Tag: medical translations

The Quality Dilemma_

OK, you need a translation into Portuguese, but you do not speak Portuguese. How do you go about it?

– Well, I will look up providers online, ask someone I know, get some quotes…

– Yes, but how will you determine whether you are getting a good translation if you do not speak the language?

– I guess I have to trust the provider.

This is a conversation I was having with a friend this week who is not from the translation industry. It turns out that the conclusion she came to, i.e. you just have to trust the provider, is the same conclusion that most translation buyers come to. Another common thing that happens is asking someone who speaks the language, but is not a professional translator, to take a look at the translation. What is the problem with those approaches?

You will never know for sure…

First, you cannot just trust someone’s stated or real credentials. I have recently begun a process of selecting a team of highly skilled Portuguese <> English translators to work with me at EAP. I have received hundreds of CVs, selected about 30 or so who had impressive stated and proven experience and, so far, I am about halfway through, I have a 50% approval rate. I am an experienced reviewer, which means I do pick up on more things than your average reader would, but still you cannot trust a 50% chance of your translation being right.

My test is an exert from a clinical trial report, which is standard for a medical translator. Brazilians are not native speakers of English and many grammatical constructions in English are very difficult for us, especially when they involve long sentences with several adjectives, etc. Now let us imagine that a Physician is reading a clinical trial report in English and finds himself unsure about a sentence on adverse events. So he looks for the translation, and in 50% of the cases, finds a misleading or partially correct translation. The potentially serious implications of this are obvious.

In the second approach, if you ask someone who happens to speak Portuguese to check the translation out for you, you may get an inaccurate assessment. Would you trust someone who is not in the healthcare industry to write your clinical trial report in your own language? Probably not, because that person is not familiar with the style and terminology used in the healthcare industry. The same goes for any other language, if someone just happens to speak that language, it does not qualify this person to write extremely technical and sensitive documentation in that language.

There is one third approach that some companies use, which is back translating. Back translating is getting a different translator to translate the text back into your source language. I will not go into details on that, because I have mentioned this before in my posts, but basically if your back translation says word for word what your source says, it is probably wrong. The reason for that is that, in order to translate meaning into another language, you often have to change the wording. Back translation can help iron out a few issues, but will not guarantee a quality result.

In many instances, when translation buyers are faced with this dilemma, they lose interest. They just go with a quote that fits their budget and hope for the best, because they won’t know anyway unless there is a very obvious error. But think about how much time and effort has gone into writing your original copy? You probably employed specialist writers, edited and revised your copy several times…Why would you then waste that effort on your foreign audience by presenting them with a poor translation?

In short, quality is essential to your success, you know that when you write your copy, and you need a method for ensuring that your translations reflect that quality.

How do you do that?

  1. Look for a provider who is looking to partner with you.

First, you should look for a provider with good credentials and a good track record, but you should not trust that alone.

In addition to looking good on paper, when you ask for a quote, look for signs that the provider is willing to revise the translation, will be available for questions, and seems as invested as you are in ensuring the final quality of the product. For example, a provider who is upfront with you about a deadline being too tight for a quality job, or the price being too low to pay for a reviewer, or who asks you questions about the nature of the job and other terminology management issues, e.g. are there any terms not to be translated? These are signs that the provider is invested and takes pride in the final result, which means he/she will work with you.

  1. Get feedback from your target audience.

The best people to tell you whether a translation is clear and resonates with them is your target audience. If you cannot do that before the translation goes out, make sure you do it after so that you at least have some feedback on that provider for future projects, and you can mitigate the impact of a bad translation, if it turns out so.

For example, if you had a market research questionnaire translated, ask your moderator about how clear the questions are to him/her. If your moderator is unsure about some questions, go back to your translator and ask him/her to find a way of saying that more clearly.

Also, if your translation is a website, then use a popup quick survey. If you had a clinical trial report translated for your medical audience, get your sales reps to ask physicians for feedback on particularly technical areas of that report, or ask your sales reps how well they understand the translated report.

There are many ways in which you can implement a feedback mechanism for your translated documents and this can go a along way into building a trusting relationship, both with your target audience and your translation provider.

  1. Take the feedback back to your provider and see how he/she works with you to implement it.

When you get feedback from your target audience, your translation provider should be willing to comment on that feedback and discuss with you what changes are/are not appropriate. Ultimately, your provider must be flexible enough to accommodate the changes that you deem appropriate and work with you to make them work linguistically.

If you are a translation buyer, you should always have in mind that your efforts in your field are only as good as you can communicate them. When you work across cultures, this applies to your translations as well.

At EAP, we will work with you, we do our utmost to ensure that your tone and message are conveyed seamlessly, because, for us, we only succeed when you do. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you communicate with your medical audiences across borders.

Dear readers,

The following post is a review of the second edition of Tradusa, an event for translators and interpreters in the healthcare industry, held in Brazil. I was not involved in it, but one of my readers has asked me to publish this review and help promote the event. If you like what you read, by all means support the event and make sure you are a part of its next edition.

Happy reading!


TRADUSA Round Two: More Than Skin and Bones

The second iteration of TRADUSA, Brazil’s event for translators and interpreters specialized in healthcare and medicine, was held at the Instituto Phorte in São Paulo on April 1-2, 2016. Fruit of the organizers’ arduous labor and an ever-increasing demand for quality language services in the health sector, this year’s participants enjoyed a balanced combination of hour-long presentations and hands-on workshops–a note-worthy improvement over TRADUSA’s speaker-heavy inaugural edition.

