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How Culture Impacts Medical Document Translation

Aug 24, 2021

Cultural nuances play a role in every business translation but are especially important in medical document translation. “Culture” refers to more than differences between geographic regions — it also refers to how people of different ages or psychographic profiles may respond to language.

The umbrella term “medical documents” includes a variety of materials, such as:

instructions for use (IFU’s), product inserts, medical questionnaires, applications (user interfaces), medical reports, clinical trials documents, and more.

All these documents feature language that must be localized to meet the cultural expectations of each target market. This article discusses how regional and demographic culture impacts the translation process and your finished product.

Internationalization prepares documents pre-translation

The pace of medical document translation can slow if source documents aren’t adequately prepared beforehand. For example, we receive many U.S.-based medical documents for translation that include references to a “Social Security Number.” This term has no meaning to foreign readers.

In instances like these, we recommend adjusting the original documents before translation to provide the appropriate context. We refer to this as “internationalization,” It involves reviewing documents for things like region-specific information requests and date formats to ensure each is relevant to the target language/region, and playing catch-up after the fact consumes valuable time and resources.

Use simple language

From a linguistic standpoint, English is more straightforward than many other languages. However, English contains many idiomatic phrases with the potential for mistranslation. In medical document translation, these misunderstandings can have serious consequences.

For example, during a project for a medical device manufacturer, the user manual contained instructions for users to “warm-up” the device  This phrase required a non-literal translation to guard against users applying heat to the device.

You should always scan documents to highlight potentially problematic source language idioms before beginning translation.

Read more: Tips for vetting document translation partners.

Source language consistency is crucial

Lack of consistency creates confusion among target readers who may not understand equivalencies between words or phrases. If your medical documents initially refer to the “apparatus,” the same term should be used throughout all materials. Alternating uses of “device,” “apparatus,” and “monitor” may confuse the readers.

Once again, reviewing documents before translation to ensure consistency will guard against mistranslation or time-consuming corrections.

Adaption and transcreation for more significant impact

Common phrases in one culture may make little sense to target readers in other regions—even those who speak the same language. The process of adjusting terminology to become more relevant to a specific locale is called “adaptation.” Understanding the significance and meaning of various cultural phrases underscores the importance of utilizing native-language translators with in-country experience.

Sometimes translators must go beyond direct translation and use their discretion to recreate the content with a new phrase that generates an implied concept. This process is called “transcreation.”

For example, terminology that resonates with today’s teen audiences differs from language directed at an older demographic. Teenagers not only have their own set of linguistic shorthand, but many of today’s teens incorporate English phrases into their daily vocabulary. Translating those English phrases into the target language would work against the medical translation by unraveling an already-understood meaning.

Tools to promote consistency

To control unwanted linguistic variation, we encourage using a style guide that provides directives for the native language. Using the native language style guide as a reference, your translation partner can develop a target language style guide that will provide a framework for accuracy in your medical document translation projects.

Another way to ensure consistency across varying targets is to develop a termbase. These digital glossaries enable your translation partner to input preferred translation phrases, ensuring consistency throughout documents.

Digital tools for comparison and cross-checking are essential, but a human review is also vital to medical document translation success. At Morningside, our process involves at least two qualified linguists (a translator and an editor). Later in the process, we review formatting to get ahead of potential troubles in target language comprehension, such as line breaks between words, text hierarchy, and other layout considerations.

The rigorous standards associated with ISO certification ensure a translation company’s quality control processes are robust and repeatable. Morningside maintains ISO 9001 certification, designating a closely controlled quality management system. We also hold ISO 1385 certification, which applies specifically to medical devices. These independent evaluations protect you from uncontrolled quality management processes that negatively impact your medical document translation project.

Cultural consideration is a must

When managing your next medical document translation project, remember the role cultural nuance will play in your translation timeline as well as your finished product. You should adequately prepare source materials and partner with a language services provider to help ensure your process proceeds smoothly and that your translated materials can resonate as intended with your end-user.

Rely on an experienced partner for your next medical document translation project. Request a quote on our website at your convenience.

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