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Specific features of English/Spanish Medical Translation

Content specific features of english spanish medical translation


Medical translations are one of the most sensitive areas of translation as it often involves human and animal health and welfare, while also representing new discoveries, inventions and innovations in the field of medicine. Thus, they are those that call for the highest level of responsibility since an incorrect translation can have major consequences.

In this context, with English being the most widespread language in the world, most medical publications are written in the English language. However, when considering the number of people, English is the third most spoken language, behind Mandarin and Spanish. Still, if this literature is available only in English, most people who speak Spanish – who don’t necessarily understand English, especially in technical terms – will not have access to the information found in these articles and publications.

Therefore, in order for medicine to really develop in the world, the process can’t stop only in scientific discoveries and experiments: everything that has been verified must be translated professionally into other languages, in order to help the health of people from all over the world. That is where a professional medical translator comes in.

English to Spanish Medical Translation

When it comes to medical translations, it seems that the biggest problem from non-specialized translators, after coming to understand the original text, lies in the technical terminology. This is mostly due to the simple fact that the majority of the specialized words of medicine are based, in both languages, on Latin and Greek ethos.

Thus, in this situation, it is enough for translators to equip themselves with specialized technical dictionaries – bilingual and monolingual – while becoming familiar with basic morphological knowledge in both languages.

There are both close and completely different medical terms between English and Spanish. A few similarities become evident through concepts like “medical history” in Spanish (historical médico) or even when you translate surgery into Spanish (cirugía). Alternatively, the word doctor in Spanish translation can be seen either as doctor or médico.

As for the differences, the Spanish word for health (salud) or Spanish for healthcare providers (proveedor de servicio médico), for example, are rather different than their English counterparts. Similarly, terms such as medical waiver definition in Spanish (dispensa medica) can’t be found through automatic translators or even common dictionaries.

When it comes to the features of English to Spanish medical translations, we can divide them into two categories: general and specific. The general ones are those that seem inherent in the translation between two languages, while the specific ones are given exclusively in medical texts. In general, the first category is the one to cause more problems, while the second often requires the help of medical experts to be dealt with.

General Features

In terms of words, the greatest number of problems arises with two kinds of components. Firstly, with the definite article, given the different use of the same in both languages: the English translator is tempted to use the definite article in their language to follow the text closely when, in fact, it is not required. Secondly, with prepositions – especially because of selection or placement restrictions, like using the “in” when should have used “over”, as with the verb “spread”, for instance. Also, the Spanish language tends to “accept” the use of prepositions more so than in English. On top of these two lexical elements, there is also the case of “false friends” - those words that may look similar but have distinct meanings.

At the level of the sentence, the Spanish language seems to tolerate longer sentences whereas the English language prefers a point over a semicolon. Thus, an English translator often has to break up a long sentence without losing its textual cohesion. Conversely, a Spanish translator is likely to join laconic English expressions so the sentence is better understood by the Spanish audience.

Specific Features

As for the specific features of medical translation between English and Spanish, there are a few points worth to highlight:

  • English tends to admit more mix and match between technical terminology and non-technical terms;
  • Spanish uses a lot more trademarks when referring to a particular drug, while English most often opts for the scientific names of chemical compounds;
  • there are different measures and conventions between the two languages in some areas of medicine;
  • English often separates terms by using dashes (adjectival function) and Spanish doesn’t;
  • generally, there are distinctions in the denomination of some chemical substances and;
  • there can be a discrepancy in the name of a particular disease or syndrome between both languages.

The field of medicine encompasses a very extensive area of human knowledge which leads it to be divided into many specialties. If no practician can cover them all, then no translator, even those with a background in medicine, should aspire to do so. Although an understanding of the features between the two languages is not the recipe for a perfect translation, by bearing them in mind you are at least closer to a professional translation.