Medical/Pharmaceutical Translations 2012-2013 Trends

Weather Vane with Dollar SignBack in January 2012, I made the following forecasts for 2012 compared with 2011.

  • A higher volume of work
  • An increase in rate levels for qualified translators
  • The social networks growing in significance
  • The specialised ‘tools of the trade’ are required as ever, but the definition of exchange formats and workflows needs to be driven ahead
  • Machine translation has yet to fulfil its promises
  • Translation associations should be looking at extending their range of educational and CPD facilities
  • Representing the interests of the translation profession must be reinforced

The original article is here (only available in German)

Now that the year 2012 has come to an end (and the world has survived – contrary to expectations in some quarters), it is worth considering to what extent these predictions have changed and whether indeed new and interesting trends have developed.

Volume of Work/Rate Levels

Here, we would benefit from data that are more topical and reliable. The first two statements for the medical/pharmaceutical sector are still applicable in my opinion; albeit based upon data from a small group of LSPs with which I maintain close contact in that respect. Nevertheless, I increasingly note suggestions in various blogs and forums that could lead one to conclude that the market should be substantially more dynamic than it is from my vantage point. I would like to see more information about the scope of orders and rates, since information like this could help us to identify seasonal and absolute trends. Using such data, it would be possible to react and the data would lessen the partly hysterical cries about sinking rates which – in my opinion – are certainly to the detriment of our profession.

Social Networks/Internet Culture

The social and professional network tools (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing and Google+) are becoming ever more important and the previous translation platforms (, Translatorscafe etc.) are suffering from increasingly less importance. This can be seen variously in the increasing number of translation groups e.g. on Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, where more and more business is transacted and also in the range of CPD facilities being made available via these groups.  Professional associations such as the German BDÜ took their time to set foot onto the social networks but in the meantime, they have understood the significance and are presenting themselves professionally on these platforms.

Unfortunately this development does not just have positive aspects. As a freelancer, it is impossible to follow all groups within which interesting projects are posted and also as an LSP, it is becoming ever more difficult to find specialists for specific projects on the various platforms.

For this reason it will be necessary to develop aggregators that bundle the various offers. On Twitter, we have made a first step towards combining job offers from various sources by means of our @Translate_Jobs account. We also offer similar services to embrace news from the translation profession with @Translate_News, interesting blogs and events in the profession with @Translate_Blogs and @TranslateEvents.

These solutions are, however, limited by the facilities that Twitter offers, which is one of the reasons why we launched our Alexandria platform to cover the area of CPD opportunities.

Specialised Tools/Interoperability/Crowd and Cloud Services

In the field of interoperability, good things are happening as the two top dogs MemoQ and Trados benefit from ever more functions to improve interoperability between the individual programs. Here it only seems natural that recent weeks have seen massive criticism of the hermetically-sealed protected design of the across program. I am somewhat more cautious in this respect, since I thoroughly recognize the necessity for closed workflows and would prefer an appropriately optional functionality from other vendors. At the same time, I would naturally appreciate it should across deign to open up.

What I cannot, however, understand is how one can work as a translator with the cloud services that are springing up like mushrooms. This is a TM solution that can only bring disadvantages to the translator with a lack of their own TM, no traceability of tasks performed etc. etc.

Machine Translation

I would appreciate having a functional system, but unfortunately have yet to find one. There is nothing more to be said, other than the fact that I will keep my eyes open. What I find interesting are two aspects:

a) We translators are told more and more that there is a an enormous and ever-growing market for bad ( i.e. machine) translations. Well, that is fine for those who are happy to read dross, of which there is an appalling abundance on the Internet. The main problem as I see it is that the time will come when readers actually believe these to be bona fide translations.

b) At the same time, I hear that trained MT systems within limited domains and certain language pairs can produce results that are supposed to be better than those produced by human translators. But the decisive point is that so far, nobody has been capable of showing me such a system or its results. Last year, several MT vendors explained to me just how remarkable their systems were, but when push came to shove, I saw nothing convincing other than impressive statistics that were of no consequence whatsoever.

Now that I have set up Trados Studio with TMs including several millions of words and autosuggest dictionaries of up to 1 GB in size, I can reach a level of productivity where I can indeed ask myself to what extent I need MT for our language pairs and specialized areas.

Education and Continued Training

Here, there is something afoot. Germany’s BDÜ and DVÜD, as well as other providers, have significantly increased the range of their online CPD facilities. In fact at first glance, it might seem to be superfluous that we are entering the market with our own offering ( However, with the Alexandria Project, we do indeed have several objectives in mind. With it, we would like to create a central platform (by means of collaboration with as many vendors as possible e.g. Diléal and, upon which we can offer continued training and resources for new entrants to the profession and specialists within the various languages. In addition to that, we would like to offer specialists a platform that enables them to present themselves in order to improve their reputation in the profession and with future clients. Thirdly, we want to start using this platform as soon as possible to draw the attention of potential customers to the necessity of qualitatively acceptable translation, whilst attempting to educate them about how they can identify suitable language service providers, or rather what they themselves can contribute in order to achieve optimal results. In that department, we still ‘have the builders in’ but we shall soon be expanding what we have on offer. Feedback and suggestions will be very welcome indeed because Alexandria is – after all – intended to provide an interesting service to as many translators and customers as possible.

The Interests of the Translation Profession

So far, I was disappointed to observe that translation associations carry out too little to promote the profession externally in a way that generates interest. Translators and translation associations seem to be too occupied with themselves (i.e. with translation per se) and enter much too little into contact with possible customers, whose lack of information about translation, quality, processes and rates tends to lead them down into the depths frequented by the so-called ‘bottom feeders’. It would be laudable to see several national associations deciding upon closer cooperation with each other and being outwardly active in terms of customer education and representing the profession. A common European job portal of translation associations could help in this respect. Here, customers looking for translation service providers would at least have the reassurance that the translators fulfil certain minimal criteria of professionalism. This would draw attention away from the Internet platforms such as Proz and TC, where all the cut price vendors who often provide bad quality lurk, since customers seeking quality would finally have a qualitatively more valuable service at their disposal.


