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Medical translation? No, thank you

Medical translation? No, thank youGuest article:
By B.J. Epstein
Swedish-to-English translator
Contact her via www.awaywithwords.se and http://brave-new-words.blogspot.com

As a translator, I have done a wide variety of work - financial reports, short stories, legal documents, websites, cookbooks, articles, dissertations, and more. But I have only once done a medical translation and that was a very unusual situation (my beloved grandfather had come to visit me in Sweden, gotten quite sick, spent his entire first day in the hospital and then was sent back to the U.S. the next day, and I translated the records from his stay at the Swedish hospital for his doctor back home).

Other than that, I have stayed away from medical translation work, partly because of the bad memories it brings up and partly because I simply do not feel qualified to do it, and I think it is important to recognize one's strengths and weaknesses as a translator.

Early on in my career, I wanted to try everything and learn about all the areas I could, but now I have understood that it is best to specialize. Specializing is both more profitable for me (my expertise helps me get the work out more quickly and at a higher quality) and more useful for clients (I ask them fewer questions and am less likely to make errors in fields that I am very familiar with).

While I greatly admire medical translators, I think I'll stick to literary, culinary, and cultural translation!

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  1. Paulina said...

    I must say that for me, culinary translations seem the most difficult field! Definitely more difficult than medical translations. See, all people around the world have a heart, pancreas or liver, so they also have words to name them in their languages, but it's only us in Poland (and maybe our closest neighbours) that have oscypki, pierogi or ryba po grecku. How on earth can you translate the names of dishes if there are no equivalents? Yes, I do admire translators of culinary texts.

    Barbara Thomas said...
    This is a difficult question. Obviously, it would be great if all scientific/technical translation were done by scientists, but I believe that we are in fairly short supply. I think that translators can choose a field and specialize in it, but many types of work really have to be reviewed by experts, who may not be translators.
    Elisabeth said...

    I am a medical translator (English and German into French) and it is very difficult ; my translations are often proofread by a colleague.
    Paulina said...
    To Elisabeth:
    this is what I call professionalism! If you do not know something, you ask and your translation is correct. I think that this is how translations should be done. Translated by a linguist and proofread by a specialist in a given field.
    To Barbara: I would not opt for a medical doctor to do translations all by him/herself. Just as I would not opt for a translator curing people... Although I admit that a specialist trained as a translator can do a great job here.
    B.J. Epstein said...
    Thank you for your comments.
    Paulina, here is an article by me on translating culinary texts: http://accurapid.com/Journal/49cooking.htm
    For such words, you may have to just keep the names (or, for example, anglicise them) and/or add a footnote or explanation.
    And yes, Barbara, of course it is good to work with editors/specialists where possible, but I also think it is a good idea to know your strengths and work with them as much as possible.

    Best wishes,
    Anonymous said...
    I think this is a great post in that it points out that specialization is really key. It shows respect for clients and also it gives one piece of mind about one's own work. It is important when providing a professional service to be able to truly provide the service that you sold to the client.
    Eve Bodeux

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