In the medical field, translators often need to work on many different types of texts, from clinical studies to the information printed on medical packaging. Yet, in the latter case in particular, translating it not enough. In fact, for medical packaging, we rather speak of adaptation.
Medical packaging: a key element
Medical packaging includes all the material components in addition to the product. The vial containing the tablets, the tube of ointment, the cardboard packaging containing it all… Medical packaging comprises all these parts and it matters for many different reasons.
First, it serves to protect the medicines (transport…). Secondly, it is a key marketing element in and of itself. A well-designed package will attract more consumers than an ill-conceived and unremarkable one. Finally, the packaging plays an informative role by providing different details related to the product: name, strength, composition, expiry date, dosage, storage……
Medical packaging: why adapt instead of just translating?
When translation experts are tasked with translating medical packaging, a simple translation should not be their ultimate goal. Translators need to adapt the source text, taking into account different elements such as the targeted audience, the cultural context as well as the material or supporting device for which it is intended.
Different kinds of labels may appear on medical packaging. Labeling may vary from one country to the next and thus needs to be adapted appropriately. In France, for instance, the French Ministry of Health and Solidarity website includes a page on pharmaceutical labeling and medication package inserts, specifying that all the following elements need to appear: “name of the medicine, strength, qualitative and quantitative composition in terms of active substances per dosage unit, pharmaceutical form, special warnings, manufacturing batch number, expiry date, name and address of the marketing authorization holder .
Translators also need to take into account where the medicine will be used – in hospitals, at home, in specialized centers – and adapt the text accordingly. The vocabulary adopted will not be the same for professionals and private individuals, for instance. Attention should be paid to abbreviations, which at times can be tricky if not dangerous.
Finally, translators need to remember that their translation cannot be twice as long as the source text, because often there are space constraints. Linguists need to adapt accordingly and not the reverse. Translators will thus need to come up with a target text that falls into the space allocated.
A translation for medical packaging also needs to be adapted to the target audience, the final consumer, the material or supporting device where it will be displayed and finally to the cultural context. Before proceeding with the translation, the expert will thus need to consider a few basic questions like:
- What is the country of destination?
- Who is the target audience (the elderly…)?
- What material specific constraints need to be considered?
- Where will the medicine be used (hospitals, retirement homes…)?
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