Right from Friday’s opening pitch, participants were offered their choice of a mini-course in neuroanatomy or various translation workshop options, allowing them to grab their bull of interest by the horns from the outset. In his neuroanatomy mini-course, Dr. Altiere A. Carvalho managed to get everyone’s neurotransmitters firing due to his engaging, participatory lecture style, accessible explanations, and plain good nature. Everyone left the workshop with a voluntary appreciation for the body’s involuntary intelligence.

Following a caloric refuelling in the company of new and old colleagues, a round of presentations kicked off with Val Ivonica’s plunge into the controversial topic of machine translation. Ivonica’s talk was practical, product-oriented and properly prudent, but the overarching take-home—embrace these tools, if for no other reason than for sheer productivity’s sake—was the most valuable reminder for a field in disruption.

Pharmacist and translator Beatriz Araújo guided her audience through the dense forest of Brazilian healthcare legislation, stopping to highlight those laws that affect which and how medical texts make their way into the hands of translators. Some of the material was also relevant for those of us from the interpreting world who would like to see limited Portuguese proficient patients access their constitutional right to healthcare—as guaranteed in article 197 of the 1988 constitution (thank you Beatriz!)—via hospital and clinic interpreting services.

Adriana Dominici offered more grist for the translator mill in her presentation about the translation of pharmaceutical package inserts. Though the presentation was tailored to the German-Portuguese combination, the larger message about differing publication formats and regulations among countries was relevant to any pharmaceuticals translator.

The day rounded out with a presentation from the Colectiva team, Cecilia Tsukamoto, Daniele Fonseca, Livia Cais and Suzana Gontijo
who reengaged any interpreters who may have been drifting off following the translation heavy stretch of speakers. Both warm and professional, the squad delineated a roadmap to the demanding world of medical conference interpreting. Though they responsibly reminded aspirants that the field is not one to be taken lightly, the overall message was non-exclusive and grounded: hard work over time can indeed build expertise. No silver bullets were nor could be peddled, but the veteran interpreters did offer a useful introduction, outlining the types of assignments one might encounter and preparation tips for the booth.

Day two’s format mirrored its predecessor: a workshop or mini-course in the morning followed by afternoon speakers (with plenty of breaks for coffee and snacks throughout the day, claro!). Your author attended Rosario Garcia’s workshop on Portuguese-English medical translation intended for translators with little to no experience in the specialty. Garcia proved to be very at home in the classroom, adeptly guiding students through a bit of theory and moving straight on to practical exercises, allowing for immediate experimentation and application of the information presented.

First up to bat in the afternoon round of presentations was conference circuit speaker Ana Julia Perrotti-Garcia with her presentation on medical terminology equivalency pitfalls. Though heavy on the lexical side, Perrotti-Garcia also took the time to revisit fundamental medical concepts—background knowledge valuable to newcomers and seasoned professionals alike.

William Jacob de Lima then exposed us, unprotected, to the evolution of radiology and just about every type of imaging process possible. Though our thyroid glands emerged unscathed, the deluge of isolated images did provoke a sort of vertigo among the uninitiated. Though Jacob de Lima could not be faulted for his completeness, a more detailed pathological contextualization of fewer slides would have been helpful for the layperson.

TRADUSA’s final speaker, Andresa Medeiros, shed light on an interpreting setting nascent in the Brazilian market but long ubiquitous in many other parts of the world: the so-called public service or community healthcare interpreting setting. Medeiros focused on the special considerations that must be taken when interpreting for immigrants, making apparent the jarring differences between this sort of public service interpreting work and that of its sister setting: conference interpreting.

Though arguably lacking the depth or vibrancy that will evolve in later editions, this second iteration of TRADUSA has proven that the event is right on track for future stardom. The conference is a valuable hub for an interpreting sub-specialty that merits and demands apt professionals. After all, the stakes are, quite literally, a matter of life and death.


The author

For nearly a decade, Laura Vaughn Holcomb has been the conveyor of intimacies passed between embattled cancer patients and their oncologists, transplant candidates and their care team, and midwives and new mothers. Healthcare interpreter by heart and conference interpreter by hat, in the booth Laura specializes in coffee and cacao.

Laura co-developed and currently runs the Glendon College Virtual Healthcare Interpreting Practicum (VHIP), an online internship program for advanced students preparing to enter the healthcare market. She also trains conference interpreting students for the fully online, Brazil-based Interpret2B. Laura holds a Master of Conference Interpreting from Glendon College in Toronto. More at: LauraHolcomb.com


In global market research, translation and localization are major components of producing quality insight. When you make your research global, you need to ensure that you get quality and actionable insight from each market. There is no point in spending a lot of yours and your client’s time creating the clearest and most insightful questions, if in the end your questions are not going to be asked anyway, or your questions will not be fully understood, or worse, if the insight that you end up with does not reflect the actual data that you collected. Hence, global market research agencies often spend a lot of time and effort recruiting their strategic staff and moderators, but not as much time selecting and briefing their translators.
In my experience as a translation editor for market research agencies, this often leads to poor translations, and outputs that require a lot of effort from analysts before they can be converted into quality and actionable insight for end clients. For those who are not bilingual, here is a little caveat, we do not think the same in different languages. Apart from the obvious differences in lexicon and grammar, the way we structure language in our minds also shapes how we structure our thoughts. Hence, translators do not translate words, they translate concepts and ideas. In other words, you do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant.