I am not sure to what extent much changed in the profession during 2012, but I see a careful trend for translators taking on more responsibility for their own fate and success and emancipating themselves from the clutches of major organisations and company groups. In 2013, this positive development can lead to a wider movement coming together that brings us forward as a profession. I will be delighted if we can make our contribution to that with Alexandria and Trikonf 2013.

Guest post: Translating with and without medical background – a retrospective study

Medical Translation: A Retrospective Study on the Quality of Medical Translation Produced by Translators With and Without a Medical Background

Newest guest post on the Stinging Nettle! Yana Onikiychuk (MD and freelance medical translator and interpreter from Limassol, Cyprus), Ekaterina Chashnikova (freelance medical translator and editor from Moscow, Russia) and Artem Karateev (specialist on social research, PhD, Moscow State University in Moscow, Russia) conducted a study on medical translation by medical professionals vs. background translators. They give here very detailed results of the study – a fascinating read! We are very proud to have been allowed to publish it here as a guest post – many thanks to the authors for conducting the survey and this excellent article, but also for allowing us to publish it on our blog as well!


During the last century, the volume of investigations and scientific knowledge in the field of medicine has grown exponentially. At the same time, the exchange of  information among medical professionals has increased to enormous amounts, becoming a fundamental aspect of the development of medical science. However, this exchange would not be possible if people were not speaking the same language. We can see that English is becoming a main language of science in the world scientific arena, as a vast majority of publications and reports are done in this particular language. Yet, some linguistic barriers to effective communication still exist.. Medical translation is a highly specialized field, dealing both with translation of medical-related written information and with interpreting of medical events. Healthcare interpreting is of particular interest because of its role in establishing communication bridges between healthcare practitioners and their non-native language patients. This report elucidates the role of medical translation and interpreting in modern society and in promoting medical and related sciences. We also bring out preliminary results on a new study in the field of medical translation, in which we compare medical translators with and without a medical background and the types of mistakes they tend to make more often when translating medical documents. According to the preliminary statistics, translators with a linguistic background are more prone to terminological and logical mistakes, while translators with a medical background are more prone to grammatical and stylistic mistakes. With an increase in years of experience, this difference becomes insignificant, and translators start to make fewer mistakes overall.


For the last centuries, we have seen a burst of development and innovation in the field of medicine. New information arises everyday on diseases, therapy and patient management. And this new information has to be transformed into other languages and cultures to ensure its global use. The field of medical translation and interpreting serves this purpose. Medical interpreting plays a vital role in the exchange of oral information at medical meetings, conferences, workshops or even at the hospital unit between doctor and patient (so-called healthcare interpreting). Medical translation deals with all variety of medical documentation, from scientific articles to patient information leaflets for drugs or marketing materials for medical devices. These documents vary significantly in terms of style and terminology, but they have one thing in common: the price of a mistake during translation is enormously high and equals the health and life of a patient. What kind of professionals are involved in medical translation? We can divide alltranslators and interpreters working with medical information into two big groups. The first group is comprised of professionals with a linguistic background specialized in the translation/interpreting of medical content. They acquired such specialization with specific training or just with practice, frequently dealing with medical documents/events. The second group consists of professionals with a medical background. This could be medical/nursing school, or an education in biomedicine or pharmaceutical science. Such professionals usually have a good command in their native language and one or two foreign languages, which they learn at university or at different language courses. Some of them, but not all receive dedicated training on the translation of medical documents, which is included on the curriculum in many medical and pharmaceutical schools. Very few professionals from this group obtain additional education in translation and linguistics, and this is usually offered in a truncated curriculum. Medical translators/interpreters with a medical or relevant degree are not common within the translation industry, especially in Western Europe and the US, as the cost of obtaining a medical education and going into the medical profession is extremely high in those countries. However, in Russia and Eastern Europe (e.g. Poland, Hungary) there are some translators of this kind in the market. The reason for this is that specialized medical translators are in high demand in these countries, and the moderate income level of medical professionals forces them to find an additional part-time or even full-time translation job. These two groups of medical translators/interpreters have some significant differences in product quality when they work with medical information.
In our study, we reviewed test samples from medical translators with and without a medical background and assessed the differences in the types of mistakes they are prone to make while translating medical documents.


Our study has a retrospective design and consists of two phases. In phase 1 we evaluated test translations from freelance medical translators. Translation was performed from English into Russian on medical text. This assessment was performed by two independent reviewers in a blinded fashion. Every sample was assessed for stylistic, grammatical and spelling mistakes, adequate translation of source terms and medical concepts. We also assessed the formatting and layout of the target text. After this assessment, the blinding was broken and results were matched with CVs from the translators who preformed those tests. Statistical analysis was performed by an independent expert in social studies and statistics. Primary information processing was performed with statistical grouping. The sample was divided into 3 cohorts: translators with a linguistic background (L), translators with a medical background (MD), and translators with a combined medical and linguistic background (MDL). Every subject was assessed by 2 endpoints: number of stylistic (St) and grammatical (Gr) mistakes and number of terminological (Tm) and logical (Lg) mistakes.Our initial hypothesis was that medical translation professionals with a linguistic background tend to make more ‘terminological’ mistakes, while professionals with a medical or relevant background make more ‘stylistic’ mistakes. With years of experience, the total number of mistakes decreases, and the difference between these two groups becomes insignificant. For phase 2 we developed a questionnaire for experts in medical translation to evaluate their opinion on training for medical translators/interpreters, the importance of a medical background for translating medical content, and potential problems with medical translation by professionals with and without a medical background.


