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How to start as a medical/legal translator
Thread poster: ellielharper
Local time: 10:43
Italian to English
Sep 27, 2007

I have been working as a project manager/proofreader/translator with a translation agency for just over a year now. My main language pair is Italian > English (1sct class degree Italian Studies 2006) and I would eventually like to free-lance. There is a strong possibility that in say 5yrs I will relocate to Italy. I would really like to concentrate on more literary translations however being realistic I think I will have better luck finding work with a specialistion like law/techy/medical.

Not having had any vocational experience in any of these areas, and not being likely to (no plans to train as a lawyer/doctor just yet!) have any hands on experience in the future in these areas, I wondered how I might go about gaining enough knowledge to be able to advertise myself as a specialist in said areas.

Is it a question of doing courses, or just ploughing through lots of independent reading?

Does anyone have any advice, I would really appreciate it?

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Adriana Johnston  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:43
English to Spanish
+ ...
gaining knowledge Sep 27, 2007

there are several thinks you can do:
for the medical part, you can take a few courses, with a strong background in Anatomy and physiology, psychology and medical terminology, also I know watching tv doest give you a formal training but you can watch the geografic channels and familiarize with the medical vocabulary.

You can also work as a telephonic interpreter because you are exposed to a diversity of scenerios and learn new terminology from doctors, lawyers, judges, insurance adjustors etc. Hope this helps a little!

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patyjs  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:43
Spanish to English
+ ...
Try medical first.... Sep 27, 2007

Hi Ellie,

Your post is interesting because I'm in a similar situation. I have lived and worked and existed in Spanish for the last almost 20 years, so language-wise I probably have a bit of an advantage over many other translators. What I don't have though is an academic background to back it up. There was never the opportunity to go to University...but that's another (long) story.

Anyway, to get to the point, medical translation may sound really scary, and you certainly have to commit to thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, researching EVERYTHING. Still, there are some advantages, too. Here are two which come immediately to mind:

~ once you get used to the spelling changes, many terms can be guessed at so you can check the meaning in Spanish and English right away to make sure you have the right thing;
~ medical reports are often written in short, right-to-the-point sentences, so you only get the essential stuff and don't have to wade through endless lines of text to get to the point (as you do with legal).

However, I can't stress enough the importance of doing the proper research right the way through the job. And ALWAYS ask for help when you're not certain. That's true for all translations, I know, but more so considering what's at stake.

I'm sure someone will send a post saying you shouldn't touch medical or legal without an adequate background. Well I truly wish I could say I did (have an adequate background), but I don't, and so I do the VERY best I can. And some of the best feedback I've had has been from med trans.

So good luck to you, Ellie.
And let us know if find any useful courses....


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Christine Schmit  Identity Verified
German to French
+ ...
immersion in the field Sep 28, 2007

In my case, when I found out that legal translation was what I really wanted to do, I decided to study law by distance learning. Distance learning is the perfect method for me, because it allows me to set my own schedule and keep working full-time as a freelance translator. I have completed two years now, it is definitely not easy, but I feel that it is certainly worth it, I have learnt a lot, not only legal terminology, but also about the legal system. Because you can't translate law without knowing how the legal system works
I would say that first you have to decide what field you want to specialize in, because you can't do legal, medical and technical all at once. Nobody can be a specialist in everything. Choose the field you are most interested in, because if you want to work in that field every day it better be something you really like.
I would definitely recommand doing some courses in the field, you don't have to do a full degree or become a lawyer or a doctor, there are lots of continuing education courses or distance courses that can give you good knowledge of the field. I believe that a good method is doing courses in all of your languages, not only your target language, but also your source languages, to learn the specialized terminology.
And of course, read, read, read. Get a subscription to some good legal or medical journals, preferrably in various languages and immerse yourself in the subject.
Another option would be to work in the field for some time, getting an administrative job at a law firm for example, so you would be in contact with lawyers on a daily basis.
In any case, I really believe that complete immersion in the field is what works best. Learn everything about it you can.

In my case, being married to a multilingual lawyer whose mothertongue is one of my source languages is definitely a big avantage for legal translation too, but I don't think this method works for everyone

I wish you good luck,


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United Kingdom
Local time: 10:43
English to Italian
+ ...
Specializing Sep 28, 2007

Here you will find lots of ideas:


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:43
Flemish to English
+ ...
Get to know specialists Sep 28, 2007

Although I attended quite some courses outside the translation field, I am not an engineer, M.D., DDS, etc..
However, my acquaintances are specialists in their field. They supply terminology and revise texts for content correctness whereas I or an other native linguist reviews the text for linguistic correctness.

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