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Is translation a waste of paper?

Is medical translation a waste of paper?And now it's time for some soul-searching.

At ForeignExchange, we firmly believe that our translations save lives: If our translation mistakenly contains 10 ml instead of 1 ml, a patient could die.

Having said, we are also realists. Are all of the IFUs that we're translating really getting read? No, of course not. In fact, that's a good thing - I know I wouldn't want my surgeon to refer to the IFU while I'm lying on the operating table.

Yet realism is one thing, pessimism another. And the latter comes in the form of a recent article on European IVD regulations that appeared in IVD Technology. The piece contains the following:

For home-use (self-tests) and point-of-care devices, manufacturers may need to include DOCs translated into multiple languages with each product. This is perceived by industry as a waste of paper that will not increase patient safety but will drive up costs.
That's pretty harsh. If it's true, then why are we here? Is it enough to work for the sake of work (or a paycheck or profits or to get out of the house)?

How about it? Do you think that translation is a waste of paper?

[Thanks, Mel, for the tip!]

If you have a few more minutes, also take a look at the following:
ForeignExchange provides specialized medical translation services to the world's leading medical device and pharmaceutical companies.


  1. Mary said...
    I always read the instructions/warnings etc. on prescription (and OTC) medicines I take, so I don't think this is a waste of paper.
    Jan Snauwaert said...
    This article is a waste of time. What a stupid statement.
    Anthony Baldwin said...
    Those companies who view translation as a waste of paper, and likely hire out to the cheapest provider they can, in order to "waste" as few resources as possible, are playing with their client's lives, no doubt. It is a very dangerous position to take, that translating such important materials is a waste. It is a very important task, and to be approached with much care.
    Jose L Gonzalez said...
    Who ever wrote that must not be aware of the countries where liability laws count, even if in some cases they are purposely misused.
    Marie-Jeanne Boisacq said...
    It is a right to be able to read any instructions ! This statement is a waste of time (as wrote a colleague) and it is not very clever
    thur nesredna said...
    Nå, men hvis folk forstår det her, så kan de godt undvære oversættelsen, når de køber f. eks insulin fra Novo Nordisk...Tør du?

    That was Danish, and if people understand it, perhaps they can do without translation when they buy e.g. insulin from Novo Nordisk.
    Would you dare?
    Shobha said...
    Translation is a must. Never a waste.
    Patients need to know everything about he medical aspects that concern them, the pros and cons and must be in a position to choose and decide for themselves. How can this happen if they are not aware of the implications of the medical management they are subjected to? Not all people are literate enough to read and understand the ICFs written in English while they can pretty well understand Telugu. Imagine the number of patients who might have given consent to some medical procedure written in a foriegn language placing all their trust in their Doctor! Translation eliminates that aspect. After all, how can it be a waste? Reading the ICF thoroughly or not remains the choice of patient now. But no more does he/she remain uninformed or improperly informed.
    Boumediene Bouali said...
    Dear All,

    Of course, I agree with the above comments that Translation is NOT a waste of paper. There is no need to waste more time on this. However, the initiator of this blog should have posted the relevant paragraph in its entirety. The full paragraph is as follows:

    "IFUs can be provided electronically, so it is hoped that this will apply to DOCs [Declarations of Conformity] as well, at least for professional-use products. For home-use (self-tests) and point-of-care devices, manufacturers may need to include DOCs translated into multiple languages with each product. This is perceived by industry as a waste of paper that will not increase patient safety but will drive up costs."

    So, you realize that in fact, the author is stressing that providing printed documents (instead of e-documents) is perceived by industry as a waste of paper.

    The blog should go on commenting on this fact. The author did not say that "translation is a waste of paper."

    The entire paper is found at: http://www.ivdtechnology.com/article/eu-ivd-regulation-something-wicked-way-comes

    Boumediene Bouali, PhD
    Anonymous said...
    Depending on the purpose of the translation and the quality of the translation, it can be a waste. Sometimes a picture may be better than a translation; such as: "wash your hands". The translation of blood tests is sometimes a waste, since the important terms tend to be in English. Interpreting for physical exercise also tends to be a waste, since the patient only needs to copy what the physiotherapist does. However, there are other cases when it is not a waste (ex.: psychiatric regression and access to the subconcious --- how could you do it without an interpreter, when the there is no psychiatrist that speaks a certain language?)... My $0.05 of opinion.... Cheers, IR
    Dav68 said...
    "Having said, we are also realists. Are all of the IFUs that we're translating really getting read? No, of course not. In fact, that's a good thing - I know I wouldn't want my surgeon to refer to the IFU while I'm lying on the operating table."
    Maybe the surgeon, etc ., reads the instructions before use (as it usually says at the beginning).
    Seriously, we live in an international environment with international companies who want to sell their products all over the world, and written language(on paper) is the only means of doing this well.
    Marinus Vesseur said...

