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How Back Translation Works

Back Translation is the process of translating a document that has already been translated,  back to the original language.  Original and back translated documents can then be compared to observe the conceptual correspondence of the two texts. With this in mind, back translation can improve the reliability and validity of the translation.  

The back translation feature has been  implemented in almost all online translation services we have developed : ImTranslator extensions (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Yandex), ImTranslator Compare TranslationsImTranslator Translation, and many other services.

Besides the back translation functionality, we integrated multiple translation providers (Google, Microsoft and Translator) to offer more diversity with the translation results to compare and choose from.  As a result, the users of ImTranslator translation services have many possibilities to insure the reliability and validity of the translation results. Back translation and reconciliation features in combination with various translation  providers give users additional quality and accuracy assurance for their translations.


This research has been performed by  Mr. Leonid Gornik,  the ATA Certified Translator,  with more than 40 years of the professional expertise in the field of the professional translation.  Mr. Gornik analyzes the benefits of using the back translation to ensure the most accurate translation results. 

Websites that are trying to help you with your language problem are in abundance on the Web, and I visit them from time to time. There are dictionary sites, there are online translations sites… and there is this website ImTranslator.net.  Why am I writing about it, what is it that makes this place special, and how can it be used in the best way possible? I will try to shed some light on those issues.

I picked up a phrase in English from the Web, and I got a perfect translation into Russian at a single step. If you don’t know Russian, you can see in the bottom (back translation) window. The result is good mainly because the source sentence is very simple.

Back-Translation.1

Now, what is the point of having the back translation window? This is a very interesting place even for a professional like me because I can see what it is in the original that did not allow for a good translation. I can analyze the original text to see how accurate and concise it was. It is also useful for the people who deal with machine translations. The machine translation professionals will see the weak points in the system or even bugs. “Normal” people like you and me will use this as a tool to try and improve the translation result.

Let’s look at it closer.

You can see how a real sentence that I picked up on some website was translated into Russian. If you do not happen to know Russian, you will have to look at the bottom window where the back translation appears immediately unless you forget to check the box next to back translation option in the upper right corner of the screen.

Original sentence:

The resort itself is very nice and the older buildings are spectacular. It was too cold to investigate the outdoor pool but it looked nice.”

Russian translation:

Сам курорт очень хорош, и старшие здания являются захватывающими. Это также было холодно, чтобы исследовать наружное объединение, но это выглядело хорошим.”

Back translation:

The resort is very good, and the senior buildings are grasping. It also was cold to investigate external association, but it looked good.”

Machine translation is not a precision tool, and perhaps it will never be. You might not like what you see. In fact, spectacular turned to gasping, old buildings turned to senior buildings (what is that supposed to mean?!), and the pool was translated as association. You wouldn’t want to send such sentence to anybody for fear that they might think that you ought to visit a mental doctor!

Let’s try to customize the source text to make it more “palatable” for software without going too far away from the content.

The first thing we can do to change senior buildings to older buildings is to replace older with old because it seems that the software is not ready to go that deep into the word forms. Second, let’s try to replace spectacular with great. Finally, since the program used association instead of pool, we can assume that we have to be a little bit more specific and correct the source text to swimming pool. As you can see, we did not depart very much from the original content of the sentence (by the way, everybody knows that the same idea can be put in many different phrases. Lawyers call it “rephrasing.”)

Back-Translation.2

Original sentence:

The resort itself is very nice and the old buildings look great. It was cold to go to the outdoor swimming pool, but everything was nice.”

Russian translation:

Сам курорт очень хорош, и старые здания хорошо выглядят. Это было холодно, чтобы пойти в наружный плавательный бассейн, но все было хорошо.

Back translation:

The resort is very good and old buildings well look. It was cold to go to an external swimming pool, but all was well.”

The result is definitely better now.  To achieve the final result, we have to work on the word spectacular, and the task now is to find a synonym for this or a word that would have a similar meaning and that could be translated much closer to the original. Let’s try the word ‘fantastic‘. I use this word here because it sounds close enough to spectacular and, at the same time, it would be hard for the software to change it to a different word in Russian because the word is not really “English” and has the same root in many languages. The result is good enough, but even if you like the literal translation of fantastic, I didn’t on a second thought.

Original sentence:

The resort itself is very nice and the old buildings look fantastic. It was cold to go to the outdoor swimming pool, but everything was nice.”

Russian translation:

Сам курорт очень хорош, и старые здания выглядят фантастическими. Это было холодно, чтобы пойти в наружный плавательный бассейн, но все было хорошо.

Back translation:

The resort is very good and old buildings look fantastic. It was cold to go to an external swimming pool, but all was well.”

So I decided to change spectacular to very attractive (a matter of taste, of course). It would take much for the buildings to look spectacular! For this reason, I changed spectacular to very attractive. On the one hand, there is less of a commitment here; on the other hand, nobody will tell that you are being pathetic when you say that some old buildings (that could even be dilapidated) look spectacular.

Original sentence:

The resort itself is very nice and the old buildings look very attractive. It was cold to go to the outdoor swimming pool, but everything was nice.”

Russian translation:

Сам курорт очень хорош, и старые здания выглядят очень привлекательными. Это было холодно, чтобы пойти в наружный плавательный бассейн, но все было хорошо.

Back translation:

The resort is very good, and old buildings look very attractive. It was cold to go to an external swimming pool, but all was well.”

As you can see now that the final back translation looks pretty similar to the source. Although it took several steps, the translation into Russian has become very close to the original (I can assure you because I know Russian).

You can use this method with any target language because you are working in the top window only (in your native language). I would advise using a dictionary of synonyms or a thesaurus for looking up for good replacements.

Now that you know the program better, please try it again and show your friends and associates how handy and useful it can be.

By Leonid Gornik,
ATA Certified Translator
www.dependabletranslation.com

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