The study is still ongoing. At this moment, we have enrolled 60 sample translations. Four samples were excluded as non-evaluable. The enrollment plan is 2000 samples to provide statistical power for the study. Test samples were divided into 3 cohorts: translators with a linguistic background (L), translators with a medical background (MD), and translators with a combined medical and linguistic background (MDL). Primary endpoints were (1) number of mistakes per sample, (2) correlation between the number of mistakes and background and/or years of experience, and (3) quality of translation from MDLs. The following mistakes were assessed: terminological (Tm), logical (Lg), stylistic (St) and grammatical (Gr). For statistical analysis, Tm mistakes were combined with Lg mistakes, while St mistakes were assessed in combination with Gr mistakes. Preliminary results on sample distribution are shown on Figure 1.

According to the preliminary results, we can divide all translation samples into 3 groups: best-performing group (BPG) with the lowest number of mistakes, moderately performing group (MPG) with an acceptable number of mistakes, and poor performing group (PPG) with a high number of mistakes. BPG includes 8 professionals (2 Ls, 4 MDs and 2 MDLs), MPG includes the highest number of samples (37 professionals 18 Ls, 16 MDs and 3 MDLs), and PPG includes 11 professionals (3 MDs and 8 Ls). The method of averages confirms that MDs and MDLs make fewer Tm and Lg mistakes than Ls. MDLs also make fewer St and Gr mistakes than Ls and MDs. Surprisingly, MDs make fewer St and Gr mistakes than Ls. This result doesn’t correspond to the initial hypothesis, but more samples are needed to consider this difference significant. The yellow line in the plot separates the group of translators with a tolerable number of mistakes, and most of those professionals were hired by the translation agencies providing test samples for this research.


The majority of mistakes from all three cohorts were done by Ls. Perhaps a better understanding of the source text makes a translator produce better target text in Russian. Working out on Tm and Lg mistakes improves St and Gr mistakes, as we don’t see subjects behind the blue line. The number and type of mistakes in L cohort was characterized by significant variability. This could be explained by differences in background, specialization and years of experience. MDs and MDLs make fewer Tm and Lg mistakes than Ls. MDLs also make fewer St and Gr mistakes than Ls and MDs. Surprisingly, MDs make fewer St and Gr mistakes than Ls. This result doesn’t correspond to the initial hypothesis, but more samples are needed to consider this difference significant. With these additional samples, we plan to analyze the type of distribution and the density of distribution, and also to reveal any correlation between years of experience and number of mistakes for all 3 cohorts.


Samoilov D. (2011) “On Medical Translation”. Publication on-line at (in Russian)
Shahova N. (2012) “Discovering the Russian Translation Market.” in SlavFile. vol. 21(1), No. 1
Garbovskiy N. (2004). Translation Theory. Moscow: Moscow University Publishing House (in Russian)
Komissarov V. (1990). Translation Theory. Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola (in Russian)
Komissarov V. (2001). Modern Translation Science. Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola (in Russian)
Latyshev L. (2001). Translation Technology. Moscow: NVI-Tesaurus (in Russian)
Lvovskaya Z. (1985). Theoretical Issues in Translation Process. Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola (in Russian)
Alekseeva I. (2004). Introduction to Translation Science. Saint-Petersburg: Academia Publishing House (in Russian)
Buzadzhi D. (2009). New Approach to Classification of Mistakes in Translation. Moscow: Vserossiyskiy Center Perevodov (in Russian)
Kunilovskaya M. (2008). “Mistakes in Translation: Types and Classification”. Publication on-line at (in Russian)

Download the article as pdf here on Yana Onikiychuk’s website

How (not) to contact a translation company (Part 2)

This is the sequel to How (not) to contact an agency.

We keep receiving this email (see below) from the same translator, on average twice a week – and this has been going on since June. This is a good example of what has been outlined in the previous article, so let’s have a closer at that email.

First red flag – and a big one – is the fact that this exact same email continues to be sent weekly, sometimes two or three times a day. This is my definition of spamming, yet there is no way to unsubscribe and my numerous replies begging the sender to stop were never responded to. At first I thought it was a bot, or even a scam (though I fail to see the point of such a scam) but funnily enough, the emails stopped during the entire month of August and resumed last week, so this has to be an actual human being. I tried to Google her name and it seems she really does exist, though there were not many hits. Result? Her emails became such an annoyance that I blacklisted her – and now she goes straight into my spam folder. I stopped wasting time by asking her nicely to stop the spamming. So, while she may think she’s doing herself a favor by repeating the same message over and over again to translation companies, it has completely backfired… and she has no idea.

Then of course there’s the actual content of the email. I have obviously removed her name and her language pair to protect her privacy.

Dear Messrs.:

I was checking your website,, and I am very interested in working for you and being part of your staff as a AA in BB, BB in AA, CC in BB, BB in CC Translator.

I am attaching my curriculum vitae. As you can notice, I have a degree in Business Administration. Although I do not have a Translation degree, my command in AA is very good, and of course, my mother tongue is BB. On the other hand, my experience of 14-year track record in different businesses and industrial settings has let me work with different documents in both languages, and has let me develop the creativity, the accuracy, and the promptness.

Likewise, I have working tools such as SKYPE and MSN, and a very good laptop. If you need to contact me for further information, please do not hesitate to email me. I will be more than glad to enlighten any doubt about my persona and my professional background.

Awaiting for your kind and positive feedback.

Okay, there are a few points here I would like to highlight:

-  “Dear Messrs.:”
See my opinion and suggestions on this in the other article. It’s even more annoying when that person has been writing you for months and you have replied using your own name asking her to stop (which still makes me wonder from time to time if it is not indeed some kind of new bot).

- The second paragraph
The first two sentences are fine – she honestly and openly admits she’s no background translator and gives her actual background, which is fine – there are many excellent translators who do not have a translation degree but come from other industries. This is more than okay. However, we are a medical LSP and she fails to give me a brief summary of what her areas of specialization are – but since she has a degree in Business Administration, I guess she does not do clinical trials or SPCs. Clearly, as stated in the previous article, no research has been done to see what the company does and what kind of translators they need.

