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Translations in the medical and biological areas

The translation of scientific and medicine articles – an area undergoing constant evolution and that constantly incorporates new terms to its vocabulary – has some very specific characteristics.

The professional of the medical area must be always in search of specialization, and for this very reason he/she tends to assimilate new terms and linguistic variations directly from foreign languages, spreading their use in congresses and articles written in Portuguese. Therefore, sometimes the translation of certain terms may sound strange and confuse the understanding by some readers.

A term can be translated differently depending on the subject or audience. An efficient translation in the medical and pharmaceutical area is fundamental to ensure a decent communication between pharmaceutical companies, physicians, nurses, patients and relatives.

Additionally, an efficient translation of specialized magazines, prescriptions, labels, scientific papers, clinic testing and medical articles can aid in the advance of researches and development of new techniques.

For the translation of health-related texts, the fact of being a physician or a medicine student provides a huge advantage over those professionals that never had any contact with the area. Thus, there is the need of the translator to be specialized in this specific area, just as others are in the legal area and some others in the technical area.

Essential characteristics for translators working in the medicine filed apply to any translation area, and today it is much easier to work with this type of material due to the access to all types of information on the internet, bilingual dictionaries, specific area glossaries and specialized magazines. However, most of times the work of the translator requires the use a monolingual dictionary at first, for only then he/she can effectively perform the translation.

Above all, it is necessary to understand the context of the document, be familiarized with the terminology, recurring expressions and conventions, not only from the area, but also from subspecialties.

Even though there are several ways to say the same thing in the medical area, there is, depending on the field of specialization, a preference for certain words and expressions instead of others, called “Specialized Terminology”.

Identifying such preferences can be a difficult task for the translator. However, a previous inquiry can facilitate the recognition of said preferences.

Within such a broad subject as medicine, there can be variations. Another feature of this area is to decide what terms are translated to the target language, as the use of terms in foreign languages is so common that translated words may cause the physician-reader to “untranslate” most of the text in order to understand it.

On the other hand, keeping such terms untouched as in the source language may cause the content unintelligible by lay people, fresh new students or any other person with little to no knowledge of the foreign language in question. In some cases, keeping the original term between parentheses may help in the understanding by the reader.

Typically, the language used in scientific articles published in periodicals solely intended to professionals of the medical area is different from articles intended to the general public, such as institutional articles, articles in magazines, warnings, instructions, etc. In such examples, the language used is more colloquial than the scientific language in order to allow the information to be properly assimilated.

In the improvement of the medical area it is critical that new translators seek advisory from more experienced ones in order to avoid usual linguistic traps, and to submit their work for proofreading and feedback purposes.

Experienced translators without any medical qualification must keep a wide network of contacts with health professionals so they can clarify doubts and discuss terminology issues.

This advice also applies to translators with medical qualification as it is important to exchange ideas with peers from different specializations. The field of knowledge in the medical area is so vast that is impossible that a single professional can be familiarized with the whole lexicon.


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