Back translation works like this. A company retains a translation service to translate a series of brochures into Mandarin Chinese. In an effort to verify the accuracy of the translation, the company then finds a second translator, who has not seen the original English text, to translate the brochures back into English. The company then judges the quality of the Chinese to English or “back translation,” by its similarity to the original English.

While this desire for quality control is understandable, back translations are not in companies’ best interests, says Siri Karm Singh Khalsa, president of The Boston Language Institute.

“Translation is highly subjective. The same idea can be written correctly in many different ways, so even if the ‘back translation’ were properly done, there is virtually no chance that it will match up to the source document. The client knows no more about the translation than they did before and has spent more money.

“If the translations do differ because one is of lesser quality, you would simply have two translators, the ‘back translator’ and the original pointing a finger at each other,” added Khalsa.

The alternative? Companies should find a translation service that has quality control measures in place that will ensure a first-rate translation the first time. A trustworthy service hires professional, experienced translators, uses a second, equally proficient translator to edit each document and has experienced staff members to oversee the process.

There are actually firms that do not edit translations before sending them out to the client. “Beware of services that say: We use excellent translators, so we don’t need editors,” cautions Khalsa. “The best translators need an editor. A project that has not been edited is a project that is incomplete.”

Providing clients with access to translators and editors is another indicator of a quality service. Concealing the identity of language professionals from the client makes communication difficult and increases chances for error. A truly professional firm has nothing to hide.

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