“You do not want your translators to say what you said, you want them to say what you meant”

In order to get the most out of your market research, I have put together 5 tips that will dramatically improve your relationship with translators and the outputs that they produce. I promise.
1. Choose translators with the right expertise
This is crucial to the success of your international market research. Your translators need to be knowledgeable about the field of your market research. In the same way that you want your content producers to be knowledgeable and ask the right questions to yield the best insight, you want your translator to be able to convey all that knowledge and expertise in a way that also sounds knowledgeable and is comprehensible to your target audience. For example, in healthcare, the translator has to know enough about medical issues to be able to word the same question appropriately for a layman audience and a medical audience. Doctors in Brazil are literally offended if you “dumb down” medical terminology for them. It is often the case that when healthcare market research materials are translated by a non-medical translator, the translator struggles with the terminology and either produces questions that are unintelligible to physicians and to the moderator; or produces questions that are “dumbed down”, because the translator himself did not have the vocabulary to word the question appropriately for a medical audience. Furthermore, a medical translator will have knowledge of the healthcare system in the target country, potentially even in the country where the question is being created, which means that the translator will be able to localize concepts regarding the source healthcare system, for example, to reflect the target healthcare system. In summary, you want your translator to be familiar with the terminology and market that you are addressing, because this will not only ensure better outputs, but will also potentially save you quite a bit of time in desktop research.

2. Establish partnerships with your translators
The translator is an individual from your target market and, assuming that you followed my first tip, who is knowledgeable about the specific industry that you are researching. Hence, the translator is not just someone who can put your words into another language, the translator is someone who potentially has knowledge that you can capitalize on. In other words, you want the translator to be as invested as you are in the final outcome of your project. The only way that you can achieve that is by establishing partnerships with your translators, thus, giving them a sense of ownership over the final results and ensuring that you capitalize on their local knowledge. Let your translators know that they are your preferred providers, and encourage your project managers to ask them questions about the target market and establish good working relationships with them. This creates a win-win situation; translators benefit from being your preferred partners and from the steadier work stream, while you benefit from their commitment and knowledge. What’s more, if you make them a preferred partner, the chances are that they will make you a preferred client and will try their best to always accommodate your needs and deadlines.

3. Get your translators involved in as many steps of the process as possible
By getting your translators involved in the project from its initial stages, and in as many stages as possible, you ensure that the translator is familiar with the particular terminology of your topic of research and, what’s more, the translator is aware of your goals and committed to them. A translator who has translated your questionnaires and visual aids is familiar with your research and, therefore, able to guarantee a fast turnaround for your outputs, because there will be no need for further terminology research. Furthermore, let us say that your moderator misunderstood a question, when the translator is translating the first output, the translator will be able to spot that, because he/she is aware of what you meant. Hence, he/she will be able to point this out to you before you conduct an entire project asking the wrong question. If the translator offers other services, even better! For example, a translator who also offers content analysis is someone who will be able to choose the quotes and translate the insight of your outputs in a way that is most meaningful to your goals. This reduces the time that your in-house team will have to spend on “translating” those data into actionable insight. This is another win-win situation, because you dramatically improve the quality of your outputs, and the translator gets commissioned for more work.

4. Allow appropriate time for translations
Market research is often a time-bending exercise. It always starts with a good plan, timings and schedules look great, but often these are tossed away and everyone is just working towards the final deadline. Whatever the reason, a translator who works with market research agencies needs to be aware that more often than not, this means that the time allowed for translations is usually short and often unpredictable. In these circumstances, market research agencies often resort to translation agencies, who have a large pool of resources and can split the translation into as many people as necessary to get it done in time. However, this is far from ideal, because different people with no prior knowledge of your research will translate the same things in different ways. In such cases, it is beneficial to have a preferred partner who is familiar with your project, because even if ultimately you have to outsource the translation to an agency, you can always have your partner harmonize everything and ensure that it is all in line with the terminology and goals of your project. Having said that, if you make it part of your MO to allow sufficient time for translations, you can work with your translator to ensure that everything is done in time. For example, you can keep your translator informed of your scheduling and rescheduling activities, so as to ensure that the translator is available to translate your outputs on a rolling basis. Hence, your final deadline may be months away, but the translator is working with you all along. This allows the translator sufficient time to produce a quality translation, and enables you to catch potential language issues in initial stages of the research, as exemplified in tip 3.

5. Appoint a dedicated point of contact to answer the translators’ questions
If you work directly with translators, or if your translation agency has a quick feedback process, you can dedicate someone who is deeply knowledgeable about your project to be available for questions. This is extremely important to ensure that the translator can clarify what you mean, because you do not want your carefully crafted questions to be translated based on a translator’s hunch. This dedicated person can liaise with the translator, brief the translator and ensure that the translator understands not just your project as a whole, but each specific question. Asking the right questions is the basis of market research, and you do not want your efforts lost in translation.

In short, make sure that you work closely with your translators. Make sure that every member of the project team is aware of how important good translations are to the overall success of your global market research project. This may be challenging at times, because most market research agencies employ freelancers, who may be based in different time zones, etc. However, if you put in the effort to establish good relationships with your preferred translation providers, you will streamline your project and you will dramatically improve the quality of your data.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

I have had some time recently to reflect upon my trajectory into becoming a medical translator. I have always said that I did not choose translation, but translation chose me; because my first translation jobs came through people who asked me to translate for them. However, I may have been wrong about this initial assumption.

