What Is So Difficult About Translating Medical Terminology

Last Updated On: September 6, 2023

inTranslation Skills, Translation Tips, Translation Trends

Translating Medical Terminology

Medical translations fall into a field where accuracy and preciseness are extremely important because the language in this discipline is usually technical, specific, and often of great importance to a patient’s health outcomes. 

The translating of medical terminology becomes more complex as new diseases emerge and new therapies are discovered. Each time there is a global epidemic there is a greater need for multilingual translations too. Not all translators are able to translate effectively every area of medical translations because such a wealth of knowledge is required even for just one disease. For example, a translator who normally translates medical terminology related to cardiology may not have sufficient knowledge to translate medical terminology related to fractured limbs.

Due to the difficulty of a medical translation, the best medical translator is required to fit the following: 

  • to have complete knowledge and good reasoning ability for the medical topic specialization which requires a translation; 
  • can read and understand well the source language so that there is a perfect understanding of the required meaning of a text;
  • has the ability to express accurately a translation’s meaning in the targeted language.

All the above skills need to be used when translating a text with medical terminology. 

The translation of medical terminology needs a few cognitive skills so that the message can be communicated effectively. This means ensuring that the translations suit the targeted audience. Issues could arise when a medical translator only uses the language of hard medical terms that can only be understood by professionals in the health arena because they haven’t been adapted to match the language used by the targeted patient population.


    I agree to the Privacy Policy and the Collection Notice under the Australian Privacy Act.

    It is important that the medical translator asks who the audience is to be for the translation so that if necessary the technical nature of terminology is adapted to match the audience. For example, the term “varicella” means chicken pox in English, but if the targeted audience is a patient then this word is likely to be unfamiliar so when documents are translated into English for the medical professional community, a translator can use “varicella” but for the less knowledgeable audience “chicken pox” should be used.

    Here is a list which shows some technical medical terminology with its less technical term.

    • Xerosis: drying of the skin
    • Lachrymation: too much flowing of tears
    • Epistaxis: nose bleeds
    • Choledocholithiasis: existence of gallstones in the bile duct
    • Aphthous stomatitis:  mouth sores which are not contagious
    • Xeroderma pigmentosum: highly sensitivity to the sun’s rays

    It is not just medical conditions that are faced with language choices but translating the names of drugs could cause confusion as well.  

    For example, Ventolin is a trade name for a drug available by prescription which helps to open up the airways and provide medicine for asthma sufferers. In the USA “Albuterol” is used for the same purpose. Another word used outside of the US for this product is “Salbutamol”. It is important that a medical translator understands a lot about generic drug terms so they can choose the right translation of a term depending upon the nature of the audience which is to be targeted.

    The role of cultural context 

    What is commonly overlooked in a medical terminology translation is the cultural context of the recipient group of the translation.  For example, the word “surgery” in the British context generally means the building one visits where a doctor is present, while in the United States the word means a medical procedure undertaken by a specialist physician. 

    Medical translations are an important connection for all nationalities so that they can understand medical terms when they need to be shared amongst multiple contexts. The presence of COVID 19 is just one of those examples of a global medical emergency where medical information needs to be shared quickly and efficiently to enable an accurate understanding of the medical terminology used by different nations. 

    Today, as the Internet is now the standard tool used to research topics concerning public health matters, online medical translator services may help more people to understand the meaning of useful medical terminology.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *