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My friendship circle is far removed from my professional circle, so my job as a translator is quite obscure in social situations. I even get a twinge of anxiety when someone asks me, “What do you do for a living?” as a way of making small talk.
I say, as plainly as possible, no technical jargon, “I am a translator. I translate French medical documents into English.” But, that simple statement is full of landmines waiting to explode and create confusion. First, most people picture an interpreter (in-person, oral translation) when they hear translator (at-home, written translation). Second, those who understand that distinction imagine that I must be translating books and legal documents (the two most “famous” types of translation), even though I said medical documents. They cannot grasp why or what medical documents would need to be translated.
That is why I am writing a short series of posts called What Medical Translation Entails.
I dedicate this series to anyone who says “you do what?” when I tell them what I do for a living.
Translation for pharmacovigilance
To start, take a moment and note that pharmaceutical companies and drugs are international. For example, furosemide (the INN) is manufactured worldwide by Pfizer, Sanofi, Mylan, and many others under different brand names. French, German, Tunisian, Italian patients take furosemide to treat edema and hypertension.
Occasionally, a drug induces a serious adverse event (bad side effect) that must be reported in a database. Such databases are used for pharmacovigilance regulation and reporting. As I explain on my services page, pharmacovigilance concerns “the detection, assessment, understanding, and prevention of adverse effects or any other possible drug-related problems.”
By way of example, if 50 patients in France experience an adverse event, followed by 25 in Italy and Tunisia, the drug that caused it will be investigated so that future problems can be prevented. Now, think about the paper work/documentation, and notice that, since drugs are international, they are going to be in different languages. Therefore, for English-speaking practitioners and institutions to read them, they must be translated.
That’s when I step in…
Well, the translation agency does. The drug manufacturer (for example, Pfizer, Roche, Merck) whose drug is being investigated will contact a translation agency with the documents they need translated (pharmacovigilance reports and any documentation associated with them), then that agency contacts me.
Therefore, in this context, my translation services help pharmaceutical companies improve their medicine and contribute to the prevention of serious side effects. See? It's clear as mud now what I do for a living, right?
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This term (RCIU harmonieux) caught my attention in an SAE report, and I will admit that it almost tricked me.
Harmonieux generally has a positive connotiation, as, I’m sure, non-French speakers could guess. However, RCIU is the French abbreviation for intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). So, you can see how IUGR would PROBABLY not be described in a positive context.
Thus, I searched the phrase, hoping to resolve this conundrum. An online medical school answered my question. Apparently there can be RCIU dysharmonieux (ou asymétrique) and RCIU harmonieux (ou symétrique). Per the website, “Le RCIU harmonieux (ou symétrique, ou homogène) concerne tous les paramètres biométriques (périmètre crânien, taille, poids). Il témoigne d’un processus pathologique survenant précocement au cours de la grossesse. Il est de moins bon pronostic (origine constitutionnelle et anomalies génétiques fréquentes).”
Being a common term in French, I translated it as symmetrical IUGR and searched THAT term. Numerous hits came up from reputable websites! Sure enough, I’d found the correct translation.
This was a lesson in translation that emphasized the distinct differences between literary and medical language. As a translator, I have to pause when I am thinking about applying literary language to a medical text. It is important that I research any terms that are unfamiliar to me, in order to make sure the client has an accurate translation of their document.
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On a business note:
After 6 plus years in business, I am prepared to announce that January is a traditionally slow month, and February trends in that direction, as well. Here is my guess as to why this is the case.
At the end of the year, I think that pharmaceutical companies and related industry players do not produce as much documentation, since their employees take off work for the holidays. Then, January comes around, people slink back to work, their inboxes start filling up, and it is a month or so before the companies are churning out documentation at a regular pace. Finally, after a few more weeks, those documents reach the “translation stage.” Being at the end of this cycle, it's not until February that I start seeing work return to normal.
Note: To reiterate, this is only a theory, based on observation and experience as a translator. I wanted to share and perhaps hear from others what they think makes January a slow month for medical science translation.
