Beware of the Common Mistakes of Medical Translators!

Translation is a complex profession in its own right. You’re not only transforming words from a source language to a target language, but you’re also trying to get the author’s ideas and points across in a manner that is understandable, readable and clear to the target audience. Some translation jobs are, however, more demanding than others; and one translation job is particularly difficult; it is medical translation.
Leann Mango

Leann Mango

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Translation is a complex profession in its own right. You’re not only transforming words from a source language to a target language, but you’re also trying to get the author’s ideas and points across in a manner that is understandable, readable and clear to the target audience. Some translation jobs are, however, more demanding than others; and one translation job is particularly difficult; it is medical translation.

With the rise of immigration rates and the popularity of social media that is encouraging intercultural communication, translators, especially medical translators, are in great demand. However, medical translation means you’re not just translating a simple blog or a straightforward newspaper article, it means you’re translating a medical diagnosis that will be detrimental to the health of the patient if not translated correctly.

Beware of the Common Mistakes of Medical Translators!

So, to avoid embarrassing (and life threatening) translations, familiarize yourself with the common mistakes that freelance or company medical translators make.

1) Relying on Memory

It’s great when you have a broad range of vocabulary in your pocket, but you can’t just ‘wing it’ when you see a word you’re unsure of and just translate it according to your past experience working with the same sort of medical text. Look it up, be sure that your translation of that word isn’t just 95% correct, but 100% correct.

2) Translating Word for Word

A lot of translators and linguists argue about this point; whether word for word translation is ineffective and complete hogwash or not. In some cases, it is, so be careful how you approach this method. For example, you can’t just translate a passive sentence in the source language into a passive sentence in the target language. Just because it’s appropriate to use passive tense in the source language does not necessarily mean it’s also appropriate to use in the target language.

3) Going Overboard

I know we just said, ‘don’t translate word for word’, but that’s because in some cases it’s inappropriate, yet that doesn’t mean it’s not a preferable method of translation at times. Medical translation does not require much creativity on the translator’s part, so using fancy syntax or ‘colorful language’ will do more harm than good. You’ll confuse the patient, all they want to know is what kind of medication they’ll be receiving; they’re not interested in fancy word usage.

common mistakes that freelance or company medical translators make

4) Using the Wrong Terminology

You, as a medical translator, should of course be aware that there are certain words used in certain contexts. Translating a medical report for a professionally trained doctor will be different from translating a medical report meant for a patient. Remember, the way you convey a message varies greatly depending on the target audience.

5) No Communication Skills

Yes, it’s on the list, because it’s important. You will come across words you don’t know or sentence structures that are unclear to you, which is why you should always refer back to the healthcare provider when you’re unsure of something; be it the hospital, doctor or the author of the medical report in question. You will improve the quality of your translation and make your clients happy.

6) Not Proofreading

Many translators underestimate the significance of proofreading their own translation. This is important, especially for medical translators, where one wrong usage of a word could mean the patient’s health is in danger, as well as the healthcare providers’ (and your) reputation. Take the few extra minutes to look through your translation for any errors, even wrong punctuation could change the meaning of a sentence.

Being a medical translator requires a lot of effort and analyzing. However, despite the challenges that may accompany this job, don’t forget that it’s also for a noble cause. What makes your purpose any different from a doctor’s anyway? You’re helping people, aren’t you?

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