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International Clinical Trials

Language Barriers

As medical science continues to make substantial progress, its vocabulary inevitably expands. The last update of Dorland’s Medical Dictionary in 2011 contained several thousand new additions, while the 2016 edition of Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary was updated with over 600 new terms. But, despite their merits, neither dictionary can claim to be completely exhaustive.

For medical translators, this presents an obvious challenge. One of the various troublesome aspects of translation is the fact that so many languages have so-called ‘untranslatable’ words, for which many languages have no direct counterparts (Portuguese’s ‘saudade’ and German’s ‘Schadenfreude’ being two well-known examples). Therefore, the rate at which a highly technical field such as medicine creates brand new terminology is a significant issue for those who must convey these terms in languages that may not yet have adequate words to express them.

Clarity and accuracy are important for any translator but, in medical translation, these concepts are particularly vital. Mistranslations are undesirable in any text, but a lack of precision and lucidity in a medical translation could potentially put the health of a patient at risk. So how do medical translators contend with the problem of producing faithful, high-quality translations when faced with unknown or uncommon terminology?

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Before starting as a Proofreader at Corporate Translations, Jack Cater did freelance translation and proofreading, and has worked as a reporter for a scientific news website. He has a Bachelor’s degree in French and German from King’s College London, UK, as well as a Master’s degree in Translation Studies from the University of Birmingham, UK.
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