Understanding the Technology Used in Medical Interpreting

Doctor and assistant meeting with patient

For decades, medical translation by interpreting agencies was a process that relied heavily on human interpretation and then manual transcription. As with most aspects of medicine, over the last 20 years, Information Technology (IT) greatly altered how medical translation is conducted. The following is a rundown of the various technologies we use today to ensure that our medical translations are as accurate as possible.

Grow Your Business with a Translation Agency

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The world of business is growing ever more connected internationally. If you’re not doing business overseas, chances are you’re missing opportunities. When asked about barriers to international commerce, many business leaders mention language as an issue. But the truth is that language does not have to be a barrier. Translation services can bridge the language gap between potential business partners. Here are a few ways that language translators can help and most people are likely to buy in their own language.

The Stages of the Language Translation Process

The professionals at Tembua, Inc., have been translating more than 100 languages for over 25 years. Whether you need help with desktop publishing, video services, medical transcriptions, or an interpreter, the team at Tembua has the skills and experience needed for accurate and reliable assistance. They specialize in working within the medical field, so they’re aware of the technical demands and importance of clarity.

At Tembua, Inc., they know medical personnel want assurances. The experts at Tembua have the certifications and qualifications to support their years of real-world experience. There’s no need to worry about the translations they produce. Only the highest-quality work is accepted at Tembua.

Learn about the stages of the language translation process.

How to Choose the Right Provider of Interpretation Services

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When you work with an interpretation service, it’s important that you work with knowledgeable professionals. In the business of language translation, there is very little room for error. A slight miscommunication could cause significant harm to your organization. When engaging the services of interpreting agencies, you should ask the following questions.

Roles of Interpreters and Translators in Global Business

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Linguistics is commonly known to be an important subject, especially in a world that is constantly growing increasingly globally connected every day. Being a good translator or interpreter is important in many fields around the world. One such example is in the world of business.

The Importance of Accuracy in Biomedical Translations

When translating languages, not everything can make sense in the end. Sometimes, this can be comical, but in the world of medicine, this could mean everything. Here’s why accuracy in medical translations is vitally important.

Quality vs. Value


For children’s party favors, I go to the Dollar Store. Why pay good money for something that may—undoubtedly will— only be used for 15 minutes?

For my grandchildren, however, I lovingly sew a snuggly puppy out of washable fake fur, each in a different color.

This is quality versus value, the relationship of the personal value relative to the price point. The quality of a product or service has to meet the client’s expectation at the right price.

The Dollar Store favors? The right quality at the right price.

The snuggly puppies? High quality, and also high value for their recipients (hopefully).

Dictionary.com defines quality as native excellence or superiority. Value, on the other hand, is defined as relative worth, merit, or importance. The keyword there is relative.

Some people say you get what you pay for. They mean you can’t expect high quality to come cheap. But do we always need high quality? If we can’t afford it, we sometimes have to settle for something of lower quality. And sometimes, as in the case of the party favors, spending the money for high quality would be pointless. So we are left to evaluate our needs and expectations against the price.

This system holds true in our industry. Free is the lowest price there is, and sometimes free online translation is just what you need. A farmer’s market poster? A yard sign for a garage sale? If the text is understandable and the translation is only going to be used for a few days, good enough is good enough.

Someone recently asked me why we charge anything for what we do. I struggled to contain my outrage at the question as I tried to explain translation by an degreed, experienced linguist plus revision by another similarly qualified linguist plus proofreading plus quality control costs. However, he knew what he knew, and I wasn’t going to change his mind. All we do is write or speak properly in another language, after all!

Learning the value of quality translation is a company who came to us after they translated their website into Chinese using a free online tool and then wondered why no Chinese speakers had contacted them. Then a native Chinese speaker told them that the text was gibberish. Tembua fixed the text for them, but we weren’t free.

I recently read an advertisement claiming that a single project manager could handle a million words a day using that company’s software. I was immediately suspicious. When I worked as a translator years ago, a reviser always reviewed my work and improved it. Then the project manager (PM) went through the document carefully to find missing phrases, run-on sentences, MIA punctuation, a list that jumped from 1 to 3 with no 2. As owner of my own agency for 25 years, I know these things can happen—with or without the latest software. Our PMs are required to allow enough time to review the translation.

