Slow Translation, Scamming the Scammer, and More – Translorial Fall 2016 Edition

Translorial Vol 38, No. 2

NCTA members can download the Fall 2016 edition of the Translorial in print and downloadable PDF versions, covering a variety of topics.

If you are not an NCTA member, you can join here.


Table of contents of the Translorial Fall 2016 edition, Vol. 38, No. 2: → continue reading


Considered a “dead language” by some, Latin continues to flourish in the world of Science and Medicine. Bootcamp attendees get the breakdown. BY MIKE KARPA

Marlene V. Obermeyer guided interpreters and translators through the lingo of medicine and the human body in an eight-hour medical terminology bootcamp held June 30, 2012, six floors above Market Street at the San Francisco State downtown campus. Obermeyer, a long-time registered nurse with a Masters degree, offers online training in medical interpreting and terminology from her base in Kansas through Culture Advantage and Virginia College. She also gives a handful of medical terminology bootcamps annually around the country through the IMIA. Carlos Garcia of the IMIA has been trying to schedule a bootcamp in San Francisco for some time, and he and NCTA organizer Sarah Llewellyn were delighted to be able to jointly host Obermeyer. → continue reading


A workshop with a panel of experts gave attendees some valuable information about the specifics of medical translation. BY KAREN TKACZYK

The medical translation panel workshop was held in the ever-excellent location of the Mechanics Institute Library, and was well attended. There were three speakers, who had been selected with a view to providing diverse information that would both increase attendees’ understanding of the field and provide practical tips for our daily work. They achieved that. → continue reading


With rates under increasing pressure from globalization and other trends, many translators are turning to specialization. But the leap is not always easy.


This article was inspired by recent postings from several NCTA members inquiring about transitioning into certain fields, and the respective pay rates that one might expect. In today’s general translation marketplace, with more competition and lower pay, translators are looking to focus their content expertise, and specifically in the specialized fields of medical and legal interpreting.

Many translators and interpreters are what I would call generalists. A random peek into their profiles shows the ability to work in a variety of fields, ranging from finance, engineering, and education to telecommunications, law, medicine, and science. These professionals tend to work on a few projects in each area, allowing them to (justifiably) tout the range of their capabilities.

Other translators and interpreters, however, specialize in one or two fields at the most. A specialist can be a generalist, but not vice versa: even the slightest interpreting errors in fields such as medicine and law can have grave consequences for the limited English-proficient (LEP) client. As an interpreter in these two highly specialized disciplines, I know that success requires significant dedication, study, and training. It can take anywhere from four to six years to be a proficient interpreter in either of these fields.

The best medicine

Working as a medical interpreter, I am of course well-versed in medical terminology but am also familiar with many medical procedures as well. When a doctor gives an NOP order, I know exactly what that is (no oral products). When a patient requests a DNR order, I also know that he does not want to be resuscitated in a life-threatening circumstance. It’s not reasonable to expect a translator who doesn’t have such training—a generalist—to walk into a medical interpreting setting and be able to know what these terms refer to.

Other times, the medical translator specialist will be required to work in emotional and stressful conditions such as emergencies or life-and-death situations. There was an occasion where I interpreted a religious prayer conducted by a hospital chaplain for a terminally ill patient. This event had nothing to do with medical interpreting, yet of course it was an important part of the job.

Rules of law

In the field of legal interpreting, many will find the compensation fairly good. Legal interpreting is one of the most comprehensive interpreting fields in that it requires broad knowledge of numerous other subfields. For example, family and probate law will require knowledge of financial terms. Criminal cases will require knowledge of science and medicine pertaining to forensic evidence. Civil suits involving worker’s compensation or personal injury will require knowledge of medical, vehicle, and insurance terms. Immigration, small claims, juvenile, and other specialized areas all have their own terminology. And, needless to say, courtroom interpreting can be challenging and intensive when opposing lawyers, witnesses, and judge are all talking at once.

When generalists take on the work of specialists without the proper training, few of them will be able to render acceptable translations or interpretations. Once, a medical glossary translated by a generalist provided me with incredulous comic relief. The term athlete’s foot was literally translated as “the foot of an athlete”; hives was translated as “disease of beehives”; and speed (methamphetamine) was translated as “velocity.”

