SimulTrans Localization Blog: SimulTips

Humongous and Abstruse Language Renders Medical Translations Perplexing

[fa icon="calendar"] July 27, 2018 / by Adam Jones


People often ask me, "Is it important that translators have a medical background to translate life science content?" I always answer with a resounding, "Yes!" No content requires more specialization than medical. It is often insufficient to have only a "medical" background, but necessary to have more in-depth knowledge of cardiovascular, orthopedics, pharmaceuticals, or another specialty.

While the knowledge of specialized terminology is vital for translation success, its overuse is one of the greatest pitfalls for patient communications. Translators often prioritize precision and select technical terms over reader-friendly language. For example, a translator may choose the target-language equivalent of a word like consume instead of take when instructing a patient to take medication. The translation is correct, but consume is rarely used. A lay person reading this text would better understand take.

When targeting medical professionals it is perfectly appropriate to use advanced language, but patients and other end-users prefer clarity and simplicity. User-facing content is often provided for clinical trials, instructions for use, patient guides, labeling, and marketing communications.

To ensure you receive medical translations that your users understand, implement the following best practices:

  1. Select professional translators with a medical education and background instead of medical professionals who moonlight as contract translators. Linguists who spend their days creating translations focus on language and clarity. They know how to convey content in a way people understand.
  2. Inform translators of the profile of the users. Who will read the translations? Doctors, nurses, patients, medical assistants, etc.? By providing background information about the use of a document or application, you will ensure that the text is written with the appropriate user in mind.
  3. Check the reading level of the translation or ask a translator to do it. In English, we often rely on the Flesch-Kincaid scale to evaluate the readability of text. There are similar algorithms for other languages. By evaluating the length of words and sentences, complexity of syntax, and chose of terms you can predict appropriateness of text by education level.
  4. Ensure your translation firm undertakes thorough reviews, such as editing and proofreading. The final linguistic review pass should be completed by a linguist more focused on style, spelling, grammar, and readability. This proofreading step can serve to refine the text so that it reads naturally, like eloquent original content instead of an overly literal and technical translation. The translator and editor are concerned about terminology. The proofreader is concerned about language.

By following these steps and understanding the profile of your end users you will ensure they can understand and appreciate your content.

SimulTrans would be happy to evaluate the readability of your translations at no charge. If they are too technical, often they can be refined with simple and inexpensive editing.

In addition to ensuring appropriate level of technical detail, there are many ways to ensure high-quality medical translations. Download our eBook of The 13 Most Important Practices for Successful Medical Translation.

Download The 13 Most Important  Practices for Successful Medical Translation


Topics: Medical Translation

Adam Jones

Written by Adam Jones

As President and COO of SimulTrans, Adam manages and supports SimulTrans worldwide, having spent over 25 years directing the company's customer outreach efforts, internal production groups, and other operations. He previously worked in Strategic Accounts at Oracle Corporation. Adam graduated from Stanford University, where he studied Public Policy with an emphasis on Education. He has remained connected to educational policy through involvement in local school governance and related non-profit organizations.