-”(…) has let me develop the creativity, the accuracy, and the promptness”
Well. This is not exactly an exceptional quality. All translators are supposed to be creative, accurate and to deliver on-time – this is nothing that makes you stand out from the competition because it’s something your clients expect from you. Right?

-”Likewise, I have working tools such as SKYPE and MSN, and a very good laptop”

To clarify: I did not post this to make fun of her or anything like that. If this was my intention I would have left her name in the email. I have merely used this email as a representative sample of emails that PMs receive and that can really hurt your credibility as a translator, because that sample illustrates some simple principles that, in my opinion, are not adhered to – not to mention the worst part of all, which is the actual spamming.

On the other hand I am perfectly aware that there are a lot of PMs miscommunicating with translators and who do take spamming-like approaches. Being listed as a freelancer/outsourcer on, I receive a lot of those as well, so I’m not questioning that. My goal here is to give freelancers a few easy tips to help them improve their applications to agencies and LSPs.

Now however, here is an interesting question I don’t have an answer to: how important is the cultural factor? Is it my culture that makes me react negatively to these emails? Is this kind of email perfectly fine and normal in other cultures? Culture does play a role in business communication in general; we can all cite examples of exchanges with translators/PMs from another culture, where the codes and etiquette of communication are really different. Though this translator does come from a similar culture as mine, I don’t believe that any culture would tolerate being spammed with the same email over and over again despite numerous requests to be unsubscribed. Nonetheless, how important is the cultural aspect in this?

Registration open for the 2013 IMIA Conference

Registration Opens for the January 2013 International Medical Interpreting Conference: Guadalupe Pacheco, from the Office of Minority Health, USHHS is Keynote Speaker

The International Medical Interpreters Association is happy to announce that Guadalupe Pacheco, Senior Health Advisor to the Director Office of Minority Health Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the keynote speaker and will speak on the revised National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) as well as the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity. “The 2013 IMIA Conference will provide a forum to hear national and international perspectives on the emerging practices of providing quality interpretation services to a growing global village,” said Guadalupe Pacheco.

Medical interpreters have been benefiting from an annual conference since 1996. The field of medical interpreting has grown in ways that few could have predicted. Innovative approaches have evolved into common practices that are being widely disseminated and adapted. Several standards and language access policies have been adopted at the state, national and international levels, spreading awareness about the importance of accurate communication and interpreting services to reduce health care disparities due to language access.

Registration just opened, and for the first time the IMIA has added a super early bird rate that expires July 15th, 2012. IMIA is encouraging early registration, which helps interpreters and other stakeholders better budget their trips. IMIA recommends the following to attendees: register first, book a hotel second, and buy the tickets last, as rates are not always cheaper earlier.

This IMIA led 3-day event has expanded and in just seven months will take place in Miami Beach Florida. “It was important to take the conference out of Boston to bring it to interpreters in other areas”, said Izabel Arocha, M.Ed., CMISpanish, and Executive Director of IMIA, “and Miami Beach seems like a great place to start”. The theme of the conference is Specialized Interpreting-Getting Beyond the Basics: Exploring Quality Interpreting for Multiple Specialtiesreflects on the in-depth level of skills and knowledge asked for by interpreters, and shared at the event.

It will take place in sunny Florida on January 18 – 20, 2013 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. “Florida is a state that is in constant motion and is more diverse than people think due to international tourism, medical tourism, and new residents from all over the world. There is a need for medical interpreters in many more languages, in addition to Spanish. We are happy to work in collaboration with IMIA to make this event a success”, said Gio Lester, President of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida (ATIF). Panels and forums offer interactive discussion on relevant topics of the day, as well as over sixty very interesting workshops for interpreters, from Demystify Simultaneous Interpreting to New Trends in the Provision of VRI Services. To learn more about the conference, and to register, please visit the IMIA website .

About IMIA

The International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) is an umbrella association that promotes all standards and best practices in the field of medical interpreting. As an international non-profit organization of medical interpreters, it represents over 2,000 practicing medical interpreters as the ultimate experts in medical interpreting and as the best option for equitable care for minority language patients around the world. It promotes language access as a human right. The IMIA contains the only free international registry of medical interpreters, where they can be found by language, state, or country.

About ATIF

The Association of Translators and Interpreters of Florida-ATIF, a Chapter of the American Translators Association, is a 501(c)6 non-profit professional association incorporated in the State of Florida. Our association was established to provide support to professionals, students and end users of translation and interpreting services. ATIF is dedicated to promoting professional recognition and growth opportunities through educational and training initiatives targeting T&I professionals in the State of Florida. Website:

Source: IMIA –
Photo: IMIA
Event schedule:

How (not) to contact a translation company

This article has been at the back of my mind for ages and at the bottom of the articles priority list, but after receiving the same email from the same translator eight times since 9:00 this morning (it’s 1 p.m. now, just to give you an idea) and though I know it will not stop those translators who have been spamming us for months (yes, spamming), I feel it needs to be written – some may find it basic and I apologize in advance to them, but it seems it’s not that basic for many.

So here we go. Of course it is perfectly normal for translators to send their CVs to agencies, to get known, to say “Hey guys, I exist” in an industry where gaining visibility is anything but easy. We receive about two to three spontaneous applications per day, and sometimes a true gem may be found among them, someone who becomes one of “our” translators. By no means do we want to stop receiving applications, quite the contrary. So, just to be clear, I am not questioning the “why” of applications here; we are on your side. But what matters is the “how” – and here, take our word for it, is where many translators get it wrong.

When agencies don’t answer, most translators think it is because we are drowning in applications every day. I’m talking here about spontaneous applications. For most of the smaller, specialized agencies, like us, three unsolicited applications on average per day is not exactly ‘drowning’ and we at GxP do actually take the time to read every single one of them. However, when the application is clearly sent via a mass-mailing system and the contents do not match our needs at all, why should we reply? It feels like being spammed with something we don’t need.

