What are the challenges for translators with medical and pharmaceutical translations?

Making medical knowledge accessible in all languages is vitally important, not just at tricky times like the current situation with the outbreak of the Coronavirus emergency.
In fact, medical and scientific translators have a huge responsibility: using medical equipment properly or taking the right medicine also depends on the translation of user and maintenance manuals or a package leaflet.

The origins behind medical and pharmaceutical language

To understand the typical terminology used in this sector, it is important to understand the origins behind medical and pharmaceutical language which has gone through four “eras”:

  • The Greek era dominated by the writings of Hippocrates, considered the father of Western medicine
  • The Latin era, when Greek texts were translated by the Romans into Latin, while still keeping a few Greek words
  • The era of national languages, when Latin stopped being used in the Western world; a few Greek and Latin terms were also kept during this period, creating neologisms from the fusion between the local language and Greek/Latin
  • The English era: this is now the language universally spoken in the medical and scientific sector, even in non-English-speaking countries. In fact, information in this subject is published and made accessible firstly in English and then translated into other languages.
Translating for the medical and pharmaceutical sector

When you think about medical and pharmaceutical translation, you instinctively almost exclusively think about medicine package leaflets. In actual fact, the translator comes into play at various stages: from clinical research to the production of the medicine or the medical equipment, right up to its distribution and marketing.

The translator faces content that has different recipients and contexts of use but which share, however, the need to be translated into clear and accessible terms in every language.

From product information (known as SmPC in industry jargon) to instructions on how to use it properly, from certifications to marketing authorisation (MA), from manuals to software interfaces for electromedical devices, medical and pharmaceutical translations are complicated and require close teamwork between the project manager, translators and proofreaders: in fact, all it takes is one wrong unit of measurement or one omitted word to cause serious problems for the pharmaceutical company or patient.

The challenges for translators with medical, pharmaceutical and scientific translations

“Translators usually don’t have a background in medical, chemical or pharmaceutical university training”, explained Elisa, who works with STUDIOTRE and specialises in pharmaceutical translations from German to Italian.

“That’s why, in my experience, it’s important first of all to master the terminology – which is complicated and full of technical terms – by reading up on it, using the right sources of terminology and specific glossaries or by talking to experts. It’s also essential to know the regulations set by the appropriate authorities which govern linguistic choices, among other things”.

“My own challenge, which is also what I enjoy most about my job, – concluded Elisa – is to decipher and localise acronyms and abbreviations”.

Together with the translator, a translation agency must also ensure that they follow the layout of the graphics (particularly for package leaflets, manuals and packaging) and that they apply all the necessary procedures and reviews to guarantee the quality of the project and to eliminate any potential translation mistakes.


STUDIOTRE manages translation projects every day for package leaflets, summaries of product characteristics (SmPC), pharmaceutical handbooks, clinical trials, brochures and pamphlets, medical reports, scientific articles, informed consent forms, documentation for conferences, apps, software interfaces, manuals and technical data sheets for medical and electromedical devices.

If you are looking for a language partner to help you with medical and pharmaceutical translations, please send us an email at preventivi@traduzionistudiotre.it or call us on +39 0522 323434.


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