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Your 4-step guide to producing effective health translations

What are health translations?

A health translation is information about health that has been translated from one language into another to help the general public access health information in their language.

Prominent examples of health translations include fact sheets, brochures, flyers, booklets, website content, social media posts, and videos.

Health translations cover a range of topics, including cancer, mental health, sexual health, COVID-19, women’s health, children’s health, and disability.

In Australia, where 21 per cent of people speak a language other than English at home, translated health information is critical.

Typically, health translation projects are organised by Project Officers or Health Promotion Officers working in hospitals, community organisations, government organisations and not-for-profit organisations focused on health.

 

What makes health translations effective?

In our experience, the most effective health translations are accurately translated, tailored for specific communities and easy to understand.

 

Accurately translated

It is important that health information is translated accurately because it ensures that the intended meaning and advice of the source text is conveyed in-language without distortion or omission.

For example, if your health information said to ‘take your prescribed medication twice daily for three days’, it’s important that this is not mistranslated as it could lead to serious health implications.

By working with a professional translation company that engages professional NAATI-certified translators, you can ensure that your health information is accurately translated.

 

Tailored for specific communities

Multicultural communities are culturally diverse. Therefore, translated health information needs to be tailored to meet the needs of communities with unique cultural backgrounds.

For example, some multicultural communities hold more conservative views on LGBTIQA+ issues than others. Therefore, translated health information for these communities should seek to strike a balance between being culturally sensitive, as well as being educational.

 

Easy to understand

Some health information can be difficult to understand, and in many cases, is written by health professionals. It’s important that source texts are written in simple, clear and easy to understand language.

This will ensure that when your health information is translated into different languages, it is also easy to understand for multicultural communities.

 

Why does a health translation need to be effective?

Producing effective health information ensures that multicultural communities are informed and empowered to make decisions about their own health and their family’s health.

Furthermore, research from throughout the COVID-19 pandemic shows that some communities are more vulnerable than others to misinformation.

This includes communities with low English-language proficiency.

A study from Public Health & Research found that, in addition to feeling more stressed and anxious about COVID-19 and reporting a greater financial impact, there is ‘markedly higher endorsement of some common misinformation statements about COVID-19 in people with lower health literacy and LOTE backgrounds’.

… [there is] markedly higher endorsement of some common misinformation statements about COVID-19 in people with lower health literacy and LOTE backgrounds.  Public Health Research and Practice 

 

By producing effective health translations, you can ensure that your intended audience has access to high-quality, well-researched information to help counter misinformation that they may come across.

 

How can you produce effective health translations?

Below, you can find our 4-step guide, where we walk you through what you can do to guarantee premium-quality health translations for your end-users.

 

1. Design your resources for translation

When we talk about designing resources for translation, we are referring to both the written text and its visual design elements.

Designing your resources for translation is important because it:

  • Creates a smoother translation process
  • Helps you to decrease costs
  • Leads to higher quality translated health information

There are several ways you can design your resource for translation:

 

Write for translation

Writing for translation means:

  • to write text that is clear, unambiguous and easy to understand
  • to consider cultural and linguistic differences between the source language and target language(s)

When you write for translation, you ensure a translation that is as simple, clear and unambiguous as the source text.

When it comes to health translations, this is even more important. This is because imprecise phrasing results in mistranslation, which may have long-lasting impacts on an individual’s health.

In the long run, writing for translation cuts down time and saves costs for you.

To learn more, explore how to write for translation.

 

Consider producing videos for your audience

When we talk about translations, the first thing that may come into mind are written translations.

But translated videos are also a great way to engage with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) audiences.

You can translate audio voiceovers and subtitles in a video to enhance your CALD communications, especially with communities that do not have high literacy rates in their native language.

To learn more about how you can use video translations in your communication campaigns, read our guide to the art of audiovisual translation.

 

Prepare for text expansion

Text expansion is when the length of a text increases during the translation process.

This is common when translating from English into the majority of languages.

When designing your resource for translation, it’s always good to make considerations for this by leaving a generous amount of ‘whitespace’ in your design.

By doing so, you can ensure that your translated health information looks visually appealing and is easy to read in every language.

 

Design culturally inclusive resources

We often advise our clients to include culturally adapted images with their translated texts.

Culturally adapted images visually represent your target audience and community.

 

Jean Hailes in-language brochures developed by Ethnolink with culturally adapted images

 

An image is a powerful, visual element that may be the very first impression that your end-users have of your organisation.

