Medical translation services: problems and solutions within a highly specialist field

medical translation

The field of medical translation is extremely broad and highly specialised, so much so that many translators do not dare to delve into it without having some sort of official medical qualification behind them. The world of medicine poses an extremely large quantity of specific terminology that can be estimated to be around 20,000 medical terms alone, not taking into account the parts of the body, names of medicine nor names of illnesses. This huge amount of vocabulary, combined with the endless branches and specialities within the medical field and the rapid rate at which this topic advances require highly qualified and experienced translators when dealing with documents in the field. This article shall consider the main problems that translators of this field may come up against, and also the solutions they may take on.

Problems and solutions about Medical translation

One main problem faced regarding the translation of a medical text can be the similarity of two words with completely different meanings that a non-medical professional may not be able to distinguish. An example of this is the following two words which sound and look alike; yet have to completely different meanings: dysphagia and dysphasia – Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing while dysphasia means impairment or loss of the power to use or understand speech.

medical translation

Another common element of medical-based documents is medical abbreviations which again cannot be confused with one another. The translator must be aware of these abbreviations and know how to translate them into the target language. AS for example is the abbreviation for left ear, AD for the right ear and AU for both. If any of these abbreviations are mixed up the Doctor could misunderstand the patient´s medical issue.

Medical Translators also must be aware of false friends when translating medical texts

Medical Translators also must be aware of false friends when translating medical texts, especially between Spanish and English. As there are many words which are similar in the two languages some translators have a tendency to stick to this form of literal translation, when in fact is can be inaccurate. The Spanish word “cuantificación” for example is often translated into English as “quantification”, which although technically correct should actually be “quantitation” in its pharmaceutical context. Other examples include “reactivos” which are not in fact “reactives” but “reagents” and “valoración” is not “valuation” but an “assay”.

Proceso judicial

However, the etymology of medical words can often work in the translator´s favour. All new findings, discoveries, theories or drugs must be assigned a name and due to the universal scope of the scientific field, said vocabulary often is very similar across a wide range of Western European languages. The International Anatomical Nomenclature Committee (IANC) works to create, standardise and adapt scientific terminology worldwide through international meetings. Over 80% of medical terms have their roots in Latin, yet in many cases they comprise hybrids of one or two languages and are adapted to the language in question. These medical words can be broken down into roots, prefixes and suffixes to aid the translator in both their understanding and the medical translation task at hand. An example of this is the word: “Dermatitis”. The root “Derm-“ refers to the dermis, i.e the skin and the suffix “-itis” refers to inflammation, thus the word dermatitis means inflammation of the skin.

Another life-line for Spanish-English medical translators is the online platform Cosnautas. Cosnautus, fruit of Fernando Navarro’s “Libro Rojo” consists of two free resources, which are the “Árbol de Cos”; a resource complied of links to a wide range of medical resources and an extensive collection of Spanish medical abbreviations. And for a monthly cost, users may have the “Libro Rojo” as their disposal which comprises an online dictionary of queries and difficulties of medical translation.

Furthermore, medical texts often follow the same structure. A scientific article for example will always include the authors, background, methods, results, conclusions and key words so it is worth searching the web for parallel texts to ensure the correct terminology and structure is used. Another useful online medical resource for translators in the field is medtrad (www.medtrad.org/). A website with an abundance of resources, information and glossaries aimed at medical translators.
To conclude, when translating in the medical field do not hesitate to seek extra help when doubts arise, as mistakes can be very costly. It is also important to get to know the type of text, whether it be an abstract for a scientific article, a pharmaceutical prescription, a patent for medication or a patient’s medical report, so the translator may structure their translation, gain insight through parallel texts and know the purpose of their work.

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Sobre Carolina Balsa Cirrito 157 Artículos
Gerente - Directora. Licenciada en Traducción e Interpretación por la Universidad de Granada.

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