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Issues in Medical Translation

Sep 16, 2011

One issue that comes up in medical translation is proper terminology. When translating medical documents, should the medical translator use the scientific term or the layman’s term for a medical condition, treatment, or diagnosis? For example, in German, the proper scientific term for high blood-sugar disease is the same as in English–Diabetes. But most Germans use the term Zuckerkrankheit, literally ‘sugar disease.’ If you are providing a medical translation into German for doctors and other medical professionals, clearly the term Diabetes should be used. But if you are translating a popular scientific text, patient questionnaire, or drug label into German, then it would be better to use Zuckerkrankheit.

This dual-term quandary comes up frequently in German, where one medical term is often used by professionals, and another is used by the general population. As always when translating documents, the choice of terminology depends on who your target audience is: a clinical trial protocol should include the scientific term; an informed consent form (ICF) should include everyday terms the subject will clearly understand. It is also important to maintain consistency–if you are using a scientific term for a medical condition you should do so throughout the document.

Keep in mind that patients are better informed and more familiar with medical terminology than in the past, so it often makes sense to include the scientific term along the layman’s term. If the condition is rare it makes the medical translator’s job easier–you have to use the scientific term because there is no everyday equivalent. Having a clear understanding of the purpose of the translation and what it will be used for will help guide you through the translation process. Morningside’s certified medical translators are also available to assist.

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