So here’s tip 1: don’t send out mass-mailings to agencies. You’re just spamming them when doing so – at least that’s how it may feel for them.

Logically, the second tip is to personalize the email as much as you can. I always reply to applications starting with “Dear [title plus last name or first name]“, even if the translator applying does not match our needs at all. After all, it’s only normal to reply to someone who took the time to research the company, who we are, our names, etc. Starting an email with things like ” Dear Sirs”, “Dear Mrs or Miss” etc. is, um, off-putting. If you can’t find the name of the person who is going to receive your email, then be creative, something like “Dear [Agency name] Team” for example – something nice, warm and attention-getting. Personally, I’m much more likely to read until the end of an email starting with “Dear GxP Team” rather than one starting with “Dear Sir or Madam”.

So, tip 2: personalize the email as much as you can, which means doing a minimum of research about the agency.

Which brings me to the third point: also research what the agency does. If an agency clearly states on their website, ProZ profile, etc., that they are doing only medical translations and you are specialized in architecture and household appliances, applying is probably a waste of your time – and theirs. Even worse, it shows you did not research the agency at all and if they ever coincidentally get a job from an end-client that fits your areas (you never know, a medical devices company might need a different text translated), they might not contact you because you will be remembered as a “spammer”. So, take the extra few minutes to research what exactly the agency does.

Of course a medical translation agency does not only need medical translators. Sometimes, their own clients need a contract translated, user manuals, etc. Use your best judgment; if there’s a link, even small, between your area of expertise and theirs, it may be worth a shot to apply. If you do, be sure to phrase it this way, for example: “I see you work in the medical field – I myself am a legal translator, but if your clients ever need agreements/contracts translated, feel free to contact me…” etc.

Tip 3: research the working fields and areas the agency works in and trust your common sense : if your fields have nothing to do with theirs, applying may be a waste of time. Ask yourself whether your expertise may still be useful to them (e.g., medical instruments manufacturing companies still need contracts, user manuals, marketing brochures, annual financial reports, etc. to be translated). If this is the case, say so in the application email to show you have done your homework, that you are aware your fields are not entirely compatible but that they might need you sooner or later.

Next is the content of the actual email. Don’t recite your CV; remember, you’re enclosing it. Keep the email short and to the point, you want to make the PM curious enough about you to want to open your CV attachment. So, if you’re applying to a legal translation company and you’re a former lawyer, then that info is the only thing you need to put in the email. Ditto if you weren’t a lawyer in a former life, but already have some large or highly specialized projects behind you – put the most mouth-watering ones in the body of the email. In short, what makes you different from another translator?  The same goes for your language pairs – where you learned English is irrelevant (“I spent 2 years as an au pair in London when I was 18″), but your working pairs should be right there – personally, it’s very annoying having to search everywhere in the email and the CV to find a translator’s language pairs. They are the first elements that differentiate you from other translators, so highlight them.

So, tip 4: Keep the email short and simple, but to the point. The basic, yet important facts about you as a translator should be right there: language pairs, specialties and experience in these fields. No need for a long list of past projects in the email; this is what your CV is for. Just include the most “mouthwatering” experience you have. Remember, what you want is to capture the attention of the PM reading your email, so that they want to learn more about you and open your CV. The first few seconds after they open your email are the most important: this is when they decide if they want to know more.

Last but not least: don’t spam. If an agency doesn’t reply, it’s pointless to send the same copy-paste email over and over and over again (even more so if they have actually replied at one point). Pointless and extremely annoying. And copy-pasting the entire email you sent and putting it in a LinkedIn invitation is even more annoying. If you want to connect on LinkedIn or other sites with the PM you already contacted, don’t copy-paste the email you already sent to that person. Keep the invitation text simple, it’s an opportunity for you to remind them that you exist: “Hi, I contacted you a while ago about my translation services. I’d like to connect with you here as well and look forward to having you in my professional network”. You’re trying to get the person to be interested in your services, so don’t do it online using an approach you wouldn’t use if you had met that person in the flesh at a translation conference.

Tip 5: Keep a clean and up-to-date list of your prospects in which you enter whom you have contacted and when, whether they replied, and what the reply was. Send a follow-up email every six months for example, in the event you don’t receive a reply, but make sure it’s a different email (“I was wondering if you had received my email from last January in which I offered my translation services”). Don’t resend the exact same text you have already sent – and the same goes for social network invitations.

On the topic of translators’ CVs, I can only recommend these two very useful resources from my friend Marta Stelmaszak from Wantwords (she’s the expert for translators’ CVs!):
CVs and Cover Letters that Work (Webinar replay)
Download her e-book: How to write a translator’s CV

European Medicines Agency publishes new versions of controlled vocabularies

The European Medicines Agency publishes new versions of controlled vocabularies used to comply with Article 57 (2) requirements on submission of information on medicines

The European Medicines Agency has published a set of updated versions of Extended EudraVigilance product report message (XEVMPD) controlled vocabularies. These vocabularies support marketing authorisation holder compliance with Article 57(2) of the 2010 pharmacovigilance legislation, which requires marketing-authorisation holders to submit information to the Agency electronically on all medicines for human use authorised in the European Union by 2 July 2012.

The controlled vocabularies will be updated regularly to improve the standardisation of the terminology used in the electronic submission of medicinal product information to the Agency.

A marketing-authorisation holder that has already submitted medicine information to the Agency using the previous version of the controlled vocabularies is not required to resubmit this information. Marketing-authorisation holders are required to use the latest versions of the controlled vocabularies for submissions of medicine information as soon as they are published on the Agency’s website.

The updated controlled vocabularies are available on the EMA website

Google Translate: 200 million monthly users

Google Translate had barely celebrated its 6th birthday that it reached  200 million monthly users, as Google announced earlier this week.

