The Difficulties of Translating Medical Documents

Mar 20, 2018

Content difficulties of translating medical documents

The array of medical documents is vast. And include all of the following:

  • Journals

  • Publiations

  • Research reports

  • Surgical procedures

  • Descriptions of new products

  • Clinical trial results

  • Reports from conference presentations

  • Much more

And when all of these documents and materials must be translated, there are very specific difficulties involved. Indeed, medical document translation is one of the most challenging areas, and here are just a couple of the reasons why:

  1. Terminology

Medical language is not only highly technical, it is continually changing, as new developments occur. This means that translators must continually stay abreast of the profession and dig deep into research when documents relate to newer research, procedures, pharmaceuticals, etc.

And it is not just the newer language and terminology. Existing terms can have several meanings in one language and pose a challenge for how they are to be translated. For example, OHT medical abbreviation may mean “orthotopic heart transplant,” “ovarian hormone therapy” or “orthostatic hypertension” in English. And simpler terms, such as HTM medical abbreviation may mean “health technician memorandum, “high-tech medicine,” or “human thrombo-modulin.”

Original medical terminology was in Latin or Greek. And this made earlier translations easier. But now, so much of the simpler terminology is in English (e.g., bypass, pacemaker, sent), that these terms are simply used as is when translated.

One of the things that promises to help translators translate medical terms are the current attempts at standardization of English terminology, with databases that certainly facilitate translation work. It is a matter of global acceptance, and that has yet to become reality.

  1. Linguistics

These are grammar issues and relate to the differences in structure among languages, specifically syntax (the relationship and arrangement of words in sentences). Grammar in a target language does not come with options. And so, the translator must ensure that sentence structures provide both grammatical correctness and the proper emphasis that has been placed in the source language. To do this, some parts may have to be removed and other necessary information or explanation may have to be added. Obviously, the translator has to have deep expertise in medical language but in strict grammatical construction as well. If not, meanings are altered.

  1. Non-Linguistic Difficulties

Any translation has to take into account the cultural and semantic uniquenesses of a target language. And medical translation is no different. But the translator who embarks on a specialty in medicine has challenges far beyond this.

  1. There are the specific stressors of taking a document, article, etc. in a source language and coming across language that he has never encountered before. At this point, it is a matter for research and perhaps conversation with the author. All of this takes time, and the dedicated translator will not complete any document unless he is certain it is absolutely clear and correct in the target language. If a payment agreement has been reached in advance, the translator may find himself earning a lot less per hour than anticipated.
  2. There are those deadlines. When medical translations require research and lots of consultation, missing deadlines is a real threat. And if enough deadlines are missed, a reputation can be lost.

Individuals who are entering the world of translation, have expertise in at least two languages. They then look toward specialties and often wonder what is medical translation? After all, it is one of the most highly paid areas of translation, and that is attractive. Anyone considering this specialty should take a good long look at the challenges and the type of education and training that will be required.