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Approach to backtranslation - dispute with an agency
Thread poster: Iza Szczypka

Iza Szczypka  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:05
English to Polish
+ ...
Aug 29, 2008

Hello, all

I am in a difficult position which, among other things, brushes on the general approach to backtranslation and I’d like to know what you feel about the issue.
I was asked by an agency to do a backtranslation of a relatively simple text – another one of those intra-company questionnaires that are used more and more often. You all know the routine – choose A, B or C and additionally assign a score to your selected option. It was a package of files, all originating from the same consulting company, some requiring backtranslation in full, some containing just a fragment to be backtranslated while the other part remained in the original. While looking through the files, I saw they were quite alike – the same phrases scrambled here and there, used in different combinations etc. Simple, everyday language, nothing unusual.
As the translation appeared of good quality when compared to similar texts from the same author, I decided to check the author’s original phrasing and use it in the backtranslation wherever the translation text seemed an exact match to the supposed original, i.e. about 85-90% of the whole. Where the translation seemed to have deviated from the phrases commonly used by the author, even slightly, I backtranslated faithfully.
Now the agency raises hell on the grounds that:
1. They ordered a translation, not rewriting of the original-like texts, which they included in the package simply by omission. (The actual original was NOT included.)
2. They considered a backtranslation done in this way totally non-presentable to the customer. In their opinion this went against the purpose of the order, as the customer specifically wanted to learn about the quality of the translation he had received.
Basically, I have nothing against facing the music – we’re all big boys here. But the more I think about it, the less I believe I am facing the right tune, so to speak. OK, I can be held responsible for ignoring the changed instructions, received from the agency when I was about 20-25% into the job and telling me finally not to use the other texts for support. But being told that I am acting against the purpose of the order (i.e. unprofessionally and unethically) is quite a different story. Subsequently, the agency spent time rephrasing the backtranslation so that it did not come too close to the original (probably changes like vigorous -> energetic or calm -> composed, simple language). Were they right in doing so? Or does it dim the picture of the translation quality level which the customer really wanted to get through backtranslation? The agency claim it’s a matter of mutual trust between them and the customer not to use the original text or similar texts from the same source when backtranslating. Is that reasonable when the translation is of high quality, 99% or so match to the original?


[Edited at 2008-08-29 10:31]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:05
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I agree with client Aug 29, 2008

Iza Szczypka wrote:
2. They considered a backtranslation done in this way totally non-presentable to the customer.


I agree with the client. A back translation that looks too similar to the original is suspicious, even if it is a true reflection of the forward translation.


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:05
Dutch to English
+ ...
I agree with you Aug 29, 2008

Why shouldn't you use the original. You can also determine whether the quality is high or not. The agency should trust your judgment more.

[Edited at 2008-08-29 10:25]


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:05
Italian to English
+ ...
I also agree with the agency Aug 29, 2008

The agency clearly understands the true purpose of a back translation. If I'd been in your shoes, I would not have looked at the originals - it's impossible to avoid being influenced by them, and you certainly should not have adapted your backtranslations to match the originals.

I'd say you acted unprofessionally by doing so. I wouldn't go so far as to say you behaved unethically, as you acted in good faith. But the fact is, you did not do what the agency commissioned you to do.

To Marijke:

Marijke wrote:

Why shouldn't you use the original. You can also determine whether the quality is high or not. The agency should trust your judgment more.


She shouldn't use the original because that is not the point of a backtranslation. The merits and drawbacks of backtranslations have been discussed here many times, but they are besides the point here - basically, the client wanted a backtranslation, but actually got a revision of the original text in line with the translation. Not the same thing.

[Edited at 2008-08-29 10:30]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 21:05
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I returned a file sent in error and the agency was grateful Aug 29, 2008

As recently as last week I was aked to do a back translation, and discovered on opening the file that I had the uncleaned version.

I returned it at once, without looking at it, and the PM was very grateful. The file came back so fast, and she knows me, so she said she could trust me not to have seen it more than very superficially.

She sent me the intended file, without the original translation. This really is something the end clients attach importance to, however ridiculous it may seem. They want a completely new pair of eyes to look at the text without being influenced by the first translator - and that is in fact what they pay for.


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:05
Finnish to English
Interesting subject Aug 29, 2008

This raises one of the negative issues associated with backtranslation in general. Personnaly, I do not think it cannot be a reliable way to check a translation, although I guess we all understand the thinking behind it.

If the work provider does not want you to consult the original - and despite what some have to say on the matter, it is sometimes useful to do so - he/she should not provide the material.

You have my sympathy.


spencer


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:05
Member (2004)
English to Italian
you didn't follow the instructions... Aug 29, 2008

and that's unprofessional. If I were the agency, I would not pay you, since your work is not fit for the purpose... sorry to be frank, but this is how I see it...

G


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:05
Dutch to English
+ ...
I disagree Aug 29, 2008

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:

The agency clearly understands the true purpose of a back translation. If I'd been in your shoes, I would not have looked at the originals - it's impossible to avoid being influenced by them, and you certainly should not have adapted your backtranslations to match the originals.