When I look back far enough, I see myself as a young child begging my mother to put me in English classes. I was convinced that if only I could speak English, I would be able to communicate with the whole world. My initial drive to speak English was so strong that when I was not in school, my whole days revolved around opportunities to learn and speak English. I remember talking to myself and in front of the mirror in English, sticking sheets of paper on the TV to cover movie subtitles and watching them several times. I remember being fascinated by foreigners; I wanted to know them, hear what they had to say, as if they had something different and magical that I had to tap into.

At 14 years old, the school where I learned English had no further advancement courses left for me, so they gave me a job as a teaching assistant. Still, I wanted to actually communicate in English, so I volunteered to translate for the South African swimming team that came every year to attend swimming competitions in my local town, and I volunteered with an organization that hosted exchange students.

When I was 17, I was fortunate enough to go on an exchange program to Australia, where my English really transformed thanks to a host of wonderful people who helped me literally mold it into what it would become. Later, when I went back to Brazil from Australia, I needed to earn some cash as an undergraduate Biology student, so I started teaching English and translating for professors from my university.

My English skills have always been my bread and butter. In addition, they afforded me opportunities to travel, meet people and experience things that would not have been possible if it had not been for them. I am even married to a native English-speaker and, since Australia, I have  also lived in the UK and Bermuda.

“In short, I can categorically state that my English skills have been the most predominant factor in shaping my life as it is today.”

From the moment I became aware that there were people saying things that I could not understand, I decided that it was crucial that I understood them. More importantly, I learned that I could facilitate the communication between people who could not speak the two languages that I could speak. That gave me an immense sense of empowerment, and of being able to empower others to do business or have relationships with people who would normally just bypass them.

When at university, I became aware of how much scientific research is misunderstood or misconstrued due to being in English. Both journalists and researchers have ready access to international journals and news, but poor language skills often mean that scientific discoveries take a long time to be fully comprehended and incorporated into the collective knowledge. Conversely, there is a lot of very interesting research being conducted in Brazil that is not going to reach the international community for many years, because the translations are often so poor that articles get discredited based on their language rather than on their scientific accomplishments.

I became increasingly passionate about facilitating this exchange, because medical and scientific information becoming readily available and understood worldwide is crucial to scientific development, public health and well-being.

In other words, no, translation did not choose me; I chose translation. I chose to empower people and companies by enabling them to communicate well and effectively across cultural and language borders. I chose to turn my passion for English into a marketable skill that others may benefit from. I chose to speak with the whole world and to allow the world to speak to Portuguese speakers through me.

 Thus, if you are looking for a medical translator, who is truly passionate and has dedicated her whole life to perfecting the art of communication, I am your woman. I not only have 14+ years of professional translation experience, a 4-year BSc in Biology and 4 years of actually working as a medical researcher, but I also have a lifetime of meticulously learning and carving my language skills. I have been preparing for your project all my life; I am ready.

If you are thinking of venturing into medical translations, in this article you will find a brief description of the most common types of medical documents that you could be presented with. I will briefly discuss some categories of medical documents and the level of specialization required to work with them.

Like doctors, some translators choose to specialize in body systems, such as vascular, reproductive, respiratory, lymphatic, etc. Alternatively, they may specialize in a particular condition, such as diabetes, leukaemia, Alzheimer’s disease etc. These translators will usually handle all sorts of documentation within their particular field of expertise. This type of specialization usually works when you have a background working in that particular field. For example, I have a background as a researcher in human reproduction, so for this particular area of specialization I usually handle all types of medical documents. Otherwise, this type of specialization may be too limiting and the time investment it will take you to learn about all things related to that topic may not be feasible in the short to medium term.

Other medical translators choose to specialize in a particular type of medical documentation, which is what we will focus on in this article. Specializing in a particular type of documentation requires a broad general knowledge of medicine and extensive experience with and exposure to that particular type of document. Usually, the terminology and style of these types of documents are very specific, but also somewhat standard, so they are quicker to learn and easier to master. Again, they require a time investment, because you will need to read many of those types of documents in both your working languages and, what’s more, you will need to keep up with your general medical knowledge to handle requests in any field. However, you will get the gist of the documents quicker and can start selecting jobs in areas that you are more familiar with.

Having said that, what types of medical documentation could you specialize in?

