"Polished" Backtranslation
Thread poster: Umang Dholabhai

Umang Dholabhai  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 14:38
Member
English to Gujarati
+ ...
Feb 25, 2011

Recently I got a request for a backtranslation (BT) where my client required two sets of BT 1) BT literal and 2) BT polished. I wonder what purpose would a "polished" BT serve. I found it quite illogical for a BT has to be compared with the source and NOT a "polished" BT. Is it not that a BT has to be so literal that it faithfully reflects the quality of the forward translation? Can anyone enlighten me please.

May be I am too naive.


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Natalie  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 11:08
Member (2002)
English to Russian
+ ...

MODERATOR
Hi Umang Feb 25, 2011

Only your client could enlighten you, imho. Have you asked him/her?

Natalia


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Nikita Kobrin  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 12:08
Member (2010)
English to Russian
+ ...
Translators dread to put questions to their clients Feb 25, 2011

Natalie wrote:

Only your client could enlighten you, imho. Have you asked him/her?

I have noticed that translators do dread to put questions to their clients. I suppose they are afraid to look incompetent in their eyes but they don't understand that without asking questions they risk to look twice as incompetent sometimes...

Nikita Kobrin


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
"Polished back-translation" sounds like a contradiction in terms. Feb 25, 2011

I do quite a lot of back translations, particularly for clinical drug trials, and I deliberately keep them relatively literal and unpolished. They often seem a rather fruitless exercise - it would be easier and cheaper for the client to get a second translator to assess the translation.

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Umang Dholabhai  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 14:38
Member
English to Gujarati
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Incompetency and forum posts Feb 26, 2011

I thought forums are beacons for the professional community. It seems to be a branding device in this case. Putting a question in the forum is sometimes meant more to elicit a discussion on seemingly stupid practices to take the translators for a ride. Besides, my hypothetical "fear" of appearing incompetent could have prevented me from putting forth my experience before my peers on this site. I expected my fellow professionals to discuss possible reasons leading to such client requests rather than judging the competency levels.

[Edited at 2011-02-26 03:05 GMT]


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NR_Stedman  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:08
French to English
Possible reasons Feb 26, 2011

Hi Umang

They seem to want two BT for two different persons with two different roles. A typical case could be a client wanting a"literal BT" for the person who wrote the original document in order to check its translatability and all the terminology that could give rise to ambiguities. The second polished BT could be to meet a regulatory requirement; i.e. an agency that requires a BT for any number of reasons including not having a member who understands the translated language.

When come up against an ambiguous sentence in a BT I often wonder what the best this to do is: keep the ambiguity by a literal BT or give a good translation of what you know they must mean.

[Edited at 2011-02-26 06:53 GMT]


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Nikita Kobrin  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 12:08
Member (2010)
English to Russian
+ ...
The actual message... Feb 26, 2011

Umang Dholabhai wrote:

I expected my fellow professionals to discuss possible reasons leading to such client requests rather than judging the competency levels.

It seems Umang,

You haven't understood my remark at all. I have never judged your competency level, nothing of the kind.

If you asked me I would say that your enquiry is absolutely valid and professional. In your place I would ask the same question. The only difference is that I would ask your clients about that as this is the most effective way to find out the logics behind their request.

So my message is:

We should never be afraid to put questions to our clients and ask them to clarify theirs requests until we can fully understand them.

I for one very often ask such questions.

NK


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 11:08
English to Croatian
+ ...
What's the point of backtranslation? Feb 26, 2011

I don't understand what the point of backtranslation may be with languages with completely different structures. What will it say to a client who isn't aware of this?

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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 04:08
Spanish to English
No help with the subject of the query but... Feb 26, 2011

I have often done translations of documents that were obviously originally written in the target language, so I presume someone asked the agency for a back translation, but the fact is, the closer the first translation mirrors its source language, sometimes even leaving terms untranslated, the more the back translation will come out like the original. So, in fact, if the back translation is too faithful to the original text, it probably means the original translation was awful.