The client comes first

A generalist may go into a medical or legal interpreting setting believing that he can render an interpretation without the adequate training, and thinking that no one will know if he makes an interpretation error, but this may not be the case. I have known of some interpreters being sent away in the middle of a job for poor performance.

On one occasion, I provided interpretation for a couple whose child was hospitalized. At the end of the session, the father posed several questions to the doctor in perfectly good English. I inquired afterwards why they needed my services if the father was proficient in English. The father answered that my services were for the benefit of the mother, who did not understand English; that even though the father’s English was good, it did not mean that he could accurately interpret for his wife. They were more comfortable employing an interpreter. Another time, while interpreting in a deposition, the client, client’s attorney, and I all spoke the same native language. If an interpreting error was made, the client’s attorney would definitely have noticed.

Some generalists will accept assignments that they are not qualified to do for financial reasons. I view being a translator or interpreter as a noble profession that is rewarding in so many ways. We are the conduits that enable LEP clients to have fair access to a number of services that might not have been possible because of language barriers. Without them, we wouldn’t be working. Therefore, we owe it to them to be properly trained and qualified so that we can deliver the exceptional service that they deserve.

Three Events in One Weekend!

By Raffaella Bushiazzo

This year our fall general meeting was a very special event, as translators and want-to-be translators were able to dedicate an entire weekend to increasing their professional knowledge and exchanging business cards and tips with fellow translators and agencies in an elegant environment.

To coordinate with ATA’s Medical Translation Seminar and our own NCTA MultiTerm Workshop for Trados users, we moved our quarterly meeting to Sunday, September 17th at the Embassy Suites Hotel in South San Francisco. The NCTA general meeting started with the traditional New Member Orientation, to help those who have recently joined NCTA learn more about the association.

Trials and questionnaires
Since the ATA seminar was on medical translation we chose to present on a connected topic. We invited David Himmelberger from Health Outcomes Group in San Francisco ( to explain how clinical trials and health care questionnaires are designed and translated for multinational use; the translators role in this process; and what is expected from translators. Dr. Himmelberger’s presentation was rich in practical examples, detailed guidelines, and, not least, hilarious anecdotes.

Since the mid-1970s, Mr. Himmelberger has been involved in analyzing the results of medical treatments in terms of cost and quality of life. After many years as a biostatistician at Stanford University and experience in the pharmaceutical industry in strategic planning, international marketing research, and outcomes evaluation, Mr. Himmelberger founded Health Outcomes Group in 1987.

Today, there are no medical tests to prove that a treatment for a disease is working. For this reason, questionnaires are needed, to calibrate medical procedures to a common standard. But often these questionnaires need to be translated before they can completed by patients in different environments.

The translated documents must be absolutely true to the source, but at the same time in readable, natural-sounding language. Typical projects involve twenty countries at a time, where English is almost always the source language translated into other target languages, and adapted to each culture. The translation process is usually lengthy, involves a number of people, and presents difficult challenges to be solved.

The person who writes the original questionnaire, the source author, has an interest in staying involved at each step of the translation process—both to ensure accuracy and to make sure he or she shares in any additional fees. Two translators will then translate the text, working independently of each other. The resulting translations are sent to a linguist living in Italy who combines the two versions into one. This version is then back-translated back into English. At this point the translation is reviewed by the author, as well as by doctors and experts for a linguistic validation.

They take a small sample of users and conduct a dialogue with the patients to see if they fully understand the questionnaire and all of its nuances.

To be effective, a translation of this kind needs to meet two nearly paradoxical requirements, which is what makes the task so challenging. First, the source text is fixed and unalterable; since the developer doesn’t want to change the questionnaire in the original language, the linguist has to work around that to come up with solutions. Second, the translation also needs to sound natural in all the target communities and cultures!

How do we know what patients understand when they answer a questionnaire? Several techniques are used, often involving putting the patient at ease, listening to the vocabulary he or she uses, watching for visual cues, having questions prepared that address issues identified in the translation process, and the use of different interview techniques. Lastly, the translation is sent back to the target language linguist for a final approval.