  • Clinical trial documentation: All pharmaceutical companies carry out clinical trials to ensure that their drugs are safe and market-ready. Many new drugs are meant to be sold globally and, for that reason, clinical trials also have to be conducted in several countries. Hence, this is a prolific field, because these trials happen all the time and in many languages. Typically, the source documentation is prepared in English, regardless of where the pharmaceutical company is based. These documents are then sent to medical translators for translation into the languages of the countries where the clinical trial will take place. The most common types of documents in clinical trials are clinical trial protocols, investigator’s brochures, informed consent forms, adverse event reports, communications between the main study centre and other study centres, and legal documentation between the pharmaceutical companies and study centres (e.g. agreements, statements, etc.). Specializing in this field requires a thorough knowledge of the technical and legal aspects of this type of documentation, as well as extreme attention to detail, because errors in clinical trial documentation are particularly serious. For example, a typo in a dosage could effectively kill or harm a patient.
  • Patents: Patent translations is also a prolific field. Because there is no unified patent legislation across the globe, patent holders often have to file for patents in several different countries, which means that there is a high demand for several languages. Translating patents requires some knowledge of medical devices and biochemistry, because most inventions related to the medical field are either devices or chemicals, as well as law. These are usually legal documents written according to very particular standards, so learning the style and terminology is essential, because patents are often rejected if their style is not compliant with the accepted standards. In addition, the translator needs to keep up with medical news, because patents are often inventions and the technology used is cutting-edge. Hence, you need to be willing to research and learn, because it will not always be easy to find equivalent terms in both your working languages.
  • Medical devices: medical device documentation consists primarily of manuals. These documents are usually extensive and explain in detail how a device works, what it contains and how it should be operated. This is a very technical field that requires some knowledge of engineering and physics, because you often have to describe parts and how they operate in relation to each other. Specific medical knowledge in this case is important for you to understand the purpose of a device, but understanding its mechanics and engineering is usually more important. A translator who wants to work in this field should focus on knowledge of engineering applied to the medical field, and health and safety regulations.
  • Regulatory & compliance: These are usually standards issued by governments or regulatory authorities, best practices, legislation, etc. In my experience, there is less demand for this type of documentation, except among economic groups, such as the EU, where certain standards are unified and therefore need to be translated into all applicable languages. Other cases in which regulatory documentation requires translation is when foreign companies are taking part in tenders and need to be compliant with local legislation. In such cases, there may be a demand for translation of such requirements and then translation of the applicable compliance statements. This type of translation requires a knowledge of legal terminology applied to the medical field and, if you translate into a language used within an economic group, knowledge of the style and terminology of standard documents used within that group.
  • Market research: Pharmaceutical and medical device companies often sell their products globally, therefore, they are always conducting market research in their target countries to determine their positioning, pricing, acceptance, branding, etc. Translators specialized in market research will often translate discussion guides for interviews with patients and physicians or other experts, product profiles, research screeners and transcripts of interviews. This is a “softer” type of translation because the medical knowledge required is not as technical. However, you need to be aware of the terminology used among physicians as well as among patients, because the same question will almost never be translated in exactly the same way to both audiences.
  • Websites and patient brochures: This is self-explanatory and technically speaking the easiest type of translation in the medical field. Websites are rarely too specialized, because they aim to attract broad audiences. However, you must be very careful in conveying the right tone and style. Translating a healthcare company’s website is not like translating a travel website. The language usually needs to be accessible, but credibility is essential, so your translation must ensure that the terminology used is in line with industry standards. In addition, patient leaflets and brochures must be understandable and credible, so that patients feel that they can rely on that information. Your job as a translator in this case is to learn how to communicate with each audience in a professional, but accessible manner.
  • Academic: These are usually scientific articles published in international journals. The demand for this type of translation is most often into English, because most international journals are in English. There may also be a demand to translate researcher CVs, abstracts, protocols, etc. This type of translation requires a knowledge of the standard formatting and style of scientific journals. Sometimes the translator must also become familiar with the style and requirements of a particular journal, in order to ensure that the translation is compliant. Furthermore, this type of translation requires technical knowledge, because many publications will be directed at experts in a particular field, which means that less than expert translations often discredit the work of the researcher.

In my experience, these are the most common types of documents translated by medical translators. If you choose to specialize in a particular type of document, it does not mean that you can never venture into other types of documentation. All it means is that you need to be aware of how much you will need to learn and what to focus on, because with specific documentation you need more than expert knowledge of a particular field.

Can you think of any other types of documents translated by medical translators? If you do, please share them in your comments!


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

There are hundreds of great resources for medical translators online for different language pairs and different areas of specialization; I have compiled a few of those under my posts Glossaries and Dictionaries. In this post, I am sharing 5 resources that are useful for medical translators when researching. These links will help you understand what the terms and conditions that you are translating about mean and from there you can make decisions about how to translate them using your glossaries and dictionaries.

  • Medilexicon: This dictionary also features in my dictionaries post. I love it particularly for acronym search in clinical trial and patent translations. It is comprehensive and extremely useful when translating from English. It also contains a dictionary with definitions, which is useful, but the main resource I use is the abbreviations search.
  • Pubmed: This is a database of scientific articles from virtually all relevant international journals. When I worked as a medical researcher a few years back, this was the most popular search engine for scientific references. I believe it is still one of the most used by scientists worldwide and it is great because it contains articles from reputable journals. Hence, you have access to higher-level information. The only drawback of this website is that if you are not subscribed, you only have access to the abstracts of most articles. In my experience, the information I need is usually in the abstracts and when it is not, I can usually find some clues there that will guide further research.
  • ScienceDaily: I like this website because you can search for summaries of research in different topics. I find it particularly useful when the information I need is not clear from the abstracts on PubMed. I usually use the clues from PubMed as search topics on Science Daily to get better clarification on the terminology that I am translating.
  • Medline: The US national library of medicine. This is also a great resource for research. It is important that medical translators have a thorough understanding of the topics they are translating about before they even begin translating. Hence, having links for good, sound information on a variety of medical topics in your bookmarks bar is essential. This is definitely one such resource.
  • LILACS: LILACS is the most important and comprehensive index of scientific and technical literature of Latin America and the Caribbean. This is particularly useful for translators into and from Latin American languages and it gives access to full articles from Latin American Journals. It is also useful for translators of other languages doing research in English as most of the articles are in English, but Latin American translators are able to find the references and then search for the articles in their respective languages. Hence, I find it very handy when trying to decide how to translate a particular term.

