5.5.1 The back-translation test
There are many translation tools freely available online. You may already be familiar with Google Translate, for example. In the next few activities you will apply a simple technique to compare its performance in different languages.
The English text (Text 1) below has been put through an online translation tool to translate it into French and Urdu, and then both translations were retranslated back into English. This procedure is known as back-translation.
Compare each of the two back-translations (Text 2 and Text 3) with the original English version of the text (Text 1).
Text 1 (original English version)
Game combats campus culture shock
A computer game has been devised to help overseas students deal with the culture shocks of university life in Britain, like seeing kissing in public.
Players of C-Shock have to complete a series of tasks a foreign student might face on their first day at university. They include seeing people drinking alcohol and smoking, in a 3D recreation of the University of Portsmouth campus.
One of its devisers, academic Nipan Maniar, said he hoped the game would help students know what to expect. ‘We thought we could devise a game that they could play on their mobile phone on the way here so they would know what to expect’.
The senior lecturer in the university’s faculty of creative and cultural industries, who is Indian, said he experienced a ‘massive culture shock’ himself when he came to Portsmouth in 2000 to do his MSc. ‘It was not just the environment I was in, but the teaching – the relationship with tutors was very informal.’ And many students from places like South Asia were often shocked to see women smoking, drinking and being friendly with the opposite sex, he said. […]
He said online games could be a powerful tool in helping international students acclimatise to life on a UK campus, as long as they are not solely about imposing a stereotype of campus life.
Text 2 (translated back from French)
Fighting game culture shock campus
A computer game designed to help students abroad to shocks culture of university life in Britain, like seeing kissing in public.
The C -Shock players must complete a series of tasks a foreign student can face their first day at university. They include seeing people drinking alcohol and smoking in a 3D reconstruction of the University of Portsmouth campus.
One of his devisers, university Nipan Maniar, said he hoped that the game would be to help students know what to expect. ‘We thought we could design a game that they could play on their mobile phone on the way here, so they know what to expect’.
The lecturer in the faculty of the University of the creative and cultural industries, which is Indian, said he was a ‘massive culture shock’ himself when he came to Portsmouth in 2000 to its control. ‘It was not only the environment in which I was, but the teaching – the relationship with teachers was very informal’ and many students from places like Southeast Asia were often shocked. see women smoking, drinking and being friendly with the opposite sex, he said. […]
He said online games can be a powerful tool to help international students acclimate to life on campus UK, as they are not only to impose a stereotype of campus life.
Text 3 (translated back from Urdu)
Game combats culture shock Campus
A foreign exchange student at the University face shock of the first day players have to complete a series of tasks. A campus of the University of Portsmouth in 3D entertainment, people are seen drinking and smoking.
He is expected to help address one of the most devisers, educational Nipan Maniar, students of the game. ‘We can not devise a game plan which here can play them on mobile phones will know that hope.’
The creative and cultural industries, senior lecturer in the faculty of the University, his M.Sc. in Portsmouth in 2000, ‘a large-scale culture shock’ as is encountered after themselves. ‘It was not only the environment, but learning – tutor was very informal. ‘Friendly with the opposite sex often many students from places like South Asia, drinking and smoking to women being shocked, he said. [...]
A fully upon stereotypes of international students in campus life as a British campus life is not long to help acclimatise online games can be a powerful tool.
1 Which of the back-translations is closer to the original? Choose one example sentence from the original (Text 1) and discuss its two translations to support your answer.
You probably thought that the back-translation from French was a lot more faithful to the original than the one from Urdu. The back-translation from Urdu contains passages that are hardly comprehensible and seem to be totally jumbled up.
Even so, Text 2 is hardly perfect. For example, the last sentence is a bit odd (e.g. use of the created verb ‘acclimate’), and the meaning of the final clause is somewhat unclear: ‘as they are not only to impose a stereotype of campus life’. However, the same sentence in Text 3 is totally incomprehensible, because the final clause ‘as long as they are not solely about imposing a stereotype of campus life’ has not only been mistranslated (‘A fully upon stereotypes of international students in campus life’) but also moved to the front of the sentence. ‘Online games’, which is the subject of the original sentence and should be placed at the beginning to help readers know what the sentence is about, only appears much later after the verb ‘acclimatise’, which makes it look like its object.
2 What might be the reason(s) for such differences between the two back translations?
The fact that the rules of syntax of Urdu and English are more different from each other than from those of English and French might explain why Text 2 is closer to Text 1. In addition, the corpus of translations from Urdu that Google Translate can currently draw upon is narrower than the corpus of texts translated from French. This inevitably makes the results when translating into and from Urdu less reliable than translating into and from French.
3 Look at the three texts again. What kinds of error does the translating software make?
The software makes semantic errors: for example, it cannot distinguish between animate and inanimate objects. There are instances of confusion between people and institutions (‘university Nipan Maniar’ instead of ‘academic Nipan Maniar’ and ‘which is Indian’ instead of ‘who is Indian’).
Article titles and headlines are often incomplete sentences or involve nominalisations, so you can see from both back-translations that the software had trouble translating and back-translating the headline of Text 1 in a meaningful way.
The translating software can’t cope with complex sentences. The more complex a sentence is, the more likely it is that the structures used to say the same thing in another language will be different, and that the translating software will struggle (for example, in the final sentence of the text).
The translating software also struggles with small words like prepositions and articles, which are different even in languages that are quite closely related.