Franz Och, research scientist at Google Translate: “In a given day we translate roughly as much text as you’d find in 1 million books. To put it another way: what all the professional human translators in the world produce in a year, our system translates in roughly a single day (…) We imagine a future where anyone in the world can consume and share any information, no matter what language it’s in, and no matter where it pops up.”

Wow. Imagine…What all the professional human translators in the world produce in a year, the Google Translate system translates in in one day.

Of course this is a simplistic view, and of course Google Translate can’t quite do what we do. The job of a professional, specialized translator goes beyond simply translating words and putting them in the right order to make a sentence out of it. Of course the machine does not have the background and the technical knowledge to translate a specific technical document. Of course the machine is not aware of specific terminology specified by the client. Of course the machine does not have the cultural knowledge allowing it to do much more than just translate, but adapt to the target audience/market. Of course. And of course – and this is a very important point – Google Translate is one thing, it’s great to translate “I love you into 64 languages”but there are many LSPs and companies who developed (and are developing) their very own machine translation solutions, completely customized to professional specialized translators, with stunning results.

As a translator from the “new generation”, I am not afraid of machine translation at all. CAT-Tools always belonged to my job, I did not know “the time before CAT”. So maybe this is why I see Machine Translation as the natural, normal, next step. I am also convinced that the machine will never replace the human brains when it comes to translation. But I am convinced that we will have to evolve, that the translator’s job will evolve – and that we’ may probably be “post-editors” rather than translators in a few years. Just like when CAT-Tools came and many translators saw them as a threat, as a personal insult, as a danger, Machine Translation is coming anyway, whether we like it or not – and my opinion is simple: MT is not a threat. MT is the next logical step. MT is a very powerful tool that can really help us do our job faster and better. So why not adapt and make it our best ally?

Bottom line: Machine Translation is coming – it’s actually already there – and it’s getting better and better. Exactly how long will half of the industry pretending it’s not happening?

Just my two cents.

Anyway, for those interested in knowing more about Google’s projects and plans for the future of Google Translate, here’s the blog post from Franz Och on the Google Team blog.

Breaking down the language barrier—six years in

“The rise of the web has brought the world’s collective knowledge to the fingertips of more than two billion people. With just a short query you can access a webpage on a server thousands of miles away in a different country, or read a note from someone halfway around the world. But what happens if it’s in Hindi or Afrikaans or Icelandic, and you speak only English—or vice versa?

In 2001, Google started providing a service that could translate eight languages to and from English. It used what was then state-of-the-art commercial machine translation (MT), but the translation quality wasn’t very good, and it didn’t improve much in those first few years. In 2003, a few Google engineers decided to ramp up the translation quality and tackle more languages. That’s when I got involved. I was working as a researcher on DARPA projects looking at a new approach to machine translation—learning from data—which held the promise of much better translation quality. I got a phone call from those Googlers who convinced me (I was skeptical!) that this data-driven approach might work at Google scale.” (Read more)

Medizinische Übersetzer – keine Ausnahmen von der Regel

Armbruster, Siegfried (2011). Medizinische Übersetzer – keine Ausnahmen von der Regel  Veröffentlicht in: BW polyglott, November 2011, Ausgabe 2, S. 20

Die Sicht einer kleinen, hochspezialisierten Übersetzungsagentur

Pharma- und Medizintechnikunternehmen sind in besonderem Maße regulatorischen Vorga­ben unterworfen. Projekt-Verzögerungen oder Übersetzungsfehler können schwerwiegende und kostspielige Konsequenzen haben. Deshalb sind Unternehmen aus den GxP-Branchen, die die Richtlinien für „gute Arbeitspraxis” befolgen (müssen), – Großunternehmen ebenso wie zerti­fizierte Übersetzungsagenturen – auf der Suche nach der „eierlegenden Wollmilchsau” der Über­setzungsbranche – dem medizinischen Fachüber­setzer.

Idealerweise sollten medizinische Übersetzer linguistische Kompetenz, medizinisches, phar­makologisches und technisches Fachwissen, Kenntnisse der relevanten regulatorischen Ver­ordnungen, Vorschriften und Standards sowie Kenntnisse der gängigen CAT-Tools (CAT = Com­puter assisted translation) etc. besitzen, und nach ISO 9001 und EN 15038 zertifiziert sein.

Linguistische Kompetenz

Über die erforderlichen linguistischen Kompeten­zen eines Übersetzers lässt sich diskutieren, aber nach EN 15038 muss mindestens eine der folgen­den Voraussetzungen erfüllt sein:

  • Formale höhere Übersetzungsausbildung
  • Vergleichbare Ausbildung in einem anderen Fachbereich mit mindestens zwei Jahren doku­mentierter Übersetzungserfahrung
  • Mindestens fünf Jahre dokumentierte professi­onelle Übersetzungserfahrung

In EN 15038 sind auch andere Kompetenzen fest­gelegt, wie sprachliche und textliche Kompetenz in der Ausgangs- und Zielsprache, die kontinuier­liche berufliche Weiterbildung oder die Kompe­tenzen auf dem Gebiet der Recherche.


Wie bei den medizinischen Berufen gibt es auch bei medizinischen Übersetzern unterschiedliche Spezialisierungen. Wer sich auf die Übersetzung von Beipackzetteln und Fachinformationen kon­zentriert, ist nicht unbedingt dafür geeignet, eine Benutzeroberfläche für ein Bildarchivierungs­und Kommunikationssystem zu lokalisieren, und Spezialisten für klinische Fragebögen kennen sich nicht notwendigerweise mit chirurgischen Instrumenten aus. Ich behaupte nicht, dass man ohne medizinische Ausbildung keine guten me­dizinischen Übersetzungen erstellen kann. Wer aber auf Terminologie-Seiten im Internet im Kon­text eines orthopädischen Textes über Wirbel­säulenchirurgie zum Beispiel den englischen Be­griff „cervical” dem Gebärmutterhals zuordnet oder in einer Übersetzung schreibt „Bei Diabe­tikern besteht das primäre Behandlungsziel da­rin, möglichst niedrige Blutzuckerwerte zu er­zielen”, zeigt, dass ihm jegliches Verständnis für den Inhalt des Ausgangstextes fehlt. Dies könnte im zweiten genannten Beispiel erhebliche Kon­sequenzen nach sich ziehen, sprich Unterzucke­rung mit nachfolgendem Zuckerschock bis hin zum Tode. Eine regelmäßige Weiterbildung und fundierte Recherchekenntnisse sind deshalb un­abdingbar, um sich das entsprechende Fachwis­sen anzueignen bzw. zu erhalten.

