Back-translation Method

Back-translation Method

Category: Short Article

Sometimes, we find some difficulties in translation process and get confused whether the translation is fine, whether it is too literal or too dynamic. It could be sort of a challenge for translators to maintain the message in the source language text while at the same time presenting it in a natural expression in the target language text. “In order to see whether an equivalent is natural or directional, the simplest test is back­translation. This  means  taking  the  translation  and  rendering  it  back  into  the  source  language,  then comparing the two source-language versions” (Pym, 2010: 30).

In practice, back-translation method can be used to further refine the translation result especially when translating a long phrase or when feeling unsure about the translation. Errors in translation or changes in meaning may occur. Therefore, we can apply this method to ensure that there is no error made and to further polish and refine the translation result. In translation studies, this method can also be applied to investigate the equivalence between the source language text (SLT) and the target language text (TLT).

Below is the image illustrating the back-translation process quoted from Yu et al (2003).

quoted from Yu et al (2003)
quoted from Yu et al (2003)

In addition to the above brief description about back-translation method, especially for academic research in translation studies, if one is investigating the naturalness, accuracy or equivalence in translation, he/she should consider that the back translator should be someone who is equally good in both SL and TL as Wild et al (2005) mention that back translators are “the people who develop the translations from the target language back to the source language. They should be professional translators, native speakers of the language of the source measure, and fluent in the target language. They should have no prior knowledge of the measure, and should not see the source or any other language version before or during back translation.”

Now, let us take one simple example of how this process goes.

SL version (Indonesian): berbuat sesuatu dengan maksud mendapat pujian

Step 1: Translate the SL version into TL version:

SLT (Source Language Text): berbuat sesuatu dengan maksud mendapat pujian

TLT (Target Language Text):  doing something with the purpose to receive praise

Step 2: Review the grammatical style and comprehensibility

Note: There is no grammatical error found.

Step 3: Do back translation

TLT (Target Language Text):  doing something with the purpose to receive praise

Back-translated version           :  melakukan sesuatu dengan tujuan untuk mendapat pujian

Step 4: Compare the SL version with the back-translated version

Back-translated version         :  melakukan sesuatu dengan tujuan untuk mendapat pujian

SL version                                 : berbuat sesuatu dengan maksud mendapat pujian

The comparison result:

From the comparison, there are two words in back-translated version and in SL version. They are:

SL version

Back-translated version







In Indonesian, both melakukan and berbuat have the same meaning and they can be said as synonymous and so do tujuan and maksud. Therefore, it can be said that the translation is accurate.

In conclusion, back-translation method can be a useful method both for practitioners and researchers.


Short article by Luh Windiari

TranslationPapers Bali

Last updated on July 17, 2013



Doris S.F Yu, Diana T.F Lee, Jean Woo. 2003. Translation of the chronic heart failure questionnaire. Applied Nursing Research, Volume 16, Issue 4, November 2003, Pages 278-283

Pym, Anthony. 2010. Exploring Translation Theories. New York: Routledge

Wild et al. 2005. Principles of Good Practice for the Translation and Cultural Adaptation Process for Patient-Reported Outcomes (PRO) Measures: Report of the ISPOR Task Force for Translation  and Cultural Adaptation. Value in Health. Volume 8 Number 2 Pages 94-104


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: