Importance of Supporting “Minority Languages” in Medical Translation

Category: Life sciences

Almost every country in the world requires medical literature to be translated into their national language. This covers everything from patients’ records to clinical trial documents to allow regulatory representatives to read them. When it comes to health, medical translation is simply vital. So-called “minority languages” are no different in this respect – translation improves clinical results, the quality of healthcare, and, most importantly, patient safety.

Minority Languages: Major Challenge

With the 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the EU took a positive step in making the case for minority languages. But language policies don’t always extend to translation policies. There are hundreds of minority, indigenous and lesser-known languages in Europe and thousands more around the world. The importance of translating material into minority languages is immense because untranslated key medical texts can have a devastating effect on someone’s health.

What Needs to be Translated?

Until you think about it more closely, medical translation is something we may take for granted. You might think that all that needs translating is the little patient information pamphlet inside the box of your prescription. But there’s so much more to it than that. Patient records, website information, consent forms, diagnosis reports, just to mention a few. Patients need to be able to read and sign, information related to medicine and healthcare. Approval procedures for drugs also vary depending on the country. You can’t approve a drug if you don’t know what’s in it. By ignoring minority languages, you’re putting people’s health at risk.


Who Translates Medical Texts?

Not just any translator can work in medical translation. You wouldn’t want someone who hasn’t heard of synchronous diaphragmatic flutters (the technical term for hiccups), for example,  translating it into a minority language. You need a highly skilled medical translator. The terminology is so specific it needs to be translated by someone with the right science background. A bilingual doctor isn’t enough either, as they need to be highly trained in the translation itself to avoid medical errors.

Why Minority Languages Specifically?

From a practical standpoint, medical translation is so important because of the direct impact it has on people’s lives. Imagine if something was misunderstood because it wasn’t available in the right language. No one wants to take that chance. The first step is to acknowledge the need for medical translation for minority languages. Language should never be a barrier to accessing healthcare and, by considering lesser-known languages, you can help people get the treatment they need. It may sound dramatic, but medical translation really does save lives.



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