Medical Translations: Client Checklist

So you have ordered or plan to order medical translations from a language service provider. Be sure that:

medical translations

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  1. The document is translated by a specialized translator. Translating medical texts is not for everybody. The translator should have respective knowledge, experience, and/or possibly a medical degree to translate in this field.

    "Best guessing" will not do as a method of translation of medical texts. The task of the translator is to render the information in the other language with the highest degree of accuracy, clearly and concisely. Therefore, the specialization in the medical field is of paramount importance.

  2. The translator correctly uses the terminology. Although diseases have existed for as long as mankind, classification and terminology have changed, particularly at the end of the 20th century and in the beginning of the 21st century. Since the terminology is changing so rapidly, not all medical texts contain the latest terms. However, the task of the translator is to translate and not to correct. So he or she should use old terms in the translation, if the original text contains old terms.

    Also, there may be a mixture of old and new terms in the original. In this case, the translator should follow the original and use both old and new terms as appropriate. If a term used in the original text does not exist in the language into which the text is being translated, the translator should explain the meaning of such term in a comment.

  3. The style is observed between the original text and the translation. Types of medical texts for translation include medical books and journal articles, advertisements, information materials for patients, patient charts, questionnaires, clinical trial protocols, drug labels, drug information leaflets, etc.

    The style of these types of documents differs according to their degree of formality and social contexts. Thus, the style of articles published in medical journals is academic, literary and sophisticated, characterized by the extensive use of the professional jargon. On contrary, information materials for patients use everyday, neutral language with a few medical terms. In advertisements, advertisement jargon is often used in addition to the medical terminology. So the translator should take into consideration all these nuances of the style.

  4. Cultural differences are not ignored. For medical translations, the translator must be familiar with cultures of languages between which he or she translates.

    While differences between Western cultures are less pronounced, differences between Western and African, Asian or Indian cultures are very noticeable. What is normal in one culture may be abnormal in the other. (For example, screaming to express one's emotions may be normal in one culture and may be considered as a symptom of a mental disorder in the other culture).

    Let's continue with mental disorders as an example to illustrate the importance of cultural aspects in medical translations. The recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) provides valuable information on cultural differences:

    • 1) a glossary of culture-bound syndromes that occur mostly in specific societies or cultures and
    • 2) outline for cultural formulation to evaluate a patient's ethnic identity, cultural explanations of the disease, cultural factors in psychological environment, cultural elements of the relationship between the patient and the therapist, and overall cultural assessment for diagnosis and care.

    This information may help the translator produce culturally sensitive translation of psychiatric texts.

    In medical translations, phraseology (proverbs and sayings, idioms) may pose a real headache for the translator. Representing this aspect of the other culture is often problematic because the connotations rarely match.

    Once I translated a patient questionnaire that contained several English proverbs. I had to translate them into Russian. However, there were no the same proverbs in the Russian language and replacement by Russian proverbs with slightly different connotation would make the questionnaire meaningless. So I had to do a literal translation and explained the meaning of the proverbs in a comment.

    Whatever the case, understanding and reflecting cultural differences in translation is essential.

  5. The translation is edited by the other linguist experienced in medical translations. It is a quality control step mandatory for all professional translations errors in which can have legal consequences for both translator and client. Translation errors adversely affect patients as well. Therefore, editing, proofreading, and other quality control steps such as back translation and linguistic validation help to protect all parties involved.

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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