Theory and Digital Resources for the English-Spanish Medical Translation Industry

by Clara Inés López Rodríguez (Author) Beatriz Sánchez Cárdenas (Author)
©2021 Monographs 230 Pages


Biomedical translation is a complex activity that goes far beyond finding equivalent terms in another language. Communication and safety problems may occur in scenarios such as the following: (i) if translators are unaware of the conceptual, lexical, and pragmatic complexities of medical translation; (ii) if they do not possess advanced translation competence; or (iii) if they are not familiar with standards and workflows of the sector, or with documentation techniques. They should also be aware of the terminological and technological tools commonly used in the healthcare industry. This book provides viable solutions for English-Spanish medical translators who face such problems. It also integrates widely accepted theoretical paradigms and presents the most up-to-date resources and tools.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The communicative context of scientific and medical translation
  • 2.1. Urgency in communication and in the work environment
  • 2.2. English as a lingua franca
  • 2.3. The internationalization and supremacy of English in scientific communication
  • 2.4. Shared knowledge and standardization
  • 3. The lexical complexities of medical translation
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. The importance of lexis in medical translation
  • 3.3. Polysemy, homonymy, synonymy, and terminological variation
  • 3.4. Terminological variation, register, and translation
  • 3.5. Neologisms
  • 3.5.1. Formal neology
  • 3.5.2. Semantic neology: Metaphors and euphemisms
  • 3.5.3. Syntactic neology
  • 3.6. Foreign terms and loanwords
  • 3.7. Loanwords, calques, and anglicisms
  • 3.8. Translation of collocations
  • 3.9. False friends
  • 3.10. Abbreviations, clippings, symbols, initialisms, acronyms, and eponyms
  • 3.10.1. Initialisms and acronyms
  • 3.10.2. Eponyms
  • 4. Translation as a social and cognitive process
  • 4.1. The translation brief
  • 4.2. Participants in the scientific and biomedical translation process
  • 4.2.1. First text sender: Document initiator
  • 4.2.2. Second text sender: Biomedical writer
  • 4.2.3. Third text sender: Translation initiator
  • 4.2.4. Text receiver-sender: The translator
  • 4.2.5. Final text receiver: User or target text receiver
  • 4.2.6. Collaborators
  • 4.3. Language quality standards in biotechnological translation
  • 4.3.1. Quality standards in the biotechnological and pharmaceutical industry
  • 4.4. Scientific and biomedical translation process
  • 4.4.1. Pre-production stage
  • 4.4.2. Production stage
  • 4.4.3. Postproduction
  • 4.5. Technological tools for biomedical translation
  • 4.5.1. Pretranslation with CAT tools
  • 4.5.2. Post-edition of machine translation
  • 4.6. Terminology management issues in biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies
  • 4.7. Creativity and transcreation in medical translation
  • 4.8. Cognitive processing of biomedical texts
  • 4.8.1. Cognitive processing of biomedical texts
  • The advantage of having a positive epistemological attitude
  • Alternating reading speeds
  • New and known information, main ideas and secondary ones
  • Identification and construction of conceptual maps
  • Identification of conceptual metaphors
  • 4.8.2. Strategies for the linguistic processing of biomedical texts
  • Analyzing complex nouns
  • Transforming the passive voice into the active voice
  • Identifying connectors and separating ideas with linking words
  • 4.9. Creating a biomedical translation
  • 4.9.1. The first draft
  • 4.9.2. Revising the draft and writing the final version
  • 4.9.3. Monitoring and assessing quality during the translation process
  • 5. Translation competence explained
