Merrill Brink News Reviews and Opinion on Mar 15, 2015: The Importance of Terminology, Audience and Culture in Medical Document Translation

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http://www.merrillbrink.com -- To prevent life-altering miscommunications, partner with a language services provider that employs a network of knowledgeable translators with medical translation expertise.

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It’s [also] important to ensure that words that look and sound like English in the target language are actually the most appropriate translations of English medical terms.

Whilst it’s important for professional translators of all specialties to accurately translate source materials, medical translators in particular must take special care to guarantee that their translations are correct, usable and easy for readers to understand. If they are not successful in doing so, misunderstandings that can affect patients’ well-being and the careers of health care professionals may be the result. To prevent these risks, medical translators must know how to navigate medical document translation challenges related to terminology, culture and audience.

Multi-Layered Aspects of Medical Terminology Translations
Correctly translating terms that medical professionals use represents one of the most challenging aspects of medical translations. Many standard medical terms are derived or taken directly from Greek and Latin, so it is crucial to know how those words change, if at all, in your target language in order to provide accurate translations. For example, the Latin latex is preserved in German Latex but changes to lattice in Italian.1

It’s also important to ensure that words that look and sound like English in the target language are actually the most appropriate translations of English medical terms. For example, it may be tempting to translate generic name (nonproprietary name) as nombre genérico in Spanish, but genérico refers to drugs of the same class, which may be proprietary. Therefore, denominación común o no registrada is a more accurate translation of the meaning of English generic name.2 Recognising “false friends” such as these in other languages requires both fluency in the target language and experience in the medical field.

Translate for Multiple Audiences
It’s important to clearly define the intended audience up front when determining the appropriate translations for medical terms and medical documents in general. Medical professionals in many countries use certain terms when communicating with each other and more vernacular terms when speaking to laypeople. For example, German doctors refer to diabetes as Diabetes when talking to colleagues, but the condition is more commonly known to the German public as Zuckerkrankheit.3 Portuguese medical professionals, in contrast, use the term diabetes regardless of their audience.4 German medical professionals may also use a single, audience-agnostic name for a condition if that condition is rare (e.g., Listerose for listeriosis).5 As these examples illustrate, the correct term to choose for a translation depends on the idiosyncrasies of the target language and the intended audience.

Cultural Medical Sensitivities
The target audience’s culture is a less obvious, but no less important factor for consideration in medical translations. In some countries, for example, traditional medicine is practiced alongside and often as a complement to modern medicine. Translations that are intended for patients in these locales should be localised to acknowledge the coexistence of folk and clinical healing methods where appropriate. For example, in China, texts from the 15th and 16th centuries inform traditional medical practices, and the classical ideas of qi, yin, and yang are commonly referenced in medical contexts.6

Similar considerations exist when translating materials for Latin American audiences, as practitioners of folk medicine often treat illnesses with natural remedies and give spiritual explanations for disorders (e.g., post-traumatic shock or anxiety being caused by susto, or “soul loss”).7 Translators who produce medical translations for or translate text from these regions should be sensitive to local traditional practices and recognise the appropriate time to reference them.

Whilst these are just a few examples of the challenges medical translators face, they show how crucial it is for translators to have native fluency and medical expertise in the target language. Medical documents can have a direct impact on patient outcomes, so their translations must be accurate and immediately understandable. To prevent life-altering miscommunications, partner with a language services provider that employs a network of knowledgeable translators with medical translation expertise.

References
1 Leon McMorrow, “Breaking the Greco-Roman Mold in Medical Writing: The Many Languages of 20th Century Medicine,” Translation and Medicine, ed. Henry Fischbach (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 1998): 21.
2 Jack Segura, “Some Thoughts on the Spanish Language in Medicine,” Translation and Medicine, ed. Henry Fischbach (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1998): 42.
3 Katrin Herget and Teresa Alegre, “Translation of Medical Terms,” Translation Journal 13 No. 3 (2009), http://translationjournal.net/journal/49medical1.htm (accessed December 30, 2014).
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Sonya E. Pritzker, Ka-Kit Hui, and Hanmo Zhang, “Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine,” UCLA Center for East–West Medicine, 2014, http://cewm.med.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/CM-Considerations-4.10.14-FINAL.pdf (accessed December 30, 2014).
7 Gregory Juckett, “Caring for Latino Patients,” American Family Physician 87 No. 1 (2013), http://www.aafp.org/afp/2013/0101/p48.html#afp20130101p48 (accessed October 24, 2014).

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