The first challenge in medical translations is the translation of terminology. The challenge for the specialist translator is to find a Russian-language equivalent, not to use a foreign language copy. Otherwise, you may end up with unqualified texts where «hypertension» is replaced by «hypertension» and «practitioner» is replaced by «medical practitioner».
The following is an account of the difficulties and complexities of translation by Sergei Rujerovich Gilyarevsky, MD, who is editor-in-chief of the journal Evidence-based Cardiology and a professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapy.
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You do not have to be a doctor, you have to communicate with doctors
A specialist translator working in medical interpreting has to have a good knowledge of the terminology and the specific context. Therefore, the interpreter must either have an appropriate education or be in close contact with medical personnel, whom he or she can call upon at any time for advice.
The medical linguist must strike a balance between pliability and firmness. This is important in order to adequately translate specific terminology without crossing established boundaries. For example, some translators refer to all antithrombotic drugs as «antithrombotic» or to «compliant» as the degree of compliance with a doctor’s prescribed treatment regimen.
You need to pick up an assistant
The Internet offers many opportunities to facilitate the work of an interpreter. However, we are not talking here about machine translation, but about programs that allow you to find the words and terms you need more quickly and compile an automated personal dictionary.
The forums and translator’s websites are of great help in finding the necessary terms and texts.
Unsolvable problems in the work of a translator
If the translation of medical articles performed by a native speaker, these problems almost never arise. It is a different matter when the material is written, for example, in English but by a native French speaker. In this case, too, the translator may encounter unsolvable problems.
If the specialist translator works in an office, an editor comes to his or her aid. However, it happens that in such situations, even several specialists are powerless. And then only a direct native speaker with the appropriate education can help.
Arguments between linguists and physicians
Another major problem of medical translations is that doctors do not reach an agreement with linguists. The former advocate a precise transfer of terminology, the latter advocate a unified approach. Therefore, linguistically bad texts are often found in Russian medical journals. They contain notions of «trails» and «endpoints» that are incomprehensible to the reader, which means that the texts are perceived as poorly translated and unadapted.
Features of the medical translator profession
A translator is a creative yet passive profession that requires a person to adapt correctly to the author. All this gives some freedom in terms of expressing an idea, but it is still someone else’s idea, which we must always keep in mind.
If you compare translation with a game, it’s like playing solitaire or putting together a puzzle. You are constantly looking for word parallels in other languages and fields.
One of the main characteristics of a good translator is that he or she is prepared for the fact that his or her texts will be constantly corrected. The ability to take criticism into account and to change in response to comments is one of the most important qualities in any profession.
Combining work as a medical doctor and a translator
Being both a translator and a journal editor helps with the main job — lecturing and advising patients. As a medical specialist, we are aware of the latest findings and treatment methods, enabling us to offer our patients and listeners an alternative.
The flip side of the dual life of interpreter and medical specialist is the attitude of medical staff. Often, they are seen as bookish and nerdy, which creates a negative image within the team.
A mistake every interpreter should be wary of
One of the worst mistakes a translator of medical texts can make is thinking too much when he or she misunderstands the meaning of the original. If you encounter such a situation, it is better to postpone translation, consult a specialist, and only after you have clarified all unclear points, return to the text.