How to stand in a doctor’s shoes to translate?

If there is something that medicine and translation share, it’s the high degree of responsibility involved in professionals’ work. In different ways, they are both altruistic professions. While medical professionals take care of our health – something crucial in our lives – translators take care of communication, a scarce good which is often overlooked these days. But what happens when they overlap? We would be talking then about medical translation.  In this post we will talk about everything that a translator should take into account when translating a medical text.

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In principle, a medical text, like any other text to be translated, should be read and re-read until it is completely understood. Here starts the fascinating work of the translator, full of challenges and responsibilities.

As in any discipline, there are different branches of medicine – paediatrics, cardiology, traumatology, etc. – and the first thing is obtaining proper information. We can also come across many medical texts: medical reports, the instructions for use of a medicament, or the results of clinical analyses, for example. Regardless of the branch of medicine with which the text deal and the type of document in question, the tone should always be formal.

Medical translation in particular, and scientific translation in general, are often underestimated thanks to urban legends according to which vocabulary hardly changes between languages, and translation is hardly needed to understand medical texts in other languages. But what about the nuances or details – prepositions, for instance – that can change the meaning of a text? There are important in any text, but they can make all the difference in medical texts. Only a translator will be able to make the right decision and ensure the quality and clarity of the message.

Vocabulary is another aspect that should be carefully dealt with. We can often find ourselves translating a text about a part of the human body which we didn’t even know existed or about a bodily function which we were unfamiliar with. In this case you should make use of what, before the Internet age, we used to call parallel texts, which can be now easily found by means of an intelligent online search.  You should also find what underlies behind words taken from so-called dead language, as we already explained in a previous post and look out for false friends, like the well-known Spanish constipado.

Measurement units become particularly important in medical translation, as accuracy is essential. The difference between one and two millilitres can be crucial in the results of a clinical analysis or a research project.

As always, working with a professional – in this case a medical professional – will ensure a good work and prevent mistakes worthy of Google Translator. God forbid!

It’s obvious that medical translation requires particular care. In Okodia we can offer you a good product of guaranteed quality as we are medical translation professionals. Get in touch and we will give you more information without any obligation. Health should be taken seriously!