Thursday, November 01, 2012

Medical Translation Trends in Hindi

Medical translation is one of the most difficult forms of translation. A medical translator has to use culturally sensitive language and accurate medical terminology to convey the intended meanings of medical documents. A medical translator needs to make sure that all information, terms, and instructions in the source documents are translated with perfect accuracy, because a minor mistake can have devastating effects on patients and their family members. Medical translation is best performed by someone who has enough medical expertise to ensure accuracy, which is why this is a great opportunity for retired doctors and nurses.

Thanks to globalisation and the rapid dissemination of medical research, medical technology, and medical devices, there has been a significant increase in the demand for medical translators. Along with requiring specialised scientific knowledge, medical translation requires the translator to have superlative language skills. This is because there are a large number of medical terms that are not easy to translate into other languages. Due to the increasing number of new medical terms and novel scientific ideas every year, translating and localising medical contents has become much more complex. Medical translation can cover the entire gamut of the medical field, from the packaging of medicines; to instruction manuals for medical equipment; to medical books.

A medical translator needs to possess outstanding reading and writing skills, so that he or she can fully understand the meaning of the source language; and transmute the information with perfect accuracy and good fluency in the target language. Not only should the translator be able to read and write in both languages, he should be able to think in them as well. It is important to be able to simplify and use an easy-to-understand, conversational style when translating medical documents written for patients.
The most important skill of a good translator is fluency, which allows the translated document to flow smoothly and read well. However, interpretation of flow is very subjective, and there is no simple benchmark by which the standard of translation can be judged. This why the translator must be highly skilled before taking on medical translations. Any translation that is done well will depart from the semantics and structure of the original source language. Grammar is inherently diverse across different languages, and a good translator will retain the meaning of the translation, rather than the original grammatical properties of the source text.

Medical vocabulary is complex, and it cannot be translated well by someone who has only average language skills. The translator should be familiar with the formal writing style used medical books and journal articles, so that the translated documents will look professional. However, the style of writing can vary from one kind of medical document to another. For example, translations of medical marketing materials can be done in a more informal style and tone, whereas a clinical study report must be more structured.

Acronyms and abbreviations are widely used in medicine and these can confuse an inexperienced translator. Thus, BP may stands for blood pressure or bipolar disease; while NVD means either nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea or may also mean normal vaginal delivery. Hence, translating medical terms is tricky and needs expertise and experience. Medical translators are of two kinds - general and specialist. A general medical translator needs to translate documents for the use of a layperson, such as those working in the administration of a hospital, or those giving patients instructions. Such a translator only needs to have basic medical knowledge. A specialist medical translator, on the other hand, translates technical and scientific documents that contain specialised details, such as those found in medical journal articles. He or she must possess an in-depth understanding of the specialisation, including all the medical terms that are used.
Quality assurance is the biggest challenge a medical translator faces. How does one ensure the accuracy of the translated document? The simplest option is to get a skilled assistant to review and edit it. It is also very important to have an end user review the final translation for its readability. Formal protocols for translation and validation have also been developed, which involve forward and back-translation and group-validation to ensure the meaning is not altered as a result of the translation (a process called post hoc conceptual equivalence rating.) For example, a "back-translation" is a translation of a translated text back into the language of the original text, made without reference to the original text. Comparison of a back-translation with the original text is sometimes used as a check of the accuracy of the original translation, much as the accuracy of a mathematical operation is sometimes checked by reversing the operation. But while useful as approximate checks, the results of such reverse operations are not always precisely reliable because words, unlike numbers, are often ambiguous.

What about tools like Google translate? Today there are CAT (Computer-Aided Translation) tools available, which allow translators to facilitate faster, more consistent translations. These include machine translation (MT), machine-aided human translation (MAHT) and interactive translation that use software to translate text from one language to another. On a basic level, MT performs simple substitution of words in one language for words in another, but that alone cannot produce a good translation of a text, because recognition of whole phrases and their closest counterparts in the target language is needed. Solving this problem with statistical techniques is a rapidly growing field that is leading to better translations. Just how good is the output from Google Translate? Well, it depends. Sometimes it is terrible, but other times it is effective. It clearly depends on the subject matter and language pair being used. While Google Translate can be a good tool to assist in translation, it cannot replace a human translator. There are many nuances in languages and translation that a statistical approach or a computer program can't "understand". If you are looking for a quick rough translation, Google Translate is great. For a high level professional translation, at the very least, someone skilled needs to edit the translation.

There are also a number of technical problems that still need to be ironed out. One of the biggest issues with Hindi translation today is the lack of uniformity in the use of a “Hindi (Devanagari) Font". There are dozens of fonts in use, and the lack of standardisation makes life very difficult for the Hindi language translator.

Medical translators serve to bridge the gap between health care providers and patients, which is why they have a pivotal role to play in taking health literacy to the masses. India is a diverse country and we need linguistically proficient and culturally sensitive medical translators who can translate health information materials into local language.

HELP is organizing a conference on “ Putting Patients First Through Health Literacy  “. This will be on Sunday, 2nd December’12 at Nehru Center at 10.30a.m. to 1.p.m.  The website is

The conference will be followed by a free health literacy workshop in the afternoon. Helen Osborne, President, Health Literacy, a world renowned  Consultant from US , will be delivering the keynote and conducting the workshop.  Her website is at

At this time, we will be releasing the book, Medexplain : Promoting Health Literacy to Put Patients First , authored by Dr Aniruddha Malpani and Juliette Siegfried.

This is Chapter 8 from that book
and has been authored by Dr Mahesh Sharma, @

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