    Paper? What paper? My translations become Help files and manuals on cd-roms. Translation needs paper as much as a phone needs a wire.
    Anonymous said...
    The article referred to actually says: "[...]manufacturers may need to include DOCs translated into multiple languages with each product. This is perceived by industry as a waste of paper that will not increase patient safety[...]"

    The opinion is that the DOCs (declarations of comformity) should be provided electronically rather than in printed form. So the issue is not the translation, but the printing of the declaration in however many languages. I do hope you read your source texts more carefully...
    Itumeleng said...
    Those firms viewing translation as a waste of paper should be ashamed of themselves. They only thinking in terms of making profit for themselves and not for the welfare of people in general. As a translator in Africa, I've come to realize how important translation is, looking at the level of literacy in this continent.
    hanna heffner said...
    I wonder why they made that statement. Meeting patients, participants in clinical trials, people awaiting their trials etc. we, the translators and interpreters know too well how important it is for them to understand what is happening to them, what is expected of them. Those issuing statements like this certainly have never met anyone in a situation like that - but have they themselves never bought a foreign product?
    Yam Erez said...
    I'm still trying to decide if "waste of paper" is to be read literally or figuratively. If the former, well, all paper is a waste of paper. Your surgeon could read her IFU off a screen just as well as a clipboard. If the latter, well, for the above-mentioned reasons, of course it's not. There are obsolete professions (typesetter, blacksmith) but ours is not one of them. Chill out, fellow xlators.
    SyndicatedNews said...
    With the facility of being able to translate anything and everything electronically and instantly, I find translation a waste of valuable resource in both time and exercise.

    Like books, translations are a thing of the past. Our new website for instance accommodates over 200 languages, adds more languages all the time and spells better than I do.

    Technologies are surpassed all the time by faster, quicker, cheaper, better versions of themselves.

    Let it go already... translations are a thing of the past.
    Karin Eriksson said...
    We should of course always be on the alert for attacks on translation and translators, but maybe we should choose our battles? If I understand the article correctly this is not about instructions for use, but about declarations of conformity, which is quite something else (and less interesting for the patient). Also it is not about abolishing the actual translation of these DOCs, only that it might be enough to publish them electronically. Or did I misunderstand the text?
    Anonymous said...

    I just visited the website whose article reference you quoted here, and I decided to leave a message via their contact form.

    Here it is:



    I just received word from a fellow translation agency
    (see http://blog.fxtrans.com/2013/02/is-translation-waste-of-paper.html )
    pointing out to the following article from your website:


    There is a paragraph in this article:

    "For home-use (self-tests) and point-of-care devices, manufacturers may need to include DOCs translated into multiple languages with each product. This is perceived by industry as a waste of paper that will not increase patient safety but will drive up costs."

    1) If the author of this article is serious and professional, he should quote statistics or research that clearly backs such a negative statement about another industry, translation.

    2) If the author is making such a negative statement about translations simply based on "rumors" or the comment of just a couple of ignorant (in regard to translation) manufacturers, then he should not expect serious scientists or readers to trust his articles and, thus, he should not be allowed to write here.

    I hope your editorial staff takes a good look at this complaint.


    I. C. Lopez


    I did not get a confirmation message after pressing the "Send" button, so I am not totally sure the message got to them, but I will let you know if they reply.


    Peter Hessel said...
    Translation CAN be a waste of paper if it is done by people who call themselves translators but have no qualifications other than perhaps a paperback bilingual dictionary. Ot when it's done on one of the so-called electronic translation programs. Such translations are not only a waste, but can be very dangerous (also sometimes very funny). It is high time that REAL translators project themselves as highly skilled professionals. In fact, the professional title of translator should be protected by law, just as the professional titles of engineer, lawyer, accountant, etc. It should be illegal to call yourself a translator without proper qualifications. And companies soliciting people to accept translation work - such as TraduGuide - should inform their clients of the difference between
    professional translations and amateur attempts which I call "Translatese". Yes, Translatese is not only a waste of paper, but also a waste of (the client's) money.

    Peter Hessel, C.Tran.(Canada)
    Rihard Piskar said...
    How can you imagine what kind of side effects of medicamenta you could expect without translation?
    Translator Services Malaysia said...
    What?? Translation is an essential in this global world.. How come it will be waste of time??
    Laura said...
    I fully agree with Peter Hessel's comment.
    Richard Squire said...
    A paper slip has to be enclosed in each and every package. Whether it's in English, German, French, Urdu or Gujarati should have little impact on paper consumption!
    Isabel Coutinho Monteiro said...
    I do not agree that translation is a waste of paper. Not at all! As a matter of fact, many medical translations I have done are intended to "localize" the software of medical equipment and the corresponding IFUs. On the other hand, what should one say about the uncountable pages that are being translated all over the world just for the sake of imposing a certain culture and point of view within corporate and institutional organizations? These are surely much more paper-consuming and not at all driven by the best interest of Mankind.
    Pablo Bouvier said...
    Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. Albert Einstein.