Networking and goodies
Dr. Himmelberger’s fascinating talk was followed by a treat—a buffet of delicious cheeses and exotic fruit, elegantly served on the hotels fine china. It was a landmark weekend for NCTA, because we were able to offer our members so many professional enrichment events in such a short time. I was pleased to see the enthusiasm shown, as well as the number of first-time NCTA attendees and attendees from outside Northern California who joined us for this first-class event and presentation.

Biotechnology and Translation

By Karl Kaussen

If you are a translator of medical and pharmaceutical texts, or even if you have never translated a medical text before, it’s never too late to learn about the remarkable new developments in biotechnology and how they might affect your life and occupation. This article introduces some of the concepts and special terminology commonly used in the field.

Recent spectacular discoveries in biotechnology have placed the field at the center of pharmaceutical research, and the structural and functional analysis of the human genome promises to trigger new advances in the fight against disease and illness. This new technology is one of the most important fields of innovation in the 21st century, and its growth potential is enormous. With companies worldwide scrambling to get a slice of the pie, it’s probable that there will be much work for language specialists who can translate not only research papers and reports but also study protocols, informed consent forms, patents, and legal documents in connection with new drugs and medical procedures.

Political biology

Biotechnology is a cross-sectional field, in which not only biologists, chemists, and engineers are involved, but also lawyers, business managers, and financial experts. Translators who want to offer their services to any of these professionals need to familiarize themselves with the jargon of the specific groups of specialists. They will need to be able to facilitate communication between these experts in different languages, and they must also be able to translate their respective voices into a quotidian register that lay people who are not experts in those fields can understand.

This is especially true as the political landscape in biotechnology is changing as well, with the topic of stem cells in the national dialogue as never before. Despite what seems to many to be a too-slow pace by the federal government, the State of California is forging ahead with ambitious research plans, based on voters’ approval in 2004 of a bond proposal that paves the way for a $3 billion, 10-year project to study embryonic stem cells under the auspices of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. (Note: funding for the program is currently being held up pending the resolution of two lawsuits.)

Scientists believe that understanding how these cells develop will allow medical researchers to one day correct the “errors” that cause serious medical conditions such as cancer and birth defects. Additionally, stem cells can be used to make cells and tissues for medical therapies to treat diseases such as juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, stroke, burn, and many others, because the cells can morph into virtually any type of tissue or cell.

Biotech 101

Biotechnology is based on the increasing knowledge of mechanisms that keep organisms alive and facilitate procreation. At the center of it all is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a long, double-helix molecule that carries genetic information. The genetic prerequisites of an organism (genotype) determine its physical characteristics (phenotype).

A human being’s genetic blueprint—its genome—consists of multiple DNA strands with an overall length of approximately 1.6 m but which are only about 2 millionths of a meter thick. Every single cell in our body contains this blueprint in the form of 46 parts of a defined length, known as chromosomes. Human chromosomes consist of approximately 3 billion building blocks that are also called bases. There are four types of bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). The sequence in which these are arranged in the DNA strand determines the biochemistry of the cells and the physiology of the organisms.

Although DNA is an efficient source of information, it is relatively inactive. Most activities within a cell involve proteins—large molecules that evolve through the sequencing of many small building blocks, the amino acids. Biochemists express the relationship between DNA and proteins as follows: DNA turns into ribonucleic acid (RNA) and finally into protein. RNA is similar to DNA in its structure except that RNA contains the base uracil (U) instead of thymine, and it usually occurs as a single strand, whereas DNA always occurs as a double helix.

Translating the code

The decoding of the DNA codes for the development of protein begins in the cell nucleus with a process called transcription. In this process, an RNA copy is created from a section of DNA (gene) that contains the blueprint for the desired protein. As soon as a certain amount of the copy, or messenger RNA (mRNA), has been produced, the “protein manufacturing plants” or ribosomes, convert it into proteins. This process is called, appropriately enough for us, translation. The ribosome always reads a sequence of three bases of the mRNA, called a codon, at once. The codon determines which respective amino acid is going to be added to the growing protein chain. Certain codons define the beginning or the end of the protein. A single mRNS strand is read sequentially off several ribosomes so that a single gene turns into many protein molecules.

