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Medical Translation Step by Step

Medical Translation Step by StepWe know that medical translation isn't for everybody. But among those translators who want to specialize in medical translations, the most common question is "How do I get started?".

Andy Bell of AAA Scandinavian Translations provided a great response to this question last year, on the There's Something About Translation blog. He provides realistic and specific pointers like:

I would suggest that if you’re planning to translate patient notes, medical records, surgical texts or journal articles then you might consider a course in medical writing/editing, read prolifically around the subject ("Medical Translation Step by Step" by Vicent Resurrecio and Maria Gonzalez Davies is excellent) or even consider working in a hospital on a paid or volunteer basis if you really want to get a handle on the language of medicine.
Take a look at the full interview - it's well worth the read.

Andy's comment that you "can't 'best guess' medical translation" identifies the crux of the problem faced by new-comers. Luckily, the book that Andy mentions, Medical Translation Step by Step, is a terrific tool to help beginner medical translators acquire insight and develop a suitable work style.

The book, which is published by St. Jerome Publishing, covers three main areas: medical writing, translation practice, and exploration of different paths to learning.

The 250-page book does a really good job of explaining the process of medical translation. Spread-out over seven chapters and two appendices, the book offers a comprehensive and practical textbook on medical translation.

For more information, take a look at the book review that appeared in The Journal of Specialised Translation. You can also get a sense of one of the author's experience and approach by reading The Acquisition of Translation Competence.

For other interesting books, take a look at:
ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized medical translation services to biopharma and medical equipment companies.


  1. Luis said...
    I purchased that book last month. My Master Translation Project is about a clinical guide to be translated into Spanish. Thanks to that book I know how to deal with medical translations (what to do, and what not to). It provides useful information for translators who are starting in the medical field, as well as for health professional who are interested in translation. The book is not only valuable because of the information that provided, but also because of the amount of online resources that are given. A must-have book for students like me.
    amaxson said...
    Thanks for your comment! Glad to hear that the book is useful and recommended by translation students! Do you have any other recommended reading for medical translation professionals/students? We're always interested in hearing about good resources for information!
    Lilia Zimarina said...
    I started by going to med school two years after I graduated from University where I got a degree in linguistics. During these two years, translating in a quite narrow field, I had a great opportunity to realize that the best way to succeed in some sphere is to know it from inside. Besides, I’ve always been interested in medicine. So I chose to study Pharmacology and later translate in this sphere. After a year in college I realized that it helped me enormously to have a better understanding of the subject. And although there’s still lots of stuff to do, I’m sure I made the right decision. I know that’s not the easiest way, but it’s challenging for sure!

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Marisa de Nohara said...
    In my case, I was already a translator when I was hired as the secretary to the general manager of a pharmaceutical company. I've never been prone to do things automatically, so I used to read all and every piece of communication that the GM had to see, supervise or refer to another person. Being in charge of the GM's correspondence, I started using specific terminology and jargon, until I was asked to translate a detailing-aid that the local branch was proposing to the central management. As from that day, I got involved in some marketing teams closely related to the medical director's activity, which in the end became my start-up as a medical translator. Years afterwards, I was quite abreast of the latest news in terms of pharmacology and certain medical issues which nowadays are my main fields of specialization. Nothwithstanding, it is of utmost importance to keep on studying and to be open to new pieces of knowledge. As long as medical sciences advance, we will have to keep on studying.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Joanne Archambault said...
    I came to medical translation from a highly technical background (Pharmaceutical R&D) so my challenge was to convince agencies to look beyond my "years of translation experience" and focus on the 15 years of subject matter expertise that I had acquired. My best advice to those who want to get started in medical translation is to know what the "output" in the target language should look like. This can really only be achieved by educating yourself on the topic (reading, taking courses, work experience, etc.). A related piece of advice is to check that your translated word/expression is actually commonly used in the target language! Simple, but a pretty important quality check.

    Even within medical translation, I think one can benefit from specializing even further... I've only been a full-time translator for a year, but I find it more challenging to translate cardiology-related medical notes than a clinical trial protocol / ICF / SPC because I have such deep expertise in the latter. But luckily I can rely on colleagues to help me out with some of the cardiology terminology that I get stuck on!

    [via LinkedIn]

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