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The fundamentals of medical translation


Due to the phenomenon of globalisation, the need for translation in 2016 is greater than ever. People from all over the world want their messages to reach a global audience; something that can undoubtedly be enhanced by communicating in different languages. However, as the world of translation is so vast, different fields call for tailored approaches, each with their own set of requirements and challenges. Here at GlobaLexicon, one of our specialisations is in healthcare & pharma translation which requires a unique translation process with a particular focus on three key factors…


When working with a medical text, there is no room for error. Mistranslating "biweekly" as twice a week, when the instruction calls for every two weeks could have a dangerous and potentially life threatening result. A similar risk applies when translating a healthcare professional's diploma, where an incorrect date could render their services invalid. In order to avoid such outcomes, close attention must be paid to every word and figure that is translated, so that the source text is perfectly conveyed without any inaccuracies.

At GlobaLexicon, we also make full use of our Quality Assurance team who carry out a thorough check after the translation/proofreading stage, so that these kinds of mistakes are eliminated altogether. 


Every country comes with its own unique set of drug brands, healthcare insurance, currency, vocabulary… (the list goes on), all of which must be taken into consideration and localised. You wouldn’t ask a Frenchman about their ObamaCare, nor would you ask an Italian about nurse practitioners, as the role simply does not exist in Italy. A comprehensive understanding of these necessary modifications can make all the difference between a respondent finding a questionnaire relevant or completely alienating.

A translator needs to maintain a constant awareness of the target language’s nuances and market specific options. In doing so, they can ensure that the finished product is a well-defined and targeted document that uses the correct equivalents. It is in this way that the translation will truly reach and be understood by the target audience. 


Finally, translators must always use the correct, most up-to-date terminology. For example, a German translator who does not specialise in medicine, might be tempted to translate ‘biologic therapy’ as ‘biologische Therapie’, where ‘biologic’ is the adjective used to describe the form of therapy. Technically, this looks correct. However, in the medical context, ‘biologic’ refers to the biopharmaceutical agents known in German as ‘Biologika’, thus making the correct translation ‘Therapie mit Biologika’ or ‘Biologika-Therapie’.

What sounds correct to the layman’s ear will immediately baffle or irritate the physician reading the document in question, resulting in a failure to transmit the precise message of the source text.  A sound terminological knowledge is therefore one of the main prerequisites for an accurate and professional translation.

Of course, there are many other important factors to bear in mind when translating; style, tone and consistency to name a few, but the three outlined above are vital to delivering a top quality medical translation.

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