. However, when you translate that particular phrase back into English, it actually means “Do you have milk?”, which can imply “Are you lactating?” This is not the intended meaning of the original marketing campaign, so the issue of not having performed a back translation in this particular case is evident. Had a second translator done a back translation of the slogan, the mistranslation could have been avoided.

Back translation is also often used in research texts, when verifying the reliability of the responses is of highest importance. The translator responsible for the back translation will help the research team ensure that each response given is correct and appropriate. If it is not, the team can then investigate the true translation of what the individual intended to say.

Have you ever witnessed a translation job that you think could have benefited from back translation, or seen an example of back translation that caused one to find a serious error in the original? Let us know about it in the comments!

Is That Online Translation Really Free?

The idea that using an online translation tool to translate materials for free has a certain appeal. It is no surprise that many are tempted to use these free tools to translate materials for their company; the idea of saving money on a service is attractive. However, while a free online translation might give you the basic idea of what a text says, the saying “you get what you pay for” is certainly true with regard to translation. A free translation is likely to contain errors. What’s more, if used in place of a professional translation service, using the free version could actually cost you money instead. You likely already know that large translation blunders are risky. If you were a hospital administrator, would you take a chance on free translation software at the risk of your patients? Even a mistake in the wording of instructions for taking medicine could make the difference between life and death in the most severe cases. A translation error like that could cause a major lawsuit, resulting in significant losses for your company or organization.

Even if your translation error is not likely to result in something so significant, it could end up costing you more in the long run. If your customers notice the, it could impact your company’s reputation of professionalism. At this point, you may hire a professional translation company to fix the error. It will also cost you more time than if you had translated it correctly the first time. In addition, if you have already printed the translation in a brochure or other material, you will end up with extra production and printing costs to replace the incorrectly translated versions, also costing you more in time and production in the long run.

If you are looking for ways to save on translation, keep the following in mind:

  • Plan ahead. Sending your project to a translation company with plenty of time before it is due will help you avoid rush fees.
  • Is there a large amount of text? Check with the translation company about bulk discounts, especially if there is a lot of repetition throughout.
  • Avoid very small projects to avoid minimum fees. Otherwise, you will pay extra to compensate for the time spent in managing the project. It is best to combine several small projects into one larger project for a better overall rate.

While there may be a cost up front to translate your materials if you opt to use a professional translation service instead of the free translation software, the aforementioned tips may help lower your overall cost, especially knowing that the “free” translation you received online may not actually be free for your company’s reputation and budget in the long run.

What Machine Translation Cannot Do

Machine translation (MT) can be a handy tool when used properly. The key is understanding when to use it, but also understanding its limitations. To know when to use MT, it is important to know what it is. In its simplest terms, MT occurs when a computer translates a text without a human translator’s involvement. Current translation software tools often have a form of MT embedded within them, so many translators do use this functionality to begin their translation work, however it is merely a tool and should not be treated as a solution.

MT can do various things. It has the ability to scan common grammatical rules and even specialized dictionaries related to the text type. Another type of MT utilizes corpora from numerous texts already translated and available. It basically pulls from these documents and tries to detect patterns associated with the various sentences in that particular text. Once it detects these patterns, it “guesses” what the most accurate translation should be.

You might ask, “If such an intelligent software exists, why hire a translator at all? Doesn’t the software do all the work?” Quite the opposite. Machine translation is a great starting point when used correctly. However, every language has its own nuances and can be ambiguous in nature at both a syntactic and lexical level. The use of MT increases the risk of missing the nuances and ambiguity. A human translator is fluent in both languages and therefore understands the importance of maintaining grammatical and lexical accuracy while still ensuring no meaning is lost during the translation. While MT can extremely helpful during the translation process, using it alone is not a solution and often results in a subpar translation, if not a complete mistranslation, at times.

One of the benefits of MT software is that when a translator uses MT in the translation process, it often leads to faster delivery. Since some of the segments not already translated by the translator’s translation memory (TM) can be pre-translated by the MT software, it allows the translator to review these segments and make changes as necessary, speeding up the process. The result is that your text can be delivered back to you quicker than if the translator were working without the additional tools, and you can rest assured that the translation is accurate and conveys the intended meaning of your text.

The automatic translation of a web page is a great example to use when displaying both the strengths and weaknesses of MT. If you’ve ever read an article online that was originally written in another language, your browser may have suggested that you translate it to English. Google Chrome, for example, uses Google Translate to do this. Google Translate uses a version of MT to automatically translate the web page to English so that you are able to read it. Most browsers have a similar function, though they may use different translation software to achieve the end product.

While some sentences may be surprisingly accurate, one can easily notice that web pages translated with these tools alone often display poor grammar and sentence structures. Machine translation can convey the main idea of an article, but it may not deliver it with precision. In a recent Chinese news article, for example, a translated sentence reads, “Xi Jinping run the test area for great concern, repeatedly giving directions and instructions.” Combining the sentence with the others around it, we are able to get the gist of its meaning through context and inference. However, we can also see where the translation contains poor grammar and word choice with “Xi Jinping run the test area for great concern.”

While MT can help provide you with an idea of what is being said, it’s important to remember what it cannot do for you:

  • MT cannot proofread the web page to make sure the translation is accurate.
  • It cannot always accurately choose between two meanings when the original word has a homonym.
  • It may not recognize set phrases and sayings, resulting in a translation that could be too literal.
  • It will not recognize many nuances of the original language, often losing some of the meaning in the process.

So, while reading through a translated web page, it would be best to fact check something that seems odd or out of place; it may be an inaccurately translated sentence. And if your company is looking to translate a text, we highly recommend hiring a professional translator or translation agency to ensure a correct and precise meaning is conveyed at all times. After all, your brand is on the line.