Als hochspezialisierte Übersetzungsagentur für Medizin sind wir immer bestrebt, „den” Spe­zialisten zu finden, und Übersetzer, die in ihrem Profil angeben, dass sie in Recht, Finanzen, Mar­keting, Tourismus und Medizin spezialisiert sind, kommen gar nicht erst in die engere Auswahl.

Regulatorische Kenntnisse

Im regulatorischen Bereich haben Übersetzer wie Übersetzungsagenturen noch Nachholbedarf. Viele Normen und Richtlinien schreiben den ge­nauen Wortlaut für Übersetzungen vor, und Dis­kussionen, ob eine andere Übersetzung besser klingt als der vorgeschriebene Wortlaut, sind un­nötig. Der Kunde muss das übersetzte Dokument womöglich bei einer Zulassungsbehörde einrei­chen und jede Abweichung vom vorgeschriebe­nen Wortlaut kann zur Ablehnung führen und er­hebliche Kosten verursachen.

Regulatorische Vorgaben können sich ändern. So wurden zum Beispiel kürzlich die Standard­texte für Medikamentenbeipackzettel geändert. Übersetzer, die sich nicht regelmäßig auf der Website der Europäischen Arzneimittelbehörde ( über Änderungen infor­mieren, laufen Gefahr, „falsche” Übersetzungen zu liefern. Dies ist nur ein Beispiel für regulato­rische Vorgaben. Die US-Norm ASTM 2503-05 schreibt unter anderem vor, dass Produkte, die nur unter bestimmten Bedingungen in MRT-Um-gebungen (MRT = Magnetresonanztomographie) betrieben werden können, mit „MR conditional” zu kennzeichnen sind. Wer das nicht weiß (oder recherchiert), wird kaum die Übersetzung „Be­dingt MR-sicher” verwenden, die im Entwurf der DIN 6877-1:2007-12 (Magnetresonanzeinrichtun­gen für die Anwendung am Menschen) vorge­schrieben ist.


Übersetzungskosten zu senken, wird oft als der wichtigste Grund für die Verwendung von CAT-Tools genannt. Gerade in den regulierten Bran­chen ist die Konsistenz der Übersetzungen jedoch viel wichtiger. In einem Projekt für ein Pharma­unternehmen fanden wir zum Beispiel bei einem Medikament, das in sechs verschiedenen Konzen­trationen zugelassen ist, bis zu vier verschiedene Übersetzungen für die gleichen Ausgangssätze. Für die Umstellung der Dokumentation von ei­nem dokumentenbasierten System auf ein Con­tent-Management-System müssen diese Über­setzungen konsolidiert werden. Dies verursacht nicht nur einen erheblichen Aufwand bei der Da­tenkonvertierung; die Dokumente der Medika­mente, die von den Änderungen betroffen sind, müssen in ihrer geänderten Form auch von den Zulassungsbehörden genehmigt werden. Mit kun­denspezifischen Translation-Memory-Systemen können CAT-Tools dieses Problem minimieren und dadurch Kosten einsparen, die die Kosten für die Übersetzung um ein Vielfaches übertreffen.

Rollen und Aufgaben

Um als medizinischer Übersetzer oder Überset­zungsagentur mit Schwerpunkt Medizin im aktu­ellen Umfeld erfolgreich zu sein, müssen wir uns vom klassischen Rollenverständnis des Überset­zers verabschieden.

Betrachten wir einmal die Übersetzung ei­nes medizinischen Fragebogens für eine klini­sche Studie (in der Ausgangssprache 482 Wor­te). Klar, werden viele denken, die Übersetzung kann ich in ein paar Stunden machen. Aber die­se Übersetzung ist nur ein Baustein im ganzen Ablauf der Lokalisierung des Fragebogens. Schon vor Projektbeginn wird in unserer Agentur je­der Satz und jeder Begriff in einer „Begriffsana­lyse” erläutert (2123 Worte). Anschließend wird der Fragebogen von zwei spezialisierten Über­setzern übersetzt. Ein Projektkoordinator beur­teilt die beiden Vorwärtsübersetzungen (Bewer­tung der Übersetzung) und erstellt daraus eine konsolidierte Übersetzung. In der Vorwärtsüber-setzungsanalyse (2586 Worte) begründet er für jedes Segment, warum er die eine oder andere Übersetzung bevorzugt oder eine dritte Überset­zung vorschlägt. Diese Version wird durch einen Rückübersetzer zurück in die Ausgangssprache übersetzt. Die Rückübersetzung wird dann vom Auftraggeber mit dem Ausgangstext verglichen und in Form einer Rückwärtsübersetzungsanaly-se (3235 Worte) mit dem Projektkoordinator dis­kutiert, um eventuelle Kontroversen aufzulösen. Die resultierende Übersetzung wird durch einen Mediziner kommentiert und mit dem Projektko­ordinator diskutiert (ärztlicher Prüfbericht, 7059 Worte). Diese Übersetzung wird in Interviews mit fünf Patienten validiert und die Ergebnisse im Pi­lotversuchsbericht (5298 Worte) dokumentiert und diskutiert. Nach Klärung aller Fragen wird sie vom Korrekturleser kontrolliert und die Änderun­gen werden im Änderungsprotokoll (826 Worte) begründet.

