Medical Translations South Africa

Quotations Clients Demographics: SA 11 Languages by Province

Communicative challenges in medical translations

Scientific research and development into HIV and TB treatment relies on effective communication with those communities most affected by the diseases. We have built a core team of medical translators to translate using clear and coherent terminology for all 11 South African languages.

Within the broader field of translation, medical translation throws up a particular set of communicative challenges. Organisations researching new vaccines, drugs and procedures for fighting HIV and TB need to reach support staff, caregivers and patients in their home languages, to obtain informed consent or to explain medical procedures.

In this context translations need to remain completely faithful to their source text but also to be accessible to participants, who often entirely lack any medical expertise. The challenge for technical translators is to identify the range of terms that facilitate accurate translation from the source language into the target language. Within this range, translators have to make important calls about which words to use (‘lexical choice’).

Incorrect language usage (even by qualified translators) lacking specialist knowledge and experience, or without a basic understanding of the linguistic and cultural orientations of participants, can seriously reduce the efficacy of medical research and practice.

Informed consent forms, medical trial reports and other crucial materials used on the ground all need to work with widely accepted, internally consistent and easily comprehensible language to ensure successful research and treatment and to link up with the more remote levels of organisational reporting, medical knowledge exchange, medical regulation and budget and policy formation.


South Africa's first language demographics by province (%)*

To help organisations and sites identify the prevalent languages spoken in their area we've summarised Statistics South Africa's data by province. The table highlights the most spoken first language in that province i.e. isiXhosa is the first language of 16% of South Africans and 79% of the Eastern Cape population. The table is also interactive by language.

IsiZulu 23 20 78   1 24 1 4 1 3
IsiXhosa 16 7 3 25 79 1   8 5 6
Afrikaans 14 12 2 50 11 7 3 13 54 9
English 10 13 13 20 6 3 2 3 3 4
Sepedi 9 11       9 53     2
Setswana 8 9 1     2 2 5 33 63
Sesotho 8 12 1 1 3 4 2 64 1 6
Xitsonga 5 7       10 17     4
Siswati 3 1       28 1      
Tshivenḓa 2 2         17     1
IsiNdebele 2 3 1     10 2   1 1
Other 2 3 1 2 1 1 2 1 1 2
Sign 1   1   1     1    

*Statistics South Africa: Census in brief (2011) PDF

For more detailed information of language demographics Statistics South Africa has a wealth of resources for South Africa's major municipalities and cities: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ethekwini, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City, Mangaung, Emfuleni, Polokwane, Msunduzi, Thulamela, Rustenburg, Bushbuckridge, Makhado, King Sabata Dalindyebo and Matjhabeng.

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