"Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture." —   Anthony Burgess

My translation for this famous quote of Burgess in simplified Chinese is:

译者的工作不仅仅是翻译词语,而是在翻译过程中重塑一个易懂而完整的文化体系  — 安东尼伯吉斯


I cannot agree more with Burgess. Every time when I was proofreading my own work, these questions would haunt me: "Is there anything that they (the audience) will not understand? Are there any lines that will be frowned upon? Am I being faithful to the original author while being very friendly to my audience? "

When it comes to medical translation, I tend to think that it takes more to fulfil such a mission as "making intelligible a whole culture" than translating texts from other fields.  

Some people say that medical translation, or technical translation in large, is all about terminology. To get the job done, you just need to excel in finding the right terms. Well, I can only agree that terminology is important in medical translation. However, medical translation is much more than medical terminology.

Medical translation has its own unique features that demands higher translation skills. These features  include:

  • Great responsibility. Whether be it a new drug submission, a medical device instruction, a piece of medical record, a medical research article, or a piece of software in health care system, a medical document usually directly concerns the well-being of people. It is important to point out the importance of quality in medical translation. The translated medical information has to be both accurate and readable. Mistranslations or ambiguous translations will mislead the reader, which may result in serious consequences, such as incorrect usage of a medical device which might harm the patient, unexpected disproval of a new drug which when approved could benefit a lot of patients , and ambiguous software instruction which causes confusions among physicians from time to time which results in a misdiagnose in the end.

  • A wide variety of content. Medical translation covers a wide variety of fields: medical, biomedical, pharmaceutical and medical technology. The content can be directed to medical professionals, scientists, patients, local regulatory authorities, business entities, or the general population. And they can be written by authors in various functions, such as a physician, scientist, policy maker, healthcare activist, quality control officer, marketing/sales personal, clinical research associate, just to name a few. The first task and maybe even the most important one in translating medical documents is to picture the target audience and the author. Only after knowing who your translation service will serve (the audience) and to whom you are accounted for (the author), can you choose which set of terms you are going to use, which tone you are going to adopt, to which degree you should be literal, and to which degree you should use the techniques of trans-creation.

  • High demand on translation skills. The people-focused nature and the wide variety of content naturally demand high translation skills of the translator. The translator should be able to

  •            Fully understand the content of the document as well as the unwritten norm and texture of the fields to which the document belongs, in another word, the context of the document .

  •            Write fluently, logically and clearly in his/her native language. Just being a native speaker is not enough. The translator needs to be an effective writer.

  •            Pay attention to details and nuances. The translator needs to be very sensitive in language to fully convey medical information from one language to another. 

  •            Communicate in a timely and effective way with fellow medical translators, project managers and clients. As a norm, large translation projects will be done by multiple translators. There could be obstacles during translation process no matter how experienced a translator might be. The manner to handle translation related issues sometimes determines the quality of the whole work. A responsible medical translator will dutifully note down the queries and resolve them together with the team.

     VDChina Language Lab is a linguistic service provider specialized in medical translations

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