How to Translate Medical Terms?


Have you ever gone to get a blood test done and then you get the results but never understood what they meant?

Those are exclusively medical terms, they’re hard to decipher by people other than doctors and professional linguists.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t translate those medical terms on your own.

We’ll give you a simple guide to help you understand and translate medical terms even if you’re not a medical professional.

But first, you need to understand why translating medical terms is difficult and what can we do to translate them with ease.

What is Medical Translation?


Medical translation is the practice of changing documents related to health care, pharmaceutical, and medicine sectors from one language to another.

Each of the above-mentioned sectors is not just a single but they contain a wide range of other interrelated areas, to mention a few:

  • Dermatology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Genetics
  • Dentistry
  • Psychiatry
  • Reports for insurance
  • Medical reports
  • Medical records
  • Medical files
  • Clinical tests

This is the reason why medical documents or texts are highly sensitive and to some extent complex.

Medical translators are not just translating texts, they are responsible for lives.

Their words are a shade of hope to the target audience or an absolute disappointment that may cause injuries or even death.

Also, medical terminologies that vary from one language to another make medical translation a real challenge.

Why are Medical Terms Hard to Translate?

Trranslate Medical Term is hard

Each field has core terminologies that must be well acquired and a level of professionalism by translators to guarantee accuracy and avoid fatal mistakes.  

Medical terms aren’t easy to understand if you’re not a medical professional.

You will face many challenges and obstacles if you use Google Translate or any online translator.

Those translating tools are too literal and won’t be of much help despite the great advancement that happened to them.

You need to Know some core characteristics of Medical terms First before deciding on being a medical translator:

1. Medical terms have regular morphology and are rooted in Greek or Latin Languages.  

Understanding medical terminology takes time and patience.

However medical translation is of a regular Morphology that doesn’t make the challenge over.

It requires understanding and memorizing a great number of basic roots besides the indication of a number of Prefixes and suffixes.

For Example, in the “Hypertension” disorder, the prefix “Hyper” means High, and the root word “Tension” indicates Pressure, so the word “Hypertension” refers to highly abnormal blood pressure. 

2. Accuracy is a life-or-death situation with Medical Terms

Medical terms can be found in many different document types that are health-related, such as, physician notes, pharmacological instructions, synopses, case reports brochures, etc.

Each of these contains subject matter terms used for specific audiences and languages.

Because of such complexity and depth, translating medical terms usually require Subject Matter Experts but not necessarily medical professionals.

To achieve accuracy and precision, Subject Matter Experts and not just regular translators are required.

They can understand the meaning of medical Terms and Jargon to make them in consideration to linguistic aspects and target audience languages or dialects even.

Given the fact that the smallest errors may lead to false diagnostics or irrelevant treatment, only experienced SMEs can be trusted in medical cases.

3. Medical Terms belong to different registers

Multiple word registers are arguably the most challenging aspect of translating medical Terms.

Many diseases and bodily parts are referred to by one word in a higher register (strictly medical) and another word in a lower register across many medical branches and languages (colloquial use).

For instance, the same anatomy component is referred to as both the “thorax” (strictly medical registration) and  “chest” (colloquial use register).

Different registers exist due to historical reasons and the evolution of the different fields of medicine. Therefore, when translating medical terms it’s a must to consider registers besides context.

Tips on how to translate Medical Terms

Challenges don’t mean impossible.

 Now that we are aware of the key challenges in medical terms translation, let’s mention some tips to get the mission of translation done accurately.

1- Know your target audience

It’s important to know who will read your text before translating. As we have mentioned above the Registers differ.

So, if your document is translated for a doctor will definitely be different if it will be translated for a patient

2- Utilize specialized dictionaries 

Using a specialized dictionary is a common tip for all fields of translation, however, you always need to make sure that your sources are updated on a regular basis.

Also, you can find an updated online medical dictionary on Medical Dictionary of Health Terms: A-C

3- Give a second thought to acronyms and abbreviations

Medical terms are full of acronyms and abbreviations, while translating you should break them down to their original term to convey accurate meaning.

