English Spanish Medical Translation Words

by | Jul 28, 2022 | Medical Translations

Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. However, there are many variations to the Hispanic language so it is important to accurately consider those differences during translation.

According to Forbes, there are over 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide. It means that Spanish follows Mandarin when it comes to the highest number of native speakers globally. This is important data because you want to make sure that you are writing your copy or translating important documents, especially medical documents, to serve this share of the global population. 

English Spanish Medical Translation Words signChallenges of Translating from English to Spanish

Hispanic Americans are of the largest ethnic groups in the world. Spanish is the national language of 21 countries globally. For the native Spanish speakers, only 55% of them claim to be proficient in English.

This makes the language barrier an important consideration when communicating with Spanish speakers worldwide. Not only because they lack proficiency in English, but because there are various cultures that govern them. This could easily result in mistranslation when dealing with certain translations to Spanish based on the intended audience for the medical texts. 

One of the major challenges in translating to Spanish is that there are many words that seem very similar but can have different meanings. Also, each culture will also employ varying words as they have different contexts for use. These challenges are among the reasons why localisation should be given priority when handling texts from English to Spanish. 

Spanish Words That Are Commonly Mistranslated

It is not uncommon to hear about inaccuracies when it comes to language translation. However, it is something that must be taken seriously, especially in the medical context. Any misuse or wrong choice of word can change the entire meaning of the medical document. This could lead to potentially fatal results when not addressed properly. 

In reference to the challenges cited above, there are varying degrees of inaccuracies and issues that medical translators face when working with Spanish documents. The cultural differences are one of those that are partly to blame. 

To give you an idea, here is a table of the most common Spanish words that are mistranslated or misused in official documents, which includes medical translations.

These words are based on the Resources about Common Errors in English to Spanish Translation of ICFs

Condition Condicion Proceso, Dolencia, Trastorno, Enfermedad, Anomalia (based on the context) There are three possible situations where the use of the word “condition” is applicable in the Spanish context: 1) controlled chronic disease, 2) physical disabilities, and 3) mental deficiencies. 
Drug Droga Medicamento, Droga, Farmaco (based on the context) The application of the word in Spanish context could vary based on two applications: 1) medications for treating a disease, or 2) narcotic drugs.
Agent Agente Farmaco, Microbio The word ‘agent’ can mean different things when translated into Spanish and within the medical context. Its most common application in the medical context is any substance that can produce a medical effect.
Infant Infante Niño de pecho, lactante The word “infant” refers to a child during the earliest stages of life.
Embarrass Embarazar Turbar, Poner en un Aprieto The word means to embarrass, and not like the meaning of the mistranslated word that could mean “to get pregnant”. 
Intoxication Intoxicacion Borrachera, Alcholismo Agudo This term refers to a condition wherein an individual is under the influence of an intoxicating substance, not “poisoning” as it can sometimes be wrongly interpreted.


English Spanish Medical Translation Words keyConsiderations When Translating to Spanish Medical Documents

There are several things that can be easily mistranslated when working with text documents in Spanish. There are certain areas that you must pay particular attention to if you want to be accurate and efficient with the translation.

  1. Units of Measurement

It is not uncommon to hear about errors when it comes to administering medications to patients in the medical field. According to this scientific report, the error rate is 40% and it mostly involves liquid medications. 

Converting units of measurements is also difficult as some countries or regions use different units of measure. Linguists and medical translators must be aware of these differences in translating from English to Spanish words for medical documents. 

  1. Drug Names

The confusing medication and drug names are one of the first things to consider when translating English to Spanish words, and vice versa. It is easy to mix up the different names of drugs and medications, which isn’t something you should take lightly. It can be severely dangerous – or potentially fatal – if you administer the wrong medication to the wrong patient. 

Medical Spanish translators must be aware of the different names used for certain drugs internationally. Make sure you consider both the generic and brand names. 

  1. New Medical Terms

The medical landscape is continually evolving. There are new technologies, procedures, and terms that emerge on a regular basis and will continue to do so as medical researchers strive to improve the quality of medical care globally. For this reason, medical translators from English to Spanish must be knowledgeable about these new terms to avoid mistranslations of certain medical terms. 

English Spanish Medical Translation Words medsTips to Improve Medical Translation Accuracy

There are unique challenges presented within the medical translation industry. It is important to work with subject matter experts or experienced medical translators so they can take into account the limitations of the scientific and medical dictionaries. 

Experience and a solid knowledge base are crucial but an understanding of the cultural context is also vital. Medical translators must take it upon themselves to pursue continuing education and to read medical journals to stay abreast of the medical landscape and to understand new terms that emerge. 


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