The decoding of the DNA codes for the development of protein begins in the cell nucleus with a process called transcription. In this process, an RNA copy is created from a section of DNA (gene) that contains the blueprint for the desired protein. As soon as a certain amount of the copy, or messenger RNA (mRNA), has been produced, the “protein manufacturing plants” or ribosomes, convert it into proteins. This process is called, appropriately enough for us, translation. The ribosome always reads a sequence of three bases of the mRNA, called a codon, at once. The codon determines which respective amino acid is going to be added to the growing protein chain. Certain codons define the beginning or the end of the protein. A single mRNS strand is read sequentially off several ribosomes so that a single gene turns into many protein molecules.

Humans have long been able to use living organisms in breweries, bakeries, and dairies, and microbes that are used today in the development of antibiotics resulted from the mutation of those earlier organisms. Biotechnology creates so much excitement today because scientists are now able to influence basic biological processes and cause organisms to produce certain proteins in larger quantities or change their form with the help of recombinant techniques. By inserting DNA fragments into unrelated organisms, scientists can cross the boundaries between different species. Thus, human genes that have been transferred into yeasts and bacteria are used in making valuable new medicines.

The development of new drugs is a lengthy and involved process, and it will probably be some time before we can enjoy the full benefits of new discoveries in biotechnology. But in the meantime, the increased activity and ongoing research in the field of biotechnology will result in the publication of study reports and research papers in many languages, and language specialists—in virtually every possible combination—will be needed to translate them.

crash course

Commonly used biotechnology concepts and terminology

Antisense molecule A molecule that binds specifically to the DNA or RNA strand that contains the genetic information (sense DNA/RNA). This bond inhibits the translation. Antisense molecules are usually chemically related to the DNA or RNA.

Downstream processing Techniques such as centrifugation, filtration, and chromatography that are used to purify products of an enzyme conversion of a microbiological development process.

DNA bases or base pairs The DNA bases consist of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. There are four different DNA bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). The sequence in which they are arranged contains the genetic information. One base or one base pair represents one bit in computer language. The two terms are used synonymously.

Enzyme A protein that facilitates or speeds up a biochemical reaction.

Genexpression The conversion of genetic information into the respective proteins with the help of the cellular mechanisms.

Genetherapy A process in which RNA and DNA are used to heal illnesses.

HUGO The Human Genome Organization, an international organization that runs the Human Genome Project.

Immobilization A process in which biomolecules, enzymes, organisms or cells are anchored on surfaces or enclosed in a matrix. This protects sensitive biomaterial and at the same time makes recovery possible.

Monoclonal antibodies Antibodies are part of the body’s immune response, and bind to substances—called antigens—that are alien to the body. In a natural immune reaction the contact with a single antigen causes a mixture of antibodies.

Open Reading Frame (ORF) A part of the DNA that could possibly be considered a gene, but whose capacity to code a protein is undetermined.

PCR The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) facilitates the duplication of minute traces of DNA and thus creates volumes of DNA that can be analytically determined. PCR is often used in criminal investigations in obtaining genetic fingerprints.

Plasmid Small, ring-shaped bacterium chromosome that contains specific characteristics such as antibiotics resistance that can be transferred from one organism to another.

Somatotropine Human growth hormone that is produced with gene technology and is used in children afflicted with dwarfism.

TPA Tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) is a protein that dissolves blood clots and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Transposon A small section of DNA that moves from one chromosome to another or from one place to another on the same chromosome. Genes on a transposon are also called jumping genes. An antibiotic’s resistance to bacteria is often located on such transposons.


A Multilingual Glossary of Biotechnological Terms; H.G.W. Leuenberger, B. Nagel and H. Kölbl, VCH Weinheim, Weinheim (D), 1995, ISBN 3-906390-13-6

Biotechnology from A to Z; W. Bains, Oxford University Press, Oxford (GB), 1993, ISBN 0-19-963334-7

Biotechnology Glossary GB, D, F, I, NL, DK, E, P, GR; EC Commission Translation Services, Elsevier Science Publishers Ltd., London (GB), 1990, ISBN 1-85166-569-2

Genetics for Beginners; S. Jones and B. van Loon, Icon Books, Cambridge (GB), 1993, ISBN 1-874166-12-9

Glossary of Biotechnology Terms; M. Fleschar and K. Nill, Technomic Publishing Corporation Inc., Lancaster Pennsylvania (USA), 1993, ISBN 0-87762-991-9