I find that PM review stage is becoming less and less common in our industry. The fast pace of business today sometimes demands that a translation be ready by the end of the day no matter what. But we always tell our clients if their timeline necessitates skipping steps.

Tembua offers single-pass human translation—where appropriate.

We also offer neural machine translation revised by a human editor—where appropriate.

For our clients in the biomedical or med tech field, we add review by subject matter experts to the team of translation plus reviser plus proofreader. These SMEs aren’t linguists but rather native-speaker, working PhDs and MDs who read the translation for language that is current and local.

Ask us! We’ll help you decide what you need. If it’s a translation for a one-time, low-stakes event, we might even point you at Google Translate!


Case Study: Is the New Brand Name Offensive Somewhere?

The client:

Inspired ideas that simply sell.  That’s one of the taglines of Yamamoto, a well-known Minneapolis-based ad agency. Their website video says it all: “We are awake, we are around, we are alive, we are here, we are big, we are small.” They have a reputation for custom-crafted, highly creative work and intense client interaction.

Their question for Tembua:

Does this word mean anything in Swahili or Arabic or Chinese or any one of another dozen languages?

Yamamoto came to Tembua for help evaluating a new brand name they had created for one of their clients. Because the name was a nonsense word with no meaning in English, they were concerned that they may have accidentally stumbled on a foreign word that some people found offensive. They were wise to check—we’ve heard stories like that! Our question for them:

Who’s going to see the name?

Tembua approached this interesting assignment by first asking for the geographic regions where the new brand name would be promoted. The next step was identifying languages for each region. For foreign countries, we chose the primary and secondary languages as listed on government sites. For regions of the United States, we pulled language usage data from the US Census Bureau and chose the top languages for each.

For languages with many variants, we used the ones primarily spoken in each region.

How we researched their question:

We knew our client needed more than a simple yes/no answer to their initial question. Not only were we investigating possible meanings and offensive implications of the new name, we were interested in the feelings that name generated for foreign speakers.

Tembua’s project manager created a simple questionnaire that asked four questions:

Does the new brand name mean anything in your language?

Does the sound of the name have any connotations—negative or positive?

Is the name similar to another product in a different category or a geographic designation?

Does that name sound like any offensive terms?

The questionnaire was sent to five native speakers of each of the languages identified. For  languages with different variants , we added a native speaker of each variant spoken in the region. The recipients were chosen from Tembua’s extensive list of translators, interpreters, writers, editors, and subject matter experts around the world. They were asked to report their first impressions and then write a sentence or two about the brand name.

Tembua’s report to the client:

Yamamoto received from Tembua a complete report on any meaning, possible offensive connotations, and other impressions of the brand name in each of the languages surveyed. For example, one linguist reported it sounded like a calm body of water in his language.


Yamamoto’s client was pleased with the results and went ahead to use the brand name and related collateral with confidence.

Yamamoto is one example of how Tembua uses its expertise to assist clients all along the linguistic value chain!

Contact me to ask if we can help with your language questions!

Click here to download the color image!

Patricia May

President and CEO


612-280-6945 cell

Customer Service: Not Always the Employee’s Fault

Traveling south on a rural Wisconsin highway, we were looking for a picnic table. We were coming back from the North Shore of Lake Superior and had ordered pie to go after our meal. We stopped to pick up coffee at a small convenience store and asked the clerk if there were a park in her town. Her reply? “I dunno.”

We were taken aback: the question was hardly difficult or rude, and her job, after all, was to help customers.

What do you expect of people in customer service positions? For example, should waitstaff in a high-end restaurant greet you within a minute of taking your seat? Should they smile? Should they apologize for any mistakes the kitchen makes?

How about a clerk in a big box store? Should they know where each department is? Should they be able to check if something not on the shelves is really out of stock?

It all depends, doesn’t it, on who is hired by management and what training they are given. Every June, high school students flood the job market, often ending up with a name badge and no training before hitting the sales floor. Over the summer, when we need help at a big box store, we all know to look for an older person.