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Umang Dholabhai  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 14:38
Member
English to Gujarati
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Good backtranslations. Feb 26, 2011

So, in fact, if the back translation is too faithful to the original text, it probably means the original translation was awful.


I totally agree with Lesley. I often come across forward translations done by 'kind' souls who remain so faithful to the style and syntax of the source where the language pairs involved are very different in nature from each other - so that the back translator's job becomes easier (or difficult?), on the contrary the BT'or has to turn into a reviewer too (with the markings and cues et al). Not to mention the end product which looks like a thorough bred stallion with a pig's head.

We should never be afraid to put questions to our clients and ask them to clarify theirs requests until we can fully understand them.


Nikita, not at all, actually I was alarmed that we were digressing from the main question. In this particular case, the volume of the project was too small, rates were dismal and I did not bother to ask the agency of the rationale for the untaken job, which is quite contrary otherwise. I should say, I do that more than often, driving some of my PM's to run for cover even before they present an obviously odd sounding proposal. I put this up on the forum only to have some insights into the mind of a client.

About my original query, I wonder if it is "backward integration" from a "tested" translation without having to pay a content writer. Incidentally, the text was regarding a medical questionnaire.


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 06:08
Spanish to English
+ ...
The point of back-translations Feb 26, 2011

Lingua 5B wrote:
I don't understand what the point of backtranslation may be with languages with completely different structures. What will it say to a client who isn't aware of this?


It’s not uncommon for colleagues to question the whole rationale of back-translation, and the most-often mentioned examples of where this may be useful/necessary refer to clinical trials and similar ‘life-threatening’ activities.

I have only been involved in one such exercise myself, and as the circumstances are not medical it might be worth mentioning it here.

A person who speaks no Spanish, lives in the UK and couldn’t travel halfway across the globe just to sign a piece of paper, needed to present a power of attorney in relation to a contract in Chile. It was deemed ‘unsafe’ for the person to sign the document in Spanish, especially as neither the signatory, nor their British lawyer, nor the UK notary could assess the legality of the content (there was even some doubt as to whether a PoA in Spanish could be registered in the UK).

As this PoA needed to be very carefully worded, and nothing had to get ‘lost in translation’, it was decided to draft it first in Spanish and get it validated by a Chilean notary. I then translated it into English and this translation – which was now the ‘original’ – was signed in the UK. It then came back here and was translated into Spanish by a sworn translator of the Chilean Foreign Affairs Ministry – who most probably didn't realise he was doing in a back-translation.

As planned, the sworn (back-)translation turned out to be virtually identical to our original, and the contract was finalised without a hitch.

MediaMatrix

[Edited at 2011-02-26 23:44 GMT]


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NR_Stedman  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:08
French to English
Point of back-translations Feb 28, 2011

Back translations are essential in the medical field. They are particularly useful for detecting errors that "make perfect sense" and can easily be missed by the reviewer but can have drastic consequences. In particular negatives rather than positives, a hypo instead of a hyper, above rather than below or mathematical signs the wrong way round. As a medical translator I can assure you that these are the type of mistakes that I fear most as they are so easy to make.
Back translations are also a non-negligible source of revenue for us translators!


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Dave Bindon  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 12:08
Member (2010)
Greek to English
Another reason for backtranslations... Feb 28, 2011

The only back translation I've ever done came about by chance. I'd been asked to do a 'straightforward' proofreading of a magazine article, which was a translation of an interview which had been conducted in English, presented in a Q&A format.

When I saw the source and target texts my first reaction was to contact my client and ask them to check that they had sent me the correct files, since the two texts bore so little relation to each other. On confirming that they were the correct files, the client asked me to do a full backtranslation so they could see how different the translation was.

The interviewer's questions were reasonable translations, given that the two languages have very different sentence structure. But the interviewee's answers....well, another story! About 90% of it was factually incorrect paraphrasing (at best). It looked as if the journalist had been thinking to himself, "OK, the next sentence is something about passenger numbers, so I'll write something about passenger numbers". Needless to say, the end client (a large multinational company) wasn't too pleased!


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"Polished" Backtranslation

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