When researching for a medical translation, I find that we often need to be creative. For example, sometimes I see a term in a source text, I cannot find it in my glossaries and dictionaries and I am not sure how to translate it. In some cases, from experience, I can make an educated guess about how that term might be translated into Brazilian Portuguese. What I do from there is try to determine whether my guess is actually a term that is used in Brazilian medical language, so I will search for it on LILACS, for example. Sometimes, within seconds I find several references to that term being used in the same context in Brazilian journals, which means problem solved.

However, other times I cannot find it, so I need to broaden my search, I need to understand in detail what the English term means, for which I use PubMed, Medline, Science Daily and even Medilexicon. Once I have a good understanding of what the term means, I can google related terms in PTBR and try to find a term being used in the same context in Brazilian Portuguese. Sometimes, Google image search can be extremely useful in helping me determine whether the term I found and the source term mean the same thing, because if I search both terms and find similar images, then I know that I am on the right track. Please note that Google is never the final determinant of how I am going to translate a term, because there is a lot of unreliable information there. Hence, even if I find the term in PTBR on Google, I then go back to my articles, perhaps through LILACS, and try to find that term being used in the same context.

Between these references, the dictionaries and glossaries that I have shared in previous posts, and my own dictionaries and glossaries, created over years of medical translations, I can combine and cross-reference information to translate virtually any medical term. This may sound like a lengthy process, but with experience, you learn a lot of terminology and the more you work with a particular topic the fewer terms you need to research and the better your educated guesses. My recommendation for translators beginning in the medical field is to read a lot in your working languages, because the better your understanding of medical language, the easier for you to make educated guesses. Furthermore, take the time to create your own glossaries and dictionaries. Whenever you are translating, just keep an excel spreadsheet open and include all the terms you research. This is invaluable, because you will often come across the same term again and you will wish you remembered how you translated it last time!

Good luck and please share if you have any other references that you find particularly useful.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


As a former medical researcher and senior medical translator, I am often hired as a reviewer to ensure that translations are medically accurate, complete and that their tone is adequate to the target audience (usually doctors and researchers or patients).

Having reviewed millions of words and translated millions more myself, I have identified 5 long-term tips that all medical translators could use to improve the quality of their translations.

1. Be curious. This is not the first tip by chance; it is one of the most important attributes of a medical translator. You must be curious, both when translating and not. When you are translating a piece about a specific topic, you should not only search for the words that you do not know, but you should seek to understand the topic thoroughly. Naturally, it is impractical to read all the literature available about a topic in one go, you would never finish any translation job, but it is easy enough to find summaries of diseases and cellular mechanisms online that can really help you when you convert your source piece to a different language. Most of the mistakes I find when reviewing medical translations are not major terms that have been mistranslated, but mistranslation of sentence structures due to a clear lack of understanding by the translator of a drug or disease mechanism. These types of mistakes seem small, but they often render the translated sentence wrong, and you may proofread as many times as you like, if your understanding of the process doesn’t change, you will never detect that error.

2. Read extensively. In the same way that reading promotes better writing in general, reading medical texts promotes better medical writing. Therefore, you should seek to read as much as you can in all your working languages, this will not only expand your vocabulary, but will also give you a better grasp of the tone and level of formality of medical texts in different languages and for different audiences. A medical translator must be discerning and know how to communicate with different stakeholders in the health system, such as patients, physicians, researchers, hospital administrators, as well as knowing the unwritten codes of medical writing for that particular language. The only way that you will acquire these skills is by reading everything medical in your source and target languages.

3. Use glossaries. I have talked about the role of glossaries and dictionaries in a different post and provided lists of dictionaries and glossaries that include medical ones, but as a medical translator you should also seek to create your own glossaries. Whenever you work on a particular topic, make sure you open an excel spreadsheet and insert every term that you research there. If you are doing your extensive reading (tip 2) and come across and unknown term, research it and add it to your glossary. Whenever you receive client feedback on terminology, update your glossaries. Your personal glossaries are invaluable assets, which you will learn to rely on increasingly as your glossaries get better and you become more specialized.

4. Build a network of experts and peers. You will be stuck at some point or another when translating medical texts, particularly when translating in an unfamiliar field. In such cases, you will be grateful for not having to rely solely on your research skills and being able to contact others who may know more about a particular topic than you. Your network should include physicians, researchers and other medical translators with whom you are able to discuss terminology.

5. Focus on what interests you. We all have medical topics of particular interest to us, be it because we have/have had a particular disease, someone we know has a condition, we are touched by an emotional appeal, there is a certain genetic disease that runs in the family, we are having a baby, we have a background in a particular field, etc. Unlike other areas of translation, it is almost impossible not to have some medical topic that we can relate to. When you identify that topic that is particularly close to your heart, you will want to read about it anyway, even when you are not working. Hence, make sure you learn as much as you can about it, and then advertise it as your specialism(s).  For example, in my case, two topics are of particular interest to me, the first is human reproduction. My father is a physician, a reproduction specialist, I was a medical researcher in the field of reproductive medicine and have not only always heard and read about the topic, but also have an extensive network of people who can help me and share information with me. Hence, I make it a point to learn as much as I can about anything related to human reproduction, from contraception to embryology and neonatology. My second topic is clinical trials. I had a melanoma in 2008, at age 26, which luckily, due to scientific advances when I was diagnosed, was successfully removed and no longer poses a threat to my life. This event had a big impact on me, because it dawned on me that had I been born 50 years earlier, the science to diagnose and treat me so quickly might not have been there, and I might have died at a very young age. Since then, I have made it my mission to help make research accessible to all languages so that diagnosis and treatment may advance quicker and fewer people have to die of undiagnosed or untreated cancers. This “mission” drives me to read a lot of research and clinical trials with new drugs and devices, which has given me a good background in terms of terminology and understanding of the mechanisms of clinical trials. I do not translate exclusively within these two topic, but whenever my clients happen to need translations in my specialist topics, I make sure they know how familiar I am with their particular subject.