When it comes to health translations, where it is important for your end-users to feel heard and for their experiences to be acknowledged, culturally adapted imagery becomes an even more powerful instrument to have in your toolkit.

By including culturally adapted imagery in your resources, your target audience knows, in just a single glance, that you are speaking directly to them.

 

2. Know your target audience(s)

It isn’t enough to produce health translations in English and blindly translate them into as many languages as possible.

First, you need to identify what your target audience needs to know — then, identify why the relevant information isn’t reaching them.

Is it because:

  • there is a lack of in-language resources for a specific community?
  • in-language resources have been produced, but aren’t being distributed?
  • or they have been produced and distributed — but your audience is not engaging with them?

When producing health translations that actually have a positive impact on your target audience, try keeping in mind some of these factors:

 

Rate of English-language proficiency 

Some language communities have high rates of English-language proficiency.

Because of this, they may be equally comfortable consuming health information in English as they are in their native language.

Our Translation Strategists advise our clients to strike a balance between the largest language communities in Australia, and those that are most in need of translation services (due to having lower English-language proficiency).

 

First language literacy rates 

Not all language communities have high literacy rates.

For example, over 17% of humanitarian migrants in Australia are illiterate in their first language (National Centre for Longitudinal Data).

This means that producing translated brochures and pamphlets is not always an effective way to engage with multicultural communities and share the important information they need.

Over 17% of humanitarian migrants in Australia are illiterate in their first language. National Centre for Longitudinal Data

 

Instead, it’s much more effective to create audiovisual materials, such as short, bite-sized videos, or to engage with community leaders who can help share your resources.

 

Health literacy rates

A report from ECCV found that:

People with low health literacy, especially those from non-English-speaking backgrounds, may be less likely to access the services that they need, understand issues related to their health and have an adequate understanding of health issues. Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria

 

Knowing your target audience’s health literacy rate is important as it helps you understand the gap that they are experiencing when it comes to accessing important health information.

Is it because in-language information is not available? Or maybe it is, but the available in-language information is too technical? 

Identifying where exactly information is getting lost is a key element in improving access to health services for all our communities. 

 

3. Engage a translation company

When it comes to health translations that will be distributed to hundreds and thousands of end-users, it’s important to guarantee that the quality of your translations is top-notch.

There isn’t much room for mistakes when it comes to sensitive and important topics such as an individual’s health and wellbeing.

This is why engaging a translation service provider that specialises in health translations is important. 

As experts in languages and multicultural communications, translation companies have a team well-qualified to work with translations. Reputable companies also have access to a network of highly-trained translators that specialise in health translations.

In short, working with a translation company gives your health resource the highest guarantee of accuracy and precision available.

And the right translation service provider will also make your experience a breeze. You can just provide them with your brief, the resources you need translated, and sit back while they handle the rest.

 

4. Invest in quality checks

Quality assurance for your translated health resources ensures that they are precise, accurate and well-formatted.

We recommend allowing your translation company to conduct their own quality assurance checks in addition to any internal checks you may wish to undertake.

At the minimum, your translated resources should be reviewed by a second, independent NAATI Certified translator, as per the Australian Government Language Services Guidelines.

An additional option for quality assurance checks that you can opt for is community checking.

 

Community checking

Community checking is the process of distributing your resource with members of your target audience to obtain feedback on the text, usually regarding its quality and whether it is culturally sensitive and conveyed in appropriate and respectful language.

Your translation service provider can usually organise this service for you. They will have a network of community checkers with whom they may distribute your health resource along with a curated questionnaire.

As members of your target community, community checkers are best-equipped to identify potential ambiguity and culturally inappropriate phrasing.

We highly recommend community checking for your health translation, especially if you are seeking to inform the everyday individual on issues concerning their health.

It’s an effective way to gain valuable insight into how your translations will be received by your target audience.

Is your health resource appropriate? Are they accessible to your target audience? Will your target audience be able to relate to it and find its content intuitively helpful?

Don’t skimp out on quality checks! Where available, always go for community checking.

 

Summary

Each community is as unique and different as the individuals that make them up.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to communicate with our culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

All communities deserve access to information in their preferred language, tailored for their use.

Especially when it comes to health translations — where the slightest change in meaning can make the difference between life and death.

If you think that we can help you with your project, submit a request for a quote.

Our experienced and dedicated Translation Strategists can offer you cultural and linguistic advice, and work with you to arrive at a language solution that suits your needs and budget.

If you’re not looking for a quote just yet (but we’ve managed to pique your interest anyway), schedule a complimentary Discovery Session with our Multicultural Communications Adviser, Rachael.

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