This website can be useful in our case: Medical Abbreviations & Acronyms |

4- Take into account clarifying what the term means

Giving a proper explanation of uncommon or difficult terms is essential to any honest medical translation.

To do that you will need to search the term deeply and provide an explanation in a translator’s note.

5- Make your own glossary

Your glossary is your second man, whenever you encounter a new term or a definition, it’s important to add it to your own glossary.

In the beginning, you might not find it useful, but in the long term, you will have built a huge glossary that will make your work easier and faster.

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Translate Medical Terms?:

There are several methods that can be used to translate medical terminology. The most common methods are:

  • Direct translation: This method involves translating medical terms from one language to another literally. This is often the easiest method to use, but it can also lead to inaccuracies if the terms do not have a literal equivalent in the target language.
  • Semantic translation: This method involves translating medical terms based on their meaning, rather than their literal translation. This is a more accurate method, but it can also be more difficult to use, as it requires the translator to have a deep understanding of both languages.
  • Glossary translation: This method involves using a medical glossary to translate medical terms. This is a good method for translating common medical terms, but it may not be accurate for more specialized terms.
  • Machine translation: This method uses computer software to translate medical terms. This is a fast and affordable method, but it is not always accurate.

The best method to use for translating medical terminology will depend on the specific situation. If the translation is for a general audience, then direct translation may be sufficient. However, if the translation is for a medical professional, then a more accurate method, such as semantic translation, may be necessary.

There are many different techniques that can be used to memorize medical terms quickly. Here are a few tips:

  • Use mnemonic devices: Mnemonic devices are memory aids that can help you remember information. For example, you could use the acronym HOMES to remember the bones in the hand: H = humerus, O = ulna, M = metacarpals, E = carpals, S = phalanges.
  • Create associations: Another way to remember medical terms is to create associations between them and something that you already know. For example, you could associate the term “appendicitis” with the word “apple” because they both start with the letter “a”.
  • Use visualization: Visualization is a powerful technique that can help you remember information. When you visualize something, you are creating a mental picture of it in your mind. This can help you to remember the information more easily. For example, you could visualize a heart attack as a blockage in a pipe.
  • Break down the terms: If a medical term is long or complex, you can break it down into smaller parts. This will make it easier to remember. For example, the term “cardiovascular” can be broken down into the words “cardi” (heart) and “vascular” (blood vessels).
  • Practice regularly: The more you practice, the better you will become at memorizing medical terms. Try to review the terms regularly, even if it is just for a few minutes each day.
  • Use flashcards: Flashcards are a great way to practice memorizing medical terms. You can make your own flashcards or buy them online.
  • Use a medical terminology app: There are many medical terminology apps available that can help you to learn and memorize medical terms.

There are three general rules of medical terminology:

  1. Word roots: Word roots are the basic building blocks of medical terms. They usually come from Latin or Greek and have a basic meaning. For example, the word root “cardi” means “heart”.
  2. Prefixes: Prefixes are added to the beginning of word roots to modify their meaning. For example, the prefix “dys” means “bad” or “difficult”. So, the word “dyspnea” means “difficult breathing”.
  3. Suffixes: Suffixes are added to the end of word roots to modify their meaning. For example, the suffix “ology” means “the study of”. So, the word “neurology” means “the study of the nervous system”.

By understanding these three general rules, you can start to understand the meaning of medical terms. However, it is important to remember that there are many exceptions to these rules. It is always best to consult a medical dictionary or glossary when you are unsure of the meaning of a medical term.


Translating medical terms is a hard task that requires effort and patience, but being hard doesn’t make it unachievable.

Just get yourself ready with the knowledge and the skills required in such a field, then put your audience as a priority and consult the experts whenever needed.

Also, if you have no time and you have got loads of reports waiting to be translated, our team is just a click away: Medical Translation Services – Africa Localize