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How does medical translation differ from medical interpreting?

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19 Oct How does medical translation differ from medical interpreting?

You’ve probably heard the terms “medical translator” and “medical interpreter” and they are often used interchangeably. However, in reality, they are two quite different roles. 

Clinics and hospitals use the services of both medical translators and medical interpreters. Translation means transferring a written text from one language to anotherand interpreting means transferring spoken or signed communication into another spoken or signed language. A medical interpreter essentially serves as a point of contact between patients who do not speak much English and their doctors. Just like medical translators, they need to be aware of the medical terms. However, they are essentially healthcare interpreters who make sure that everyone understands each otherand that the patients therefore receive the right treatment.

What skills are needed in both cases? 

The skills needed in both cases are an excellent command of their working languages, an understanding of cultural differences, knowledge of anatomy and physiology, knowledge of medical terminology, an understanding of healthcare concepts and an understanding of ethical issues. 

In addition, medical interpreters need specific communication and people skills, including the ability to speak or sign clearly, work in both directions, actively speak both languages, as well as strong interpersonal skills, an understanding of dialects and regional languages, the ability to think on their feet, strong listening and memory skills, note-taking skills and the ability to interpret non-verbal cues. 

When working with translators, having a second translator proofread all translations is highly recommended, to ensure that the text is free from errors. Your translator may be able to arrange this review for you, or it can be organised independently.

Although your hospital will provide you with any assistance you may need, it is still useful to know what service to ask for if you or a loved one becomes ill. Medical interpreting and translating are two different jobs that both carry a great deal of responsibility.

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