I'd say you acted unprofessionally by doing so. I wouldn't go so far as to say you behaved unethically, as you acted in good faith. But the fact is, you did not do what the agency commissioned you to do.

To Marijke:

Marijke wrote:

Why shouldn't you use the original. You can also determine whether the quality is high or not. The agency should trust your judgment more.


She shouldn't use the original because that is not the point of a backtranslation. The merits and drawbacks of backtranslations have been discussed here many times, but they are besides the point here - basically, the client wanted a backtranslation, but actually got a revision of the original text in line with the translation. Not the same thing.

[Edited at 2008-08-29 10:30]


I think you are wrong. It is still a backtranslation but using the terminology used by the 'customer'. I do not think it is unprofessional at all but rather meticulous since it ensures the customer does not have to waste time in deciding whether a synonym was used or not. Exactly what a linguist should do and what I believe we are trained to do. I do backtranslations from time to time too and am often given the original documents. I have never had a complaint about the method I use.


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:05
Italian to English
+ ...
Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree, Marijke. Aug 29, 2008

Marijke wrote:

I think you are wrong. It is still a backtranslation but using the terminology used by the 'customer'. I do not think it is unprofessional at all but rather meticulous since it ensures the customer does not have to waste time in deciding whether a synonym was used or not. Exactly what a linguist should do and what I believe we are trained to do. I do backtranslations from time to time too and am often given the original documents. I have never had a complaint about the method I use.


I don't see how you can consider it a backtranslation, but it's clear we each have our own conflicting points of view on the matter.


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Iza Szczypka  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:05
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
But... Aug 29, 2008

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL wrote:

and that's unprofessional. If I were the agency, I would not pay you, since your work is not fit for the purpose... sorry to be frank, but this is how I see it...

G

Giovanni, I didn't question my responsibility for not following the instructions. I just asked for opinions about the approach to backtranslation in general, given the range of material available in this particular situation.


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:05
French to English
+ ...
Lose-lose situation Aug 29, 2008

I tend to view this is a lose-lose situation for the freelancer. I did a large back-translation project a few months ago, in which I faithfully flagged every instance where I felt the original translator should have used the same phrase she'd used before, but hadn't. I was told to translate what I had before me as they wanted to see whether the style of the translation was in keeping with the original style. I wasn't provided with the orginal source document, but I did encounter parts of it on my searches on the internet. I tried not to look at it, but it was impossible not to notice certain words, however I tried not to let this influence me and just translated what I'd been given. In the end, the agency, despite saying they liked what I'd done, queried my word count and said that tables which looked identical should only have been charged for once, even though I'd checked them all individually and had indeed found inconsistencies where I thought there probably hadn't been any in the original (and duly pointed these out). I was also told that my backtranslation was too wordy as it was much longer than the original English - yet I felt I'd been keeping to my brief by translating what I had in front of me! It's certainly taught me to be very wary of accepting similar projects in the future.

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Eman Riesh  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:05
Member (2010)
Arabic to English
+ ...
You're not supposed to judge the translation at this level Aug 29, 2008

To Iza:
Is that reasonable when the translation is of high quality, 99% or so match to the original?


If the client is looking for a backtranslation, then he surely will use this back traslation to judge the quality of the translation on a later stage.

This gives no room for the backtranslation's translator to make any assessments for the translation quality when s/he commences backtranslating.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:05
Member (2008)
Italian to English
horrible Aug 29, 2008

I wouldn't touch a job like this with a bargepole. I can see no pleasure or interest in doing it, infinite explanations and negotiations with the outsourcer, and nothing to be proud of at the end.....

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Marcus Geibel
Germany
Local time: 21:05
English to German
I fully agree Aug 29, 2008

with Tom!
I would never accept any back translation job.

But I also agree with all those saying that the instructions of the agency should be followed and that the original should not be used by the "back" translator.


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Iza Szczypka  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:05
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the constructive input, Marie-Helene Aug 29, 2008

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:

The agency clearly understands the true purpose of a back translation. If I'd been in your shoes, I would not have looked at the originals - it's impossible to avoid being influenced by them, and you certainly should not have adapted your backtranslations to match the originals.

(...)

...basically, the client wanted a backtranslation, but actually got a revision of the original text in line with the translation. Not the same thing.

Even if it is critical of me, it serves the purpose I had in mind - clarifying the approach that should in fact be taken.
The true purpose of the exercise is clear - the end customer wanted to know if he hadn't paid for scrap. To me, the general question is how to best achieve the purpose. AFAIK, the agencies offer two products in such situations - proofreading or backtranslation. Now, in my opinion what you termed 'a revision of the original text in line with the translation' would be more effective than backtranslation in terms of quality check, but such a product is probably not offered.
What I did was not exactly a revision, since I had no original. I think it was closer to a compilation or 'supported translation'. From what most people say here, it seems not to be an acceptable method - even if in my opinion it serves the purpose better. An important lesson for the future. For now, I'll have to face the consequences... education proves costly sometimes.


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