Apr 2010

Medical Translation: What you need to know

In the last few decades, easy international travel and changing attitudes have led to a considerable surge in international tourism and immigration. Nowadays, more people than ever before are travelling around the world for reasons of business or pleasure, or choosing to move overseas. The result of this has been a substantial increase in demand for medical translation services in recent years. It is not at all uncommon for a person to require medical treatment or advice, but be unable to read or speak the appropriate local language competently. They may prefer pamphlets or other medical literature to be presented in their native language, or they may have to produce medical records written in their home country which require translation to be acceptable by the authorities of the host country.

Medical translation is often necessary not only to assist individual patients on a private basis, but also to facilitate research, communication and marketing in the wider medical and scientific community. All kinds of medical documents and media have to be translated to whatever languages that may be required. Translation of medical text of this kind must be done with great care and absolute accuracy, sometimes at very short notice. These tasks might involve texts such as medical transcripts, case notes, research papers, catalogues, marketing materials and presentation handouts, to give just a few examples.

Medicine is an extremely complicated and strictly regulated field of science, with literally thousands of unique specialised terms which would not normally be employed in everyday language. This jargon can seem utterly meaningless to those without medical qualifications. Merely having decent general fluency in the languages concerned is not enough to ensure legally acceptable, publication-quality medical translation. It is vital that any medical literature intended for a foreign-language readership be translated clearly and precisely, preserving the correct official terminology. Therefore, medical document translation should only be carried out by professional medical translators. These specialists are not only absolutely fluent in the language pair required, but are usually also doctors or medical consultants themselves.

Medical translation should not be entrusted to regular general-purpose translators, as they will not necessarily have the specific knowledge or experience required. It also goes without saying that one should certainly never attempt to use automatic ‘machine translation’ computer software or free online translation tools for medical translation purposes, as these tend to generate broken, unclear and incorrect translations even when processing the simplest everyday texts. Most responsible doctors and medical consultants would surely concur that medical document translation should always be performed by experienced, specialist human translators.

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