These are long-term tips that you can apply throughout your medical translations career and they are always certain to improve the quality and timeliness of your work. Good luck!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


In a different post about Medical Language, I have written about the history of Western medical language and why it is important for medical translators.

Today I am going to elaborate a little on the importance of knowing, or at least recognizing, certain words in Latin.

Often medical terms are comprised of:


or a combination of:




In other words, several medical terms may be broken down into two or three terms.

Some examples of Latin PREFIXES include: osi-, ovo-, ante-, ad-, capill-, cervic-, cutane-, de-, latero-, lingua-, adip(o)-, intra-, inter-, lact(i), lact(o)-, manu-, nas(o)-, nerv-, piri-, post-, retro-, rubro, sinus-, semi-, trans-, tri-, ultra-, ungui-

Some examples of ROOT WORDS include: papul(o), pleura, sanguine, ventr(o)

Some examples of SUFFIXES include: -al, -ous, -ary, -cidal, -cide, -icle, -tensive, -ule, -version

When you understand the meanings of these words independently, it becomes easy to understand them combined.

For example, the Latin prefix adip(o) means fat; the suffix -ous means pertaining to. Hence adipous, or as it has been adapted adipose tissue means fatty tissue.

There are numerous examples like that, such as intravenous, which combines intra (within) and venous (related to veins). Intravenous is, therefore, the medical term for administration of a drug product into the circulatory system through veins. This goes for intramuscular as well, i.e. into the muscle.

Although there are several terms derived from Latin, there are many more derived from Greek, which I intend to address in a future post. A medical translator does not need to learn Latin or Greek in order to translate proficiently. A medical translator should have a collection of references at his/her disposal, which may help him/her make sense of new terms, such as the Wikipedia list of prefixes, suffixes and root words.

Also, a medical translator should be curious. If you often work in a specific field of medicine, such as human reproduction, you will see certain prefixes very often, like ovo-, ovul(o)-, ventr(o); hence, whenever you come across one of these, you should seek to learn its meaning, even if you have found a translation for the whole term. In time, you will know the meanings of the common prefixes, suffixes and root words in your field by heart and this will be invaluable when you come across newly coined terms or terminology that is new to you.



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

According to a recent report by the global consulting firm PwC – “Health Care’s New Entrants: who will be healthcare’s Amazon.com?” -, the centre of gravity of the US healthcare market is shifting towards customers. The survey, carried out by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI), shows that consumers are willing to swap traditional care for more affordable and convenient alternatives.

New entrants to the US healthcare market from the retail, technology, telecommunications, consumer products and automotive industries are eager to fill this expanding gap. According to HRI, 24 of 2013’s Fortune 50 companies are healthcare new entrants. “Of those, seven are retailers; eight are technology and telecommunications companies. Two are automakers, including Ford Motor Co., which is developing services for chronic condition management while driving.”

With products ranging from smartphone apps and accessories for health data monitoring and diagnosis to online screening and prescription services based on computer algorithms, new entrants are paving the way towards a new health economy, centred around the consumer, transparency, convenience and prevention. The report foresees that “within a decade, the health business will look and feel like other consumer-oriented, technology-enabled industries.”

Furthermore, there are new players reshaping and expanding the $267 billion US fitness and wellness industry. Most of us are already using some of the new apps and devices to track our running pace and mileage, to keep us on a diet, etc. and there are countless opportunities to create new market segments.

The HRI study was restricted to the US economy, but I believe that these findings will be replicated in most developed countries in the short term and in most developing countries in the medium to long term.

What does this mean and how does it affect linguists, communicators, medical writers, medical translators, medical journalists and other communication professionals in the healthcare industry?

Firstly, if the centre of gravity is shifting, undoubtedly communications will have to adapt as well. If more new and consolidated healthcare companies start tailoring their products to the end consumer, the language that we use will inevitably need to change to address this particular audience. The traditional medical terminology and jargon used in our current communications will need to become accessible to the average consumer, both to make products more appealing, and to prevent misuse and health risks. This means that communicators in this industry will no longer be able to rely solely on their medical lexicon and knowledge of our traditional audiences, e.g. physicians, researchers, healthcare professionals in general, etc.

If instead of going to the hospital for a test or a medication, patients begin using home kits, the instructions accompanying these home kits will need to play a role currently played by a healthcare professional, which is to explain in detail how to use the kit, potential  risks, safety procedures, etc. This means that such instructions will need to be a lot more thorough and comprehensible, not just to prevent safety risks, but also to safeguard the manufacturer.

Several of the current advances in this new scenario will involve mobile phone and Internet technologies, which means that the best medical communicators will be those who are knowledgeable about both medical terminology and technology. We can no longer focus all of our learning efforts on better understanding the medical industry and medicine-related topics; we will need to become users, consumers of and experts in technology. We will need to be able to quickly understand what a new technology product can do, how it benefits the patient and readily convey this to multiple audiences that will include highly knowledgeable, but not necessarily tech-savvy physicians, knowledgeable and tech-savvy researchers, potentially tech-savvy, layman consumers, etc.