And the clerk where we bought coffee? Surely her manager could have rounded up the staff and told them they were representing not only their store but their small town.

I worked as a nurse’s aide when I was 16. We got 40 hours of training, after which I ended up not only giving bed baths and delivering meal trays but putting in a catheter. Talk about a time to look for an experienced person for help!

In our industry, good management includes choosing the people who work on your translations. Among the resumes Tembua receives each week, 20–30 come from supposed linguists who promise us top quality, but their qualifications don’t add up: we know how to check for scams—where someone puts their name in place of the actual linguist. Sometimes the dates don’t match.  In other cases the person cannot possibly have accumulated that much experience in that little time. In fact, we’ve read columns about people who have used these scammers and gotten back almost incomprehensible documents. And that’s if the clients can read the language they ordered; if they can’t, they might never know what kind of junk has gone out with their company name attached.

Besides scammers, another hazard when choosing translators is evaluating people who are legitimate but just starting out. It’s understandable that they’re in a hurry to launch their careers, but if they lie about their experience, we will never use them.

We check references. We verify credentials. It’s time-consuming, but our reputation is at stake.

Tembua’s certification to ISO 17100, our industry’s international quality standard, requires we use linguists of a certain experience and training level. See the qualifications here.

Because I was a translator myself, I recognize the work of both amateur linguists and scammers. I’m a better manager because of my hands-on experience.

I know you choose and train your people carefully. I want you to know that we do, too!

Patricia May

President and CEO


952-435-8178 Office

612-280-6945 Cell

It’s Not MY Spanish

Did you know that Spanish is spoken in 32 locations around the globe? One of them is the US.

There was a time when Tembua could guess which version of Spanish to send to which state or city. The immigrant community in Miami came primarily from Cuba (and still does!). When we sent something to New York, we most often localized it for Venezuela or Puerto Rico.

But that is no longer the case. Spanish speakers have moved all over the US, and that poses a challenge for translators. Which Spanish shall we produce?

If it’s for a single-use situation and for a company that has just one location, we ask. But for companies with multiple branches across the country (so, most of our clients), localizing for each location would be cost-prohibitive for the client.

Over the years, Tembua has worked with teams of linguists to produce a neutral Spanish that we use for all US firms. However, Spanish for Spain is produced in Europe specifically for Spaniards.

But this leaves another issue. We don’t know who at the client’s office is going to review our translations. Sometimes it’s someone who grew up speaking Spanish but without the writing classes in spelling and grammar that schools in Spanish-speaking countries provide. (These people can make wonderful interpreters with a bit of training.)

Sometimes the client’s reviewer has had the equivalent of high school Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country—and marks up the whole translation according to the Spanish of her country of origin. (It’s akin to an English-speaking reviewer changing fountain to bubbler and spanner to wrench.)

I have had client reviewers yell at our project managers because of the poor quality of our translation. I always ask that these calls be forwarded to me. I hold a degree in linguistics with post-graduate classes in translation and international credentials in German. I also worked for years as a translator. I am able to explain the distinction between a poor translation and one that uses different vocabulary.

But the coup de grâce is that our linguists are required to respond to each change the client’s reviewer makes. Sometimes they note preferential, which means the reviewer simply likes another word better. Think humorous versus comical. But they are not hesitant to note bad grammar or wrong translation. They back up their comments with excerpts from the Real Academia Española, which oversees the Spanish language all around the world.

Or they explain how Spanish and English terms can be false friends. An example of a false cognate is the English jubilation and the Spanish jubilación. The English word means “happiness,” while the Spanish one means “retirement” or “pension.” This example and other false friends can be found in this fun article.

At Tembua, we add reviewers’ preferences to the translation memories (TMs) we maintain for each client in each language. But we will not add mistakes. When clients won’t budge, we create a separate TM for them—because, after all, the client is always right!

From start to finish, translation is a multifaceted process with many judgment calls to make. That’s why Tembua uses only the most qualified linguists—to produce translations that are the best suited to their original documents, to their target audiences, and to our clients’ needs.

Patricia May