I want to diversify:
First off, notice that my business name is Cochran Language Services, NOT Translation Services. I wanted broader coverage so that I can branch out beyond translation. Just today, on this icy Oklahoma morning, I applied to transcribe for Rev.com. That line of work requires similar skills to translation, specifically excellent English and grammar, and good listening and typing skills. I have also started proofing my friend’s audio for her voiceover business, which is another language service. Thus, as 2021 moves forward, I vow to keep my eyes open for jobs where my language skills are valued. Diversity should ensure that I have more consistent work throughout the year. (No more slow Januarys for me!)
Finally, a dilemma with scientific terminology:
I translated an article last week that discussed hemolytic disease of the newborn, a new-to-me concept. When accepting the job, I knew that it would be a challenge for me. So, I made sure to thoroughly research the disorder. However, the dilemma was in the French author's choice of terminology. The source referred to both incompatibilité fœto-maternelle and maladie hémolytique du nouveau-né. However, in English, the translation of the second term (hemolytic disease of the newborn, HDN) is more commonly used than that of the first term (maternal-fetal incompatibility). I had to decide between using HDN in every case and risk mistranslating the meaning of the text, OR using both terms in their respective instances with a clear justification for doing so.
I decided on the latter. My justification to the editor read, as follows:
“Throughout the source, the author alternates between hemolytic disease of the newborn and maternal-fetal incompatibility. This leads me to understand that, at times, he wanted to refer to the incompatibility aspect, and at other times, the hemolytic disease aspect, which are related but are two distinct concepts. I would say, as a non-scientist, that the hemolytic disease is an expression/manifestation of the blood type incompatibility. So, for consistency, I followed the author’s lead. If I had changed the incompatibility references to hemolytic disease references, in even one instance, I concluded that this would have created inconsistency, potentially muddying the meaning of the text.”
Whew, that’s a mouthful! I must have expressed myself clearly because I did not hear back from the client with additional questions.
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I did it. My business is officially named Cochran Language Services. I decided to form an LLC for tax purposes and for distinguishing personal from professional. When choosing an LLC name for my translation business, I narrowed it down to 3 options, 3 different directions I could take with different benefits.
Ultimately, I went with flexible and safe. Cochran Language Services. I can abbreviate it on business materials (CLS). I can even come up with a creative “trade name” later, and use that for marketing.
On a final note, I used the internet, a translator's best friend, to look for advice on the topic of choosing an LLC name. One fun article by entrepreneur.com caught my attention. It’s lists mistakes to avoid in naming your business. I enjoyed the light-hearted approach the author took. Maybe you will, too.
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Publications from scientific journals are frequently translated in a variety of languages. The process usually entails translating the references (this depends on the client’s instructions). Among those, I encounter a variety of acronyms representing institution names, and it’s my job to tease out the expansion in French, then to translate that into English.
Below, I will share a 5 acronyms that I see regularly enough that they are in my CAT tool glossary, then I will share 1 truly unique acronym (AFRAVIH) that inspired me to write this post. You have to see it to understand it.
And, finally, the unique one you’ve been waiting for:
Interesting choice. I kind of wonder how the meeting went when the higher-ups decided on this acronym...
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The last two years, my accountant has recommended that I form an LLC. As a translator with no desire to have employees and a limited knowledge of business management, I would nod when he said this, then put it at the bottom of a loooong to do list, where I could easily ignore it… until this year.
With the pandemic slowing down my work, I have had more time to reflect on the value of my business. I was reminded that, by offering my professional translation services for money that I use to support myself, I am running a business.
I understand now that an LLC does just what its name says: limits your personal liability. If my business runs into legal problems, LLC status will protect my personal assets, like my car and home. (I like this blog post from Intuit explaining LLCs.)
For me, the water turns murkier when I start looking into S-Corp status. So far, my research tells me that I should check my local tax laws before opting for this status. This is because I may end up paying more in taxes if I my salary isn’t very high. I won’t go farther into discussing this option, since my understanding is extremely limited.
My next step is to contact my accountant and get his opinion. Right now, December 2020, would be the time to set up the LLC, so that it goes into effect on January 1.
If I go ahead with this change, I will share the name of my LLC here. Heck, I may start putting my brand on things like T-shirts and mugs! For now, though, it’s one step at a time.