The Curious Case of Medical Translation: Big Answers to Big Challenges


Medical Translation Big Answers To Big Challenges

To say that medical translation is challenging would be putting it lightly. As a matter of fact, medical translation is one of the most problematic kinds of translations.

Between pharmaceuticals, healthcare brochures and products, medical devices, patient reports, clinical trials, and more, medical translators deal with a diversity of medical content, which presents unique challenges more than any other kind of translations. Moreover, the constant evolution in the field of medicine and science results in an increasing demand for medical translation, which accordingly has to keep up with that.

The sensitive nature of medical translation dictates that there’s no room for error; one slight mistranslation can induce dire consequences, including lawsuits and even life threats. This is why quality in medical translation is a strictly major priority.

Such priority is governed by several factors, chiefly terminology, culture, and audience.

Terminology Issues in Medical Translation

According to Hasuria Che Omar in his book “The Sustainability of the Translation Field”: “The World Health Organization has estimated that several thousand new medical terms are created annually”. If this calls for anything, it calls for accuracy.

Being a very specialized field, medical translation not only demands the linguistic accuracy, but also terminology precision. Medical translation has its specific unique terminology, related to illness, procedures, medications… etc.,

and a translator should be extremely familiar and knowledgeable of these medical concepts and terminology. For that, a medical translator always has one main question in mind:

Which is the right medical terminology to use?

Some medical terms can be commonly used in some countries, but unused in others, so another challenge comes in regard of choosing the appropriate term. Variations in spelling of the same terms may also hinder the translation process; in part, this can be due to the variations in American English and British English. What could be another terminology issue is the use of abbreviations, acronyms, and eponyms. An eponym is “any word that is identical with or derived from a proper name which gives it a related sense”, like for example, Alzheimer’s disease, which translators find difficulty in translating.

Here, it gets increasingly important to seek translation service providers. With the help of their qualified linguists, they use translation glossaries and develop various approaches to face the challenges of medical terminology. These approaches range from coining new terms, adapting terms to the target culture, or just keeping the terms. The choice between approaches is based on profound experience and diligent research, which guarantees accuracy and quality.

Cultural Appropriateness

Medical translation requires a thorough understanding of cultural differences; it should be considerate of cultures. A translation can be accurate and correct, but lacking the cultural appropriateness, which jeopardize the whole project.

According to VOA: “The culture of the community in which something is being translated will largely determine how words and expressions from the source language…. will appear in that community’s language.” The article also exposes one of the cultural concerns while working on a medical translation, namely discussing body parts and sexual healthcare. It could be a burdensome to explicitly discuss these matters, especially for a conservative culture like the MENA region.

The necessity of cultural correctness in medical translation is also present in surveys, for examples, where questions related to ethnicity, race, religion, or even alcohols can be really sensitive.

Target Audience: To Whom It May Concern

Unlike other kinds of translations, medical translations have a complex target audience. Basically, this audience falls into two categories: medical professionals or laypersons. The complexity comes from the fact that each category has

specific approach and requirements while translating.

If the target audience is medical professionals, the translator abides by the strict use of scientific and medical terms. Whereas, if the target audience is laypersons (like patients), things completely differ. For laypersons, language is less complex, and more general (familiar) medical terms are used, because patients, for instance, may not understand if too much terminology is used. For example, myocardial infarction is better known for them as heart attack, or epistaxis which is nose bleeding.

As challenging as these quality factors can be, people in the medical translation industry and language service providers manage to develop strategies to ensure a seamless quality-centered translation process for medical content.

Back Translation: Extra Quality Check

Language service providers have worked on a quality procedure known as Back Translation which has come to be an essential legal and regulatory requirement for organizations and institutions, like Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) and Ethics committees. Back Translation is a term referring to a process of translating a document, which has already been translated into another language, back to its original language. It might sound unfamiliar for many people who may also wonder how can this help. The answer is simple; back translation allows identifying flaws of translation and adding the naturalness of a language, thanks to the fact that it is performed by an independent translator who hasn’t been previously exposed to original text.

SME (Subject Matter Expertise): The Answer to Every Challenge

A key answer to every challenge in the medical translation process is subject matter expertise. It plays a crucial role to ensure a professional, accurate medical translation (linguistically, culturally, and in terms of terminology).

It’s because linguists with a subject matter expertise are deeply involved, have thorough knowledge, and plenty of experience in a specific field (in this case, medical), and sometimes, even they have degrees in their area of expertise. Along with a linguistic background and a strong command of the target and source language, subject matter experts can be a great asset to a medical translation. And there’s even more to that; subject matter experts understand how important to keep up with the updates of the medical terminology, which only further boosts their research and analysis skills and enhances their subject matter expertise.

Consequently, while working on a medical text, the linguist here has a full grasp of the matter in hand, efficiently uses the terminology and jargons of the field, recognizes the variations of these terms and how to appropriately employ them depending on the target audience, as well as decently handles any irregularities and exceptional cases. This smooth workflow gets even smoother, since a subject matter expert understands the requirement of the project, with minimal inquires, and as a result improves the turnaround time of your project,

Perhaps, subject matter expertise is one reason why translation projects are better assigned to professional translation providers who are keen on matching these projects with language specialists of related subject matter expertise, and medical translation is definitely no exception.


Medical Translation is demanding, and only the most experienced can work on it. With subject matter experts and rigorous quality procedures, your translation project can be close to perfection.

Yet, we know perfection isn’t real, but if perfection means an error-free highest-quality translation, then BayanTech can provide it!

In BayanTech, we believe in the paramount role of subject matter expertise in technical translation generally, and medical translation specifically. Our medical translation team includes in-country native-speaking translators and linguists with great deal of subject matter expertise and understanding of target culture and audience, relentlessly hardworking to come up with a culturally-adapted accurate translation.

BayanTech is a leading professional service provider who pledges complete confidentiality of your medical content and full compliance with applicable regulatory requirements.

Contact us to learn more about our medical translation services and discuss your project with our team.




About Us

bayantech is a leading language service provider. Since 2004, we have been providing ISO-certified, smart, and effective translation and localization solutions to major global businesses and organizations, helping our clients smoothly cross the frontiers of language and culture, communicate effectively worldwide, and expand their markets.

Article Rating




Leave Comments

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Let's Stay In Touch

Sign up to our newsletter and receive the latest industry news, insights, and trends straight to your inbox.

bayantech is a leading professional language service provider, offering certified, high-quality, and smart translation and localization solutions in more than 260 different languages.

Contact Info

  • BC4 Business Park, Ras Al Khaimah FreeTrade Zone, United Emirates PO BOX 331128

  • +971-526-314819