  • 5.1. What is translation competence?
  • 5.2. Translation competence required by the language industry: The European Master’s in Translation Competence Framework (2017)
  • 5.2.1. Language and intercultural competence (transcultural and sociolinguistic awareness and communicative skills)
  • 5.2.2. Translation competence (strategic, methodological, and thematic competence)
  • 5.2.3. Technology competence
  • 5.2.4. Personal and interpersonal competence
  • 5.2.5. Service provision competence
  • 5.3. Competences in biomedical translation
  • 5.4. Translators and specialists working together
  • 6. Information mining and lifelong learning for medical translators
  • 6.1. Information mining for medical translation
  • 6.1.1. Thematic documentation
  • 6.1.2. Terminological documentation
  • 6.1.3. Co-textual and contextual documentation
  • 6.1.4. Documentation and knowledge representation and management for specialized translation
  • 6.2. Lifelong learning for medical translators: Readings, courses, and blogs
  • 6.3. Thematic resources to understand medical texts
  • 6.3.1. Online encyclopedias
  • 6.3.2. Organizations
  • 6.3.3. Bibliographic databases
  • 6.3.4. Other resources
  • 7. Resources for English-Spanish medical translation
  • 7.1. Networking resources to get into the translation market
  • 7.2. Resources for the management of time, projects, and customer relations
  • 7.2.1. Software and cloud solutions for project management
  • 7.2.2. Software to automate routine activities and manage communication with clients (CMR software)
  • 7.2.3. Word and character count tools
  • 7.3. Converting speech and documents to text
  • 7.3.1. Automatic speech recognition systems
  • 7.3.2. Optical character recognition (OCR) software
  • 7.4. File converters
  • 7.5. Lexicographical and terminographic resources
  • 7.5.1. Terminology databases and resources
  • 7.5.2. Monolingual dictionaries
  • 7.5.3. Bilingual dictionaries
  • 7.5.4. Glossaries
  • 7.5.5. Other resources
  • 7.6. Terminology management software
  • 7.7. Computer-aided translation (CAT) tools and machine translation (MT) systems
  • 7.7.1. Computer-aided translation tools
  • 7.7.2. Machine translation systems
  • 7.8. Style guides for medical writing
  • 7.9. Tools for proofreading and quality control
  • 8. Medical translation and e-corpora
  • 8.1. E-corpus management: A basic skill for medical translators
  • 8.2. Why use electronic corpora for medical translation
  • 8.3. Parallel and comparable corpus: Strengths and weaknesses
  • 8.4. Online scientific comparable corpora for medical translation
  • 8.5. DIY corpora: Comparable corpora on a specialized medical topic
  • 8.5.1. Content resources for comparable corpus compilation in English and Spanish
  • 8.5.2. Building a representative comparable medical corpus
  • 8.6. Software tools for e-corpus analysis
  • 9. Sketch Engine as an English/Spanish medical translation tool: E-corpora analysis
  • 9.1. Ready-to-use SkE corpora
  • 9.2. Creating a comparable medical corpus
  • 9.3. Semi-automatic creation of a DIY medical corpus
  • 9.4. Solutions for medical language problems
  • 9.4.1. Medical terms: Collocations and semantic prosody
  • 9.4.2. Comparing the contexts of similar terms
  • 9.4.3. Semantically similar terms
  • 9.4.4. Most frequent words in the corpus
  • 9.4.5. Multiword expressions
  • 9.4.6. Term extraction from a corpus
  • 9.5. Using concordances to explore the linguistic context of a lexical unit
  • 9.5.1. Regular expressions for concordances
  • 9.5.2. Exploring medical corpora with concordances
  • 9.5.3. Advanced visualization options of concordance data
  • 9.5.4. Concordance searches with CQL
  • 9.6. Examples of corpus searches related to translation jobs
  • References
  • List of tables
  • List of figures
  • Series Index

