Translation for the Life Sciences, according to Gustavo
Updated: Sep 25
Today we talk to