Medical translation has interested me since I dabbled in it at university. At the time I was ailed with back problems, probably caused by my atrocious posture, and so my topic of choice was always something to do with spinal disorders. During my time as a project manager I have worked closely with medical clients and expert medical translators, and so I thought I’d write a bit about the common issues that tend to crop up in medical translations (with the help of these three articles) and how we at Lingua Translations approach them.

The main bugbear is probably abbreviations and acronyms. MRI, CAT, AIDS, ECG, ADHD, and MRSA are just a few examples of the most well known medical short forms. There are many more which serve as a concise way of recording information in patient reports, lab results, pharmaceutical documents, etc., and which may or may not be internationally recognised. Not all languages have equivalents to these short forms, and likewise, some have short forms which are not commonly used in English. Sometimes these forms can have different meanings depending on the context, and sometimes the context doesn’t make it clear what is meant, rendering the expression essentially untranslatable. Medical translators are therefore always cautious about acronyms and abbreviations, and I know one or two who have built their own glossaries over their many years of experience.

The use of correct terminology is also important, and this has a lot to do with the target audience. A good example would be the difference between the SPC (Summary of Product Characteristics) for a drug being marketed, which is a document containing all the essential information about the product aimed at healthcare professionals administering the product to their patients. The terminology and style will be targeted at people with a medical background, and nothing will need to be explained. However, if you look at the PIL (Patient Information Leaflet) for the same product, you will find that the information there, while almost identical in content, is written for the patient. Instead of a list of side effects containing ‘myocardial infarction, oedema and hypernatremia’, these terms are likely to be changed to the more understandable ‘heart attack, swelling, and dehydration’. Most languages will have a vernacular way of expressing a particular medical condition, and it’s up to the translator to know which term is most appropriate in the context of the document as a whole.

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With the continuing advancement in medicine, new terms are constantly being coined on the fly, and medical professionals around the world find themselves having to agree on uniform equivalents in their native languages. In the meantime, the original term is used to avoid ambiguity, and loan words creep into medical texts. The translator therefore needs to be up-to-date in the field and know whether terms are commonly translated or left in their original language. Perhaps the translator might not understand the original language, in which case, this could affect their understanding of the rest of the text. This is where thorough research becomes paramount to a good quality translation.

At Lingua Translations we aim to maximise efficiency in all our translations by providing our clients with the opportunity to fill in a translation brief for each project. This way the translators know who the end users of the translation will be in cases where it isn’t immediately apparent, how they should best handle any possible obstacles, and ensure we are all working from the same page in order to deliver the best possible end product. Our medical translators are all experts in their field with at least 5 years’ professional translation experience, ensuring that your texts are always in safe hands.