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How important are Medical translations?

948625-Medical-still-life-with-Hospital-admission-paperwork-and-a-Doctor-s-stethoscope--Stock-PhotoHow important are Medical translations?

Whilst the highest standards of accuracy and quality must be maintained in translation work in any field, they are of absolute importance in the field of medical translations, given, of course, that the stakes for a patient or user of a particular service can be very high.As with any effective translator, a medical translator must fundamentally have a native level of proficiency in the target language and an exceptionally high formal standard in the source language.

The candidate should be in possession of a high level of cultural knowledge in both source and target languages as well as a range of analytical competences. Furthermore, the medical translator must have had a formal medical training. With such an educational basis to draw on, a professional working on medical translations will be expert in the terminology of the subject matter, being able to interrogate fully the source text with the help of specialised dictionaries and resources.

Medical translations also require the translator to have an extensive knowledge of medical terminology alongside the ability to identify and validate equivalents between the source and target languages. This is of particular importance in circumstances in which there may be regional variations in either language. Txabarriaga describes this characteristic of medical translations in great detail by stating that medical translators will have:

“the ability to discern meaning in context and transfer it within the target language constraints, i.e., accurately (all meaning has been transferred), precisely (all nuances of the language, tone, intent, style have been preserved in the target language), correctly (grammar, syntax, orthography rules have been observed), completely (no part of the original was omitted and nothing has been added to the target text), and consistently (specific terms, stylistic elements and language-specific norms have been consistently used throughout)” (2005).

Whilst the initial accurate conversion of medical translations is, of course, of utmost importance, so too is the quality assurance process. It is essential that the reviewer is also a professional linguist with a medical background in the target language. This is required in order to prevent the introduction of errors into a medical translation at the review stage, creating, at best delays and, at worse, difficulties for the end user.

Although the review process obviously comes after the translation of whole documents or portions of text, the principle of quality assurance should be a continuous characteristic of medical translations. Translators should be quick to identify and report errors in the source text and should be quick to respond efficiently to concerns raised by the reviewer or client.

No translation is straightforward and professional translators will always take care to submit high quality work. Given the nature of their content, however, medical translations require an additional level of professionalism and care. The highest standards can only be achieved by employing translators of the highest calibre, with a professional understanding of both the linguistic and medical challenges inherent in the work, and by employing equally professional reviewers in order to ensure that delivered product is a wholly accurate representation of the original work.

Txabarriaga, R. 2005. “About Translation Standards.” The Journal for Distinguished Language Studies, Volume 3,