The end consumer is not the only “new player” in this market. There are also new entrants, which are companies currently not necessarily operating in the healthcare industry that are trying to grab a share of this highly lucrative market. This means new opportunities for medical communicators, because they will need experienced communicators who are used to positioning products and services in the healthcare industry, but also means that we will need to be flexible and learn to communicate with and to these new entrants.

In short, this market shift is a good opportunity for us to recycle and adapt. It is also a great opportunity for us to seek new customers and expand our reach, such as to the wellness and fitness industry and to new entrants.

We also have an unprecedented opportunity to experiment with these new technologies first-hand and put ourselves, as consumers, at the centre of the message we want to communicate. A consumer-centred market will allow us to be the bridge between the hard, complex medical terminology and the general population. The best communicators in this context will be those who are capable of translating the medicine and adequately conveying the information to all players in the medical industry, including, perhaps for the first time in scale, the general population.

Are you preparing for the challenge? Please let me know how in the comments!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

I have recently posted a 2-part list of 10 things that freelance translators should do every day, you can access parts 1 and 2 here. Those are a few things that I have done every day and have really helped me not only develop my business, but also helped me develop professionally. I can recommend them, because I know they work.

However, one of my readers of this post has asked a very important question: “Do you also allocate time to looking for/contacting new clients?” Do you manage to strike a balance between reading up on your specialist area and marketing?

Well, I am by no means a marketing expert, but I thought this warranted a more detailed response.

When you are a freelance translator, regardless of how you started, e.g. with lots of work, no work at all, the odd job here and there, etc., eventually you will have times of low demand. Many translators understandably struggle to cope with these times, because few of us have the extra income to just wait as long as it takes for another job. My advice in such circumstances is view these as opportunities, use them to market yourself and to devise your strategy so that you can keep marketing even when you have a lot of work again.

In this post, I am going to describe my strategy for contacting clients directly via e-mail, which is what I can easily fit into my daily schedule.

My specialist subject is medical translations. I began my career as a medical researcher, and translation was just a hobby helping my fellow researchers understand and publish research in scientific journals. Then I went on to become a full time translator and my research background led me to focus on clinical trials and market research. Given my professional history, there are a few types of companies that can benefit more from my services, such as medical market research companies, international scientific journals, pharmaceutical companies and medical translation agencies. The first step in any successful marketing campaign is identifying your “primary targets (clients)” and learning about them.

Your marketing message must always resonate with a particular client. There are no guarantees that we will always achieve that, but the best way of coming as close as possible to it, is understanding what your clients want and how they will use your services. Hence, the process of learning about your clients must be very thorough. In your research, you should determine:

–          Which of your services will be most beneficial to your clients?

–          Where are your potential clients and who are they (make sure you keep a list of all potential clients that you come across)?

–          How do they speak to their customers (e.g. language on their website)?

–          What do they charge and what do they pay for services like yours?

The knowledge you acquire at this stage will be useful in any kind of marketing campaign that you choose to do. In my particular case, I like e-mailing and have mailing lists, because I live far from my clients’ markets and phone calls and in person meetings are just not an option, at least not for my budget.

When I am happy that I know enough about my potential clients to talk to them, I then prepare my message. I know how people dislike sales e-mails, so I make them short, targeted and I also create a brochure that I attach to my messages. If the person who gets the message is interested, they can then find out more straight away, they can forward the brochure on to the decision-maker or they can go to my website and eventually contact me. I do not have time to create a new brochure every day or even every month, and even if I did, the information about me does not change that often, so I create a brochure for each type of target client. In my case, I have a brochure for medical device companies, journals, translation agencies, medical market research companies, etc.

I usually also craft an e-mail message template for each of these audiences, which I can easily access and tweak as I become aware of new potential clients.

Right, so by the time my marketing materials are ready, I not only have the means to contact potential clients quickly, but I also have lists of potential clients from my research. So what is my marketing strategy? How do I market on a daily basis?

I have set two targets, one for when I am busy and one for when I am not as busy with translation work. I say that because when I am not translating, I blog, I keep in touch with people, I study, I learn, so I can never say that I am not busy, but I am not as busy with translation work. Hence, when I am busy, I contact 10 potential new clients a day. When I am not busy, I have to contact at least 20. This is arbitrary and works for me, you need to work out what works for you.

So how do I fit that into the 10 things that I should do every day? Well, when I am reading about my industry (items 1 and 2), I often come across news and articles that relate to primary target companies. When I spot these, I quickly stop my reading, find the company’s website, locate contact details and contact them. This is quick, because my e-mail message is virtually ready; all I have to do is tailor it to that particular prospect client.

If by the time I finish my reading, I have not yet contacted the 10 or 20 potential clients, then I refer to my lists (the ones I prepared during my research, back when I had time), and contact however many companies I still need to reach my target. This usually does not take me longer than half an hour and sometimes I do it at the end of my working day, so I finish on a positive note – I have reached my target!

Mail marketing admittedly is not always the most effective form of marketing, but it is the one that I can fit into my daily schedule. After all, marketing is not my area of expertise, translation is. I find that by contacting at least 100 companies every 2 weeks, I am playing the numbers game, i.e. the response rate might be low, but I do not need 10 new clients per week, I need one or two a month, if that, so the low response rate works for me.

This is not the only way that I contact new clients, and I do not just delete the contact information for potential clients that I have already contacted, but these other strategies will be discussed in a different post.

For now, I hope you find this useful. Please share with me in the comments – what works for you? Good luck!
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.