    But, I am quite sure thattt who made such statements is a moron and I do not need to be a genius like Einstein to identify it.
    Maria Gabriela Dias said...
    Who said translation is a waste of paper should be arrested! In each and every field, translation is NEVER a waste of paper, unless it's done by someone who calls him/herself a translator "just because it's easy to translate". It's not that easy, and that's how those huge mistakes appear!
    bujinin said...
    Yes, I agree said statement may sound like an echo from a different age. But looking at it in its context...

    “For home-use (self-tests) and point-of-care devices, manufacturers may need to include DOCs translated into multiple languages with each product. This is perceived by industry as a waste of paper that will not increase patient safety but will drive up costs.”

    ...translation is no longer a waste of paper, the waste of paper is having the same declaration translated into multiple languages for each language market. And that’s the localizer’s bailiwick.
    Yael said...
    I find the manufacturers' comments very irresponsible: if only one person would die because s/he used the device/drug incorrectly, because s/he couldn't read the instructions in his/her native language, they would change their view on investing a few bucks on the translation - which are a few not only compared to their huge gains, but also as an absolute value.
    Ilze said...
    NO Translation is NOT a waste of paper! If it's been badly translated, perhaps, but if it's been done properly, you have access to the most amazing cultural diversity you'd never have set eyes on previously.
    piamaria55 said...
    Clearly, the person who said something as stupid as that is simply woefully ignorant of what actually goes on at every step of the chain, from the sale of a medical product to its usage by the end user. I like the comment by my Danish colleague above, very illustrative and to the point. It is always amazing to me, just how many English language chauvinists there are out there, who continuously fail to realize that a) there are actually -gasp- people out there on this planet, who, as surprising as this may sound to them, actually do not know English, and therefore do need access to a manual/IFU/insert etc, in their own language, and b) that yes, these translations ARE actually being read. Having worked for many years at the other "receiving" end in the Swedish health care system, in the highly technology dense field of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, I know only too well how frustrating it is to have only, often poorly written, manuals in English available. This was before the era of mandated documentation in all EU target languages, and I know in my department, we would all have cherished a well written Swedish manual, even though we all spoke fairly decent English. Several of my former colleagues who are still in clinical practice have told me that they prefer a well written Swedish manual, in commenting when I tell them what it is that I do nowadays. Only a completely uninformed person can fail to see how having a well-written manual in ones own language must increase patient safety. To summarize, the only waste of paper here, would be any printout of the article where this sadly misinformed person made that imbecilic statement, but hopefully no one would be as wasteful as to do just that...
    Sambo said...
    Obviously, the author of this article has never experienced the frustration of not being able to communicate with others while living in a foreign country. For example, signing an informed consent form before surgery, expressing how you feel to a doctor who doesn't speak your language, signing a contract, having to read an official letter or document... The list is endless. We can't make everyone read the instructions even in the original language, but it's available for those who read them. The same goes for the translation. It's safer to have the translation versions available for those who read them than not have it at all.
    Anonymous said...

    Comment to the person who posted as:

    "Anonymous said...
    February 19, 2013 at 3:13 AM"

    and said: "I do hope you read your source texts more carefully..."

    It almost sounds like you are the author of the quoted article, so I wonder if you are trying to imply now that people (and I suppose translators?) don't know how to read your statements right?

    Not a chance. The quoted statement is ambiguous enough to sound as if what it is referring to is that translation is a waste of paper.

    Syntax, which has to do with the order of words in a phrase and how that order can affect meaning, in the quoted phrase is clearly ambiguous enough to imply the possibility of considering translation, as well as the use of printed documents, a waste.

    Also, for the record, translators usually send clarification queries to the author/provider of the original text when faced with ambiguities like the one that started this thread, and especially medical translators, who often handle very difficult texts.
    Mohamed said...
    This was a very stupid statement. It is never a waste of paper if you educate me how to use a nebulizer for example. One day, my son who is very allergic to tree nuts, managed to eat some while we were sitting with friends in a park. Unfortunately, we didn't notice that and he started to vomit and his face turned red. We usually have his EpiPen with us. We never used it, but that time we had to use it. What would happen if the instruction was in a language that i don't understand. My son's life was saved by reading the instruction. This claim is very silly indeed. What about poor, illiterate people in Africa or Asia? Would they be able to read English or French? But if it is translated in their language, at least a literate friend or neighbor can help them out.
    Marit Bjerkeng said...
    Of course translations are necessary!
    And paper can be recycled...

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