Um die endgültige übersetzte Version des Fra­gebogens (556 Worte) zu erstellen, wurden ohne die E-Mail-Kommunikation und einige kleinere Dokumente mitzuzählen, Dokumente mit einem Umfang von 21 127 Worten verfasst. An dem Pro­jekt, das zwei Monate in Anspruch nahm, waren ein Projektvorbereiter (ein Medical Writer), drei Übersetzer, ein Projektkoordinator (ein Überset­zer), ein Mediziner, ein Korrekturleser (ein Über­setzer) und ein Projektmanager des Auftragge­bers beteiligt.

Maschinelle Übersetzungen werden in diesem Arbeitsablauf noch lange keine entscheidende Rolle spielen. Den großen, nicht spezialisierten Übersetzungsbüros, die „perfect” auftreten oder die die Übersetzer mit Löwenanstrengungen in die Cloud zerren möchten, droht das gleiche Schick­sal wie den Vollsortimentern im Einzelhandel, ihre Zeit ist abgelaufen. Die Arbeitsabläufe in der viel gescholtenen und durch das Internet ermöglich­ten Globalisierung verschieben das Gleichgewicht in Richtung kleiner, hochspezialisierter Teams oder kleiner, hochspezialisierter Übersetzungs­agenturen, die den Kunden qualitativ hochwerti­ge Ergebnisse liefern. Daher ist es empfehlens­wert, sich kontinuierlich weiterzubilden, denn teamfähige Übersetzer mit entsprechenden Qua­lifikationen werden zunehmend gesucht.

Armbruster, Siegfried (2011). Medizinische Übersetzer – keine Ausnahmen von der Regel  In: BW polyglott, November 2011, Ausgabe 2, S. 20

IMIA International Medical Interpreters Conference 2013 – Call for papers

The next IMIA (International Medical Interpreters Association) Conference will take place in Miami Beach, Florida, January 18-20, 2013.

The topic of the 2013 event has been chosen by IMIA members directly via poll and will be “Specialized Interpreting - Getting Beyond the Basics: Exploring Quality Interpreting for Multiple Specialties”

“The overriding mission of this conference is to offer an international forum to showcase the latest developments in the field, to investigate its opportunities and challenges, and to advance the quality in services provided to language minority patients worldwide.”

Thematic Questions:

1. What research is taking place regarding how medical interpreters are addressing specialized terminology with no term equivalents in the target language?
2. Is adequate knowledge of medical specialties a plus or a must for medical interpreters?
3. How are medical interpreters being defined in current research?
4. How much interpreting is occurring in non-specialized environments?
5. How can we narrow the divide between research and practice?

1. What medical specialties should be included in initial interpreter educational programs?
2. Are training/educational programs getting beyond the basics?
3. Is 40 hours of medical interpreter training enough to develop competency that ensures safe and accurate communication in a health care setting?
4. Can community interpreter training meet the educational needs of medical interpreters?
5. How are the established university interpreting programs responding to the growing demand for quality education in health care interpreting?

1. What are some of the best practices in specialty subject matter expertise sharing?
2. Are interpreters specializing in one or more fields?
3. What happens when interpreters practice in a particular specialty, for example, a Women’s Health or Behavioral Health Clinic?
4. What are the benefits of specialization to interpreter practitioners?
5. How is national certification for medical interpreters affecting the profession?

1. What is actually happening when interpreters are called to interpret in cases of rare diseases or specialties that they are not familiar with?
2. How are medical interpreters coping with daily ethical dilemmas?
3. Interpreting for family when you are a professional. Is that ethical?
4. How do medical ethics converge with interpreter ethics?
5. How do professional interpreters who are not specialized in health care respond ethically to situations unique to the health care setting?

Continue reading on the IMIA webpage here – more information on the conference and how to reply to the call for speaker are also available on the page.

Deadline for the call for papers is April 20, 2012.

Complete info:

And the winner is….

It seems The Stinging Nettle totally honored its name. I was amazed at the number of aggressive, sometimes even insulting comments and e-mails we’ve been receiving since the beginning of this action – it’s just fascinating how many people felt personally attacked. Anyway – here’s the promised result ;)

Whoever works in the medical translation field should be aware of the numerous existing standards (DIN/EN/ISO…) in this industry. Often, these standards even state the exact wording of entire segments. We’ve been so far expecting from translators to be able to identify whether a piece of text is subject to a certain standard (or could be) and accordingly conduct a search or contact us and simply ask. In this specific case, the relevant standards to use were DIN EN 980:2008-08 “Symbols for use in the labeling of medical devices; German version” and the draft standard DIN 6877-1:2007-12 “Magnetic resonance equipment for human use – Part 1: Instructions for labeling items within the controlled area”.

“Keller”, though not specialized in medical device texts, submitted a translation that was the closest in line with the rules of these standards and therefore earns the 50€. “S.W” (who’s no medical translator either) and “AL” did realize that those were texts that were probably set in standards but unfortunately did not submit any proposal.  I found “Michael’s” proposal very interesting as well – he is not a translator but his translation was qualitatively not different from many proposals.

You can read all proposals here and here

What did we learn?

None of the translators who participated knew the standards. Some found them as they were researching and translated correctly but most would probably have made a “wrong” translation of the segments. It occurred to us that during our time as freelancers, no agency ever said to us that a given part of the text was subject to a given standard nor ever provided us with these standard existing translations available (though this does not completely apply for pharmaceutical texts as some agencies take the time and provide their translators with all standards). We came therefore to the decision that, in the future, we will be informing our translators when we give them a new project where standards apply and make those standards available to them.

I would like to thank all translators who participated. It was an interesting experience and we did learn something. We hope that translators in the future will also pay more attention to regulatory requirements in the medical technology field, and keep themselves up-to-date with these as well.
The next “translation survey” is already in the oven and we’d be delighted if you decide to participate again, or participate for the first time!