Translating Medical Text: Why It’s Important to Understand Post-Translation

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Notably, Arabic language is largely used by doctors and specialists, more especially those working in Arab countries. However, most of the medical texts and reports are written in English language. This means that translations from English to Arabic are required. However, this is tied up to several challenges such as lack of accuracy and inadequate knowledge of comprehending the ideas behind such terms. According to Aljlayl & Frieder (2001), most doctors and specialists working in the Arab world use English when writing medical texts or reports, even for prescriptions. Expressing terms requires accuracy, knowledge and understanding of ideas behind terms. It is important to acknowledge that, science and technology uses language characterised by complex terminologies. This makes it difficult in translating such terms.

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As stated by Al-Ma’ni (2000), post-translation has played a major part in mitigating the effects of the barriers of communication and cultures. Translating scientific concepts and content can prove challenging for the reasons that, it calls for higher accuracy and understanding to decode the underlying message. The understanding of terms from text plays a major part in translating and expressing the terms, however, the targeted language is of equal importance. Still, scientific translation of text targets to achieve high level of precision of the words used found in “Target Language Text” (TLT) and “Source Language Text” (SLT). But, this must be achieved without losing the authenticity of the message.

Gass & Selinker, (2008) notes, the problem in maintaining the authenticity arises when translation equivalence (sameness or similarity) cannot be obtained. Most unfortunate, perfect translation equivalence is not possible. This is because each language is made up of various lexical, textual systems and different grammatical systems responsible for differentiating from one language to another (Gey, & Oard, 2001). The cultural challenges and the textual / semantic are the major challenges encountered in translating a text from English to Arabic. Still important to consider is that translator should understand the medical terms or texts from both languages. Therefore, this essay recommends that a translator should realise the need to understand the medical texts presented for post-translation. Such an understanding is required in both the source and target languages. Most important, the medical practitioners should be able to determine the sensitivity of the texts being translated

Semantic challenges

Montalt and Gonzalez (2007) states, “there exists a wide cultural differences between English-speaking world from that of Arabic world.” Some of these differences can be termed as purely semantic. Cultural difference translates into literally translating a term or terms or a text. In most cases, the English-Arabic literal translation of terms overlooks the accuracy of message. Therefore, the original meaning could be lost. Transliteration and arabizationfrom the SL (English) to TL (Arabic) in most cases leads to the loss of the accuracy of the original meaning. The use of transliteration and arabization allows the transfer or conveying of Latin letters into Arabic letters. However, it does not actually overcome the challenge presented by non-equivalence and neologism.

Montalt, V. and Gonzalez, M. (2007) also adds, “The semantic relationship present within the medical compound elements proves hard to work on.” This is because the choice of words to represent the accurate meaning is limited. In addition, real words translations cannot be found in bilingual dictionaries. Moreover, knowledge about medical terms in SL and TL is important. For instance, knowing what a suffix in a term from both languages can be paramount in achieving accuracy. This requires the translator to have vast understanding of the Latin and Greek languages. This would make it easier to know the meaning of the prefixes and suffixes used which in turn can help boost accuracy. Nevertheless, it is important to note that understanding the meaning of the prefixes and suffixes does not guarantee accuracy of post-translation.

Still, finding words that have equivalent meaning between English and Arabic is not always guaranteed. This is because there are terms or phrases that have more than one meaning, say in English, centrally to Arabic (Montgomery, 2000). Knowledge about the subject field of related texts is important in translation. Also, failure to recognise the textual level during the time of translation may undermine cohesion and attention. This is because the translator may end up ignoring the context of the message. Accurate and precision in translation of terms by the translator is very paramount as it plays a critical role in the structure and context of the subject text. Still, post-translation may require the translator carefully understand the meaning of the message before translating. In reality, context reliably provides guidelines in a for post-translation which can be used to determine the most applicable meaning as activated from the source code Gonzalez (2007). In addition, context will give an insight of the intended accurate meaning a text. Equally important to note is that there was generalisation of words during the translation. This did alter the meaning of the term to the target group. This is because of the availability of equivalent terms of words or phrases. The meaning of any medical text in Source Language (SL) automatically effects the way the text is translated in the Target Language (TL). This simply means that, lack of knowledge about the subject matter resulted in loss of accuracy in TL targets.

Cultural / Terminology Challenges

Cultural difference between English-speaking worlds from that of Arabic world creates translation obstacles. Determining the right medical phrase requires that the translator to have knowledge on both “Source Language” (English) and the “Target Language” (Arabic). The translator should clearly determine the choice of words of the target audience. That is, the post-translation should put into consideration of “who” will use the text being translated. For example, “alhimaq”, that is in Arabic, should be translated automatically to “Varicella”, that is in English. If the text was meant for the patient, the right choice of term, that is, “chickpox” should be used for the term. In most cases, where experience in translating medical texts is limited, a translator may interpret a drug name into what is referred as “Target Culture Equivalent” (TCI). However, the criteria may not function. This is simply because, while the text may be used to refer of name of the drug as it is known in English language, at other times the English language uses brand names.

In addition, culture differences have effects on linguistic competence. During translation, it is required that a translator should possess knowledge of principles and rules governing the structure of the source language and target language. More so, to achieve translation equivalence, comprehensive competence should be accounted for. This means that the translator should be able to extract information from the source language. This will enable the translator to analyse a text semantically and pragmatically. Accuracy in translation also is determined by the encyclopedic competence; the general knowledge of the translator on both languages. The translator’s interaction efficient of both languages is paramount. That is, the translator should be able to express what he understands a medical text into the “Target Language’ without losing the authenticity of the original message.

Nevertheless, cultural differences affect how competent a translator is during the translation. The translator should be able to reconstruct the meaning of the “Source Language” into a “Target Language” text without inconveniences. Understanding the textual and cultural features is vital in translation. Also, understanding the culture of the target language is a requisite to translation competence and accuracy. To address the translation competence, the translator should proceed to analyse the language structure, elements and language patterns of the target language.

According to Gass & Selinker (2008, p. 449), Lexical knowledge may as well be of great importance during the post-translation. In fact, this knowledge is regarded as the most important component in any translation stage. Of important here is that, the translator should be careful in their choice of words. There are some texts if directly or literally translated will distort the meaning. Translators ought to comprehend cultures choice of words before translating a message from source language to target language. Most of errors and problems experienced during post-translation are resultant of non-equivalence between the “Source Language” and the”Target Language.” Baker (1992.). The translator must identify areas of emphasis that must be translated from “Source Language” to the “Target Language.” The challenge is bigger when an emphasized word does not exist in the target group.

Challenges of State of Art

State of Art refers to different medical practices adopted by medical specialists and practitioners in health and medical domains. These practices vary because of what is referred to as diglossia. The term simply refers to sociolinguistic phenomena, whereby the language may be used differently for different social purposes. For instance, the Arabic dialect is not used for teaching pharmacy, medicine and other related programmes in all Arab countries. For this reason, it would prove difficult to try translating English dialect into Arabic for teaching health related programmes in Arab countries. It should be noted that, since most of the professional medical articles are written in English, it is hard to establish the dialect to be used. Dialect refers to the particular language that emerges following existence of certain social organization. The dialect may take considerable time to develop, simply because it is neither taught nor found in written text. This explains why it may take time to establish the dialect in Arabic language for teaching in Arab universities.


Generally, translating medical texts from source language to target language demands high level accuracy and consistency. Despite various challenges encountered in translation, some medical terms can be translated with ease. However, presence of complex structures and medical compound terms poses a challenge during translation. For example, terms such as hypergammaglobulinaemia, videofluoroscopy, etc. Translation of medical terms can be quite challenging more especially among the less experienced translators. Finding equivalent terms in translation from Source Language to Target Language may be affected by differences in culture and semantic problems among others.Translation of English-Arabic medical text has greatly contributed to evolution and development of the medical field, Montgomery (2000). As Schubet (1987) puts it, environment determines the accuracy and competence in translation. An interdisciplinary approached is paramount in solving non-equivalence translation related issues. Translators must train to deal with challenges involved in translating technical terms. Along this line; Sanchez (2010, p.186) recommends the need to equip all the medical translators with technical know-how required during translations. The rationale of this is that, lack of technical translators is the major setback in the stage of post-translation.

Translators should have knowledge on the structure and culture of the target language. In absence of an equivalent term, the translator should consult medical specialists to obtain the knowledge of the medical text and its meaning in English before translating it into Arabic. In addition, translators need to validate the information before translating the medical text. However, translators experience difficulties in coping up with challenges involved during the exercise of translation. Ambiguous and new terms from source language lack equivalent terms in target language.

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