Another back translation conundrum...
Thread poster: Anthony Baldwin

Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:18
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Jun 29, 2012

I did a back translation last month for a valued client, an agency who sends LOTS of work on a fairly regular basis, pays on time, etc. I very much like the agency. There are many months over the past several years when their work has pretty well paid all the bills and fed my family. (There are months where I hear nothing from them as well, so I do not want to give the impression that I depend on them, but, still, they are an excellent client, and our relationship has been very profitable for me).

Now, they are asking me to re-back-translate a revision of the original translation.

The original translation (and back translation) was a 7k word project. The new re-back-translation essentially entails 3k worth of altered segments (although with much matching from my TM, of course). Still, it could be a full day's work or more.

They are asking me to do this free, as correction of the prior work, because the end client was unhappy with the first translation+back-translation.

Now I have their original source documents, the original Spanish translation, my own back-translation, and, now, a revised Spanish translation, plus the end client's notes in reaction to the first run.

Looking at their original source and both Spanish translations, I must say, the Spanish translator did a very good job of it, and, frankly, I think many of the changes, which I'm guessing the poor translator made for free (since that's what I'm being asked) are not necessarily an improvement. I see many notes in the margin.
I also see that the original source is UK English (I'm a Yank. My back-translation, accordingly, is US English).
So, we have differences like stopcock/faucet, sleeve/sheath, etc., not to mention spelling (color/colour, etc.).

My feeling is that the end client is simply being unreasonable, and/or completely misunderstands the intricacies of translation (and back-translation). My assessment is that the first Spanish translation was quite good, in fact (and, of course, the back-translation was perfect.icon_wink.gif ).

I do not want to work for free.
But I also highly value MY client, the agency, who apparently is in a position of losing payment at all from the end client if they don't produce a text that makes the end client happy. This clearly also has repercussions for my Spanish colleague (I do not know them, but we are colleagues, nonetheless, and I must value their work).

My choices are:
1 - refuse to work for free and potentially leave MY client* hanging (*the agency, who has over the years often fed my family for months running, with whom I am very, very pleased), as well as, apparently, my Spanish colleague.
2 - re-back-translate accurately, for free, and waste a day, which may likely still not please the confused end client anyway.
3 - use what I now know from seeing the original text and the client's notes on the back-translation and cheat, providing a text that I'm certain will please the end client. The ethics involved herein are murky, but this would likely at least secure payment for the original work for my client, the original Spanish translator, and myself.

I feel particularly at this juncture that payment to my client and to the original translator (who has apparently now treated the text twice, likely revising their initial translation, as I am now being asked, for free) all depends on my decision. I am not too keen on leaving a colleague out to dry, nor my client/the agency. I feel that the end client is unreasonable, and I do not feel that I should have to work for free.

I believe the Spanish translation is quite adequate, and believe their best course (the end client) would have been simply to have another Spanish translator with expertise in the field do a review of the text. I believe that back-translation in this context is only confusing matters, as it can and often does, especially when the end client fails to comprehend the intricacies of language, the vagaries of back-translation, etc. They haven't asked me to assess the Spanish translation, however, but simply to back-translate it.

How would you handle this situation?

[Edited at 2012-06-29 16:41 GMT]


LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:18
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
What field is this from? Jun 29, 2012

Medical? Marketing? Quibbling about about AE/BE spelling or true synonyms is of course silly in a back-translation context, but a faucet and a stopcock are not identical concepts, even if conceptually similar on a certain level.


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:18
Member (2007)
+ ...
Step 1 Jun 29, 2012

Have you told your client what you've told us? That would appear to be the first thing to do. It might be possible to make the end client aware of the futility of such an exercise.



neilmac  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
No question Jun 29, 2012

For me it's quite clear: the best option as I see it is nº 3:
"... use what I now know from seeing the original ... providing a text that I'm certain will please the end client. ... this would likely at least secure payment for the original work for my client, the original Spanish translator, and myself."

You seem to have weighed up all your options conscientiously and I don't really see it as much of an ethical dilemma, since the issue seems to stem from the over-picky end client.


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 07:18
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Neilmac Jun 29, 2012

I think this would be the wisest choice under the circumstances. However, you do have the option of telling your client (not the end client) what you did and why. And they should explain to the end client that back translations are never going to end up the same as the source text, because no two translators will translate exactly alike.

With regard to the UK vs. US spelling and terminology, I think that would be in part your and in part the client's responsibility. The spelling can be corrected by setting the proofing language to UK English and an internet search could solve many of the terminology differences. It is also the client's responsibility to carefully proofread your (back) translation with those things in mind.


Jaroslaw Michalak  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:18
Member (2004)
English to Polish
Education? Jun 29, 2012

4 - Educate the client.

While I am not very fond of the concept of "educating" the clients (who are usually grownups quite aware of what they are getting and for what), I think in this case it is necessary.

Ask the client (of course, rather active involvement of the agency will be required) why they wanted the backtranslation in the first place... If they are not sure (maybe someone just suggested it to them without explaining), tell them what is the purpose of backtranslation, what it is supposed to assess and what are the things they should be looking for in it. Finally, explain (diplomatically!) why it might not make sense to revise the backtranslation, especially given the character of the changes. Stress the importance of focusing on the Spanish translation, as this is the final product they want.

You might also mention that your seeing the originals and the two translations has actually "ruined" the backtranslation procedure... That is, if you know that "stopcock" has been used in the original, that is what you will put in the backtranslation, which of course will tell them nothing about the Spanish translation (which is the purpose of the whole procedure, isn't it?). it would be like doing test exercises with the answers in front of you - possible, but rather pointless.


Anthony Baldwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:18
Portuguese to English
+ ...
UK Jun 29, 2012

I don't feel as if I should have any responsibility whatsoever in regard to UK spellings, etc.

I advertise myself as ONLY a US English translator.
That's what I offer, so when someone gives me a job, that's what they get.
I have never misrepresented myself and offered UK translations.

I have one occasional client whom I am forever denying, because they try to send me legal translation for the UK.
Not only am I in the US, but I know absolutely nothing of the UK legal system (except enough to be aware that it differs greatly from ours in the US). I think results would be disastrous were I to try and translate legal materials for British usage.
I'm a little confused, in fact, why this particular client, with whom I've been working for at least 4 years now, almost 5, would send me something like this.
Unless a client specifies, I assume they want US English, because that's what they provide.
If they ask for UK English, I politely refuse, always.

I've decided, in the interest of serving my Spanish colleague and maintaining my relationship with this valued client, to give them the new back-translation.

The PM on this project is new, at least to me, so I've taken it upon myself to educate her a bit, as well, in the hopes of avoiding a future fiasco of this same nature.

I've also made it clear that this will happen once, and only once, and that in the future, they will not be receiving free back-translations or any other free work.

The agency, as I've said, has always treated me very well. Were it not so, I would not be doing what they ask now.


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Another back translation conundrum...

Advanced search

BaccS – Business Accounting Software
Modern desktop project management for freelance translators

BaccS makes it easy for translators to manage their projects, schedule tasks, create invoices, and view highly customizable reports. User-friendly, integration, community-driven development – a few reasons BaccS is trusted by translators!

More info »
SDL MultiTerm 2019
Guarantee a unified, consistent and high-quality translation with terminology software by the industry leaders.

SDL MultiTerm 2019 allows translators to create one central location to store and manage multilingual terminology, and with SDL MultiTerm Extract 2019 you can automatically create term lists from your existing documentation to save time.

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search