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Medical science based on observation and experience dates back to Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. However, healing wounds and curing illnesses with medicinal plants and herbs began in prehistoric times and is as old as mankind itself. Such remedies were often solemnly administered by medicine men or shamans in ceremonies and rituals as a way to enhance their effectiveness and affirm the supernatural power of the healer.

Medical practices in Babylon and Egypt also had a strong magical and religious component. In the Far East, Chinese traditional medicine, which prevents or heals disease by maintaining or restoring yin-yang balance, dates back at least 2,200 years. Passed down from one generation to another, medical knowledge was transmitted from civilization to civilization, thanks to the translation of medical treatises and texts in languages such as Chinese, Sanskrit, Coptic, Persian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, and other Romance languages and, from the 19th century, German and English (Gutiérrez Rodilla 1998: 55).

Nevertheless, throughout history, the validity of medical knowledge has been ephemeral. Remedies applied during one time period were often discovered to be ineffective in the next. In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust (1919) states that to believe in medicine is sheer folly, but not to believe in it is a greater folly still, because from this accumulation of errors a few truths have eventually emerged (Balliu 2001).

In this sense, the characteristic that best defines medical knowledge is its continuous evolution and transformation. What was an unquestionable truth in one decade is replaced in the following by a revolutionary initiative, which will also one day become obsolete. The ever-changing nature of medical knowledge is one of the factors that influences and contributes to the proliferation of medical texts.

Text production in the healthcare field is extraordinarily diverse. Although many believe that medical translation is a well-defined subcategory of scientific-technical translation, it is actually a multidisciplinary domain with fuzzy boundaries, which encompasses a wide range of different knowledge areas and applications (Díaz Alarcón 2016).

Medical texts, whether written on papyrus, scrolls, parchment, or paper, have always existed ever since men first became interested in treating illnesses and finding ways to cure them. Not surprisingly, medical discourse includes a wide variety of genres, registers, text types, and communicative situations. Since the medical advances in different countries are mostly reported in English, the ←17 | 18→lingua franca of science, the resulting texts are the object of a great deal of translation, self-translation, and intranslation.

Just as medical knowledge is in constant progress, the terminology, lexis, and syntax of medical language is also in continuous evolution. Medical discourse can vary significantly, depending on geographical origin (diatopic variation), the relationship between the text sender and receivers (diastratic variation) and the communicative situation in which the text is produced (diaphasic variation).

Paradoxically, since many medical authors are non-native speakers of English, their texts are often self-translations (Balliu 2001). This adds another level of complexity to biomedical text production, because it blurs the contours of textual identity, and therefore of the translation.

Medical text production can also involve intranslation or heterofunctional translation (Nord 1997), which occurs when the content of one text genre is poured into another completely different genre. In medicine, an important scientific finding is frequently communicated in a wide variety of texts. For example, the discovery and production of a new drug may generate all of the following:

Reports of the results of clinical trials in specialized journals

Presentations in medical conferences

Technical data sheet

Patent application

Product leaflet

Newspaper articles

This book, however, does not focus on medical genres and text types, which have been extensively studied and defined. For instance, López-Rodríguez (2000) describes the main genres in English and Spanish medical journals. Mayor Serrano (2007) studies medical brochures and proposes a pragmatic text typology for training medical translators. Montalt and González Davies (2007) categorize various medical genres based on their global social purpose, and their taxonomy has been expanded by the GENTT research group1 to include six categories: (1) clinical; (2) informative; (3) meta-genre; (4) educational; (5) promotional; and (6) research (Gonzalez Darriba 2014).2

←18 | 19→

The book focuses on the practice of biomedical translation and its methodology. The importance of this type of translation is highlighted in the annual surveys launched by associations such as the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies, ELIA (European Language Industry Association) or FIT Europe to discover the expectations, concerns, challenges, and trends in the European Language industry. The results for the 2020 survey3 show that major translation providers obtained revenues mainly from engineering, manufacturing, healthcare and life science companies, followed by the language industry, legal and intellectual property firms, and software companies. This survey included questions that evaluated the impact of COVID-19 on the language industry. Among the sectors that suffered no negative economic impact or even obtained higher revenues were those related to healthcare, e-retail, online entertainment, telecommunications, and consumer goods.

In the USA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its Occupational Outlook Handbook [https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/interpreters-and-translators.htm] forecasts that the translation industry will grow by approximately 19 % in 2018–2028. In fact, the scientific and technical industry is one of the fields that offers the greatest employability, with 16,700 jobs per year in the USA, especially in sectors related to the health sciences. US legislation has contributed to this boom since it guarantees equality in healthcare, regardless of the language spoken by the patient. In particular, there are currently 41 million Spanish speakers in the USA, which represents 17 % of the population. It is therefore not surprising that the English-Spanish language combination enjoys a privileged position in this job market.

Rico and García Aragón (2016) exhaustively analyze the translation sector in Spain. According to their data, the clients that most frequently require translation services are companies in the industrial and technical sector, followed by those in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. General, scientific-technical, and biomedical translators are in the greatest demand. These data come from companies that show the highest annual revenues.

This monograph provides the theoretical and methodological foundations for biomedical translation. It explains the linguistic tools and resources that can be used to facilitate translation work and also discusses the requirements of the language industry. Finally, it presents an innovative method for solving linguistic and terminological problems with the help of specialized electronic corpora.

←19 | 20→

The book is aimed at university professors and students as well as translation professionals. It is valuable for translation scholars and also for university professors who teach English-Spanish scientific and medical translation. It is extremely useful for novice translators who, because of the growing demand for medical translation, decide to embark on this profession with little prior knowledge of medical discourse or the computer tools used by language service providers. Finally, it is an excellent resource for specialists from other fields (pharmacy, biology, medicine, etc.), who are interested in exploring career opportunities in the field of translation because it gives them a foundation that they can build on as they continue their training. The rest of the book is organized as follows.

Chapter 2 addresses the current communicative context of scientific and medical translation. In a globalized world, English is the lingua franca of science and new discoveries occur at a whirlwind pace. This has created the need for rapid text production in the medical translation industry. Standards are essential for international communication as well as univocity and shared knowledge. Linguistic phenomena such as polysemy, synonymy, terminological variation, metaphors, etc. can be an obstacle to effective communication. Translation problems may occur in scenarios such as the following: (i) if translators are unaware of the complexities of medical translation; (ii) if they do not possess advanced translation competence; (iii) if they are not familiar with documentation techniques that can compensate for the lack of linguistic and domain-specific knowledge; or (iv) if they are not aware of the terminological and technological tools commonly used in the healthcare industry.

Chapter 3 describes the lexical complexities of English-Spanish medical translation and includes examples of translation problems and solutions. The lexical and pragmatic issues discussed stem from phenomena such as polysemy, homonymy, synonymy, terminological variation, register, neology, metaphors, foreign terms, loanwords, collocations, and false friends. Also addressed are the processes used to simplify communication such as abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms.

Chapter 4 focuses on translation both as a socio-professional activity and as a cognitive process that involves decoding, comprehension, reformulation, and decision-making. A definition of the translation brief is followed by an explanation of some of the standards in the biomedical and pharmaceutical sector. The chapter outlines the different stages of translation as a professional activity and discusses the role of the different agents that participate in the process before the translation is finally sent to the targeted reader group. These participants are the following: text initiator, biomedical writer, translation initiator, project manager, ←20 | 21→translator, terminologist, editor, layout and graphical designers, proofreaders, web designers, inter alia. In biomedical translation language quality standards and terminology management are also key factors to ensure terminological consistency and safety. The final sections of the chapter deal with the cognitive processing of biomedical texts and proposes metacognitive strategies to facilitate the comprehension of a highly specialized biomedical text.

The knowledge, abilities, and skills demanded by the language industry are discussed in Chapter 5. Translation competence is defined with a specific focus on the competences and sub-competences of the biomedical translator. Apart from linguistic and cultural competence, translators also need strategic, methodological, thematic, technological and interpersonal competences to be able to provide a highly professional service. Also addressed and discussed is the relationship between professional translators and domain experts during the translation process.

Chapter 6 explores information mining, which is a crucial process in specialized translation. Information mining responds to both thematic and linguistic needs, and involves searching and working with online and offline documents and resources. This chapter examines resources for information retrieval and how to accomplish this process by means of different searches involving thematic, terminological, co-textual, and contextual documentation. This documentation process should be coupled with the necessary skills for knowledge representation and knowledge management. An overview is given of different resources for the acquisition of thematic knowledge. Furthermore, in order to improve thematic and linguistic competence in English-Spanish medical translation, the medical translator should engage in lifelong learning. This chapter provides a list of useful websites for this purpose.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
biomedical translation terminology translation tools corpus linguistics corpora
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 230 pp., 40 fig. b/w, 22 tables.

Biographical notes

Clara Inés López Rodríguez (Author) Beatriz Sánchez Cárdenas (Author)

Clara Inés López-Rodríguez is a tenured professor in the Department of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Granada (Spain), and teaches scientific and multimedia translation. She has participated in various research and development projects that focus on medical translation such as VariMed [http://varimed.ugr.es]. She is the author of more than 70 publications on scientific and medical translation, terminology, corpus linguistics, and audiovisual translation. Beatriz Sánchez-Cárdenas is a senior lecturer in the Department of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Granada (Spain). She holds a double PhD in Linguistics from the University of Strasbourg (France) and Translation from the University of Granada. She teaches specialized Translation and Interpreting. Her research focuses on linguistics and terminology, as well as on the study of linguistic models to enhance translation-oriented lexical resources.


Title: Theory and Digital Resources for the English-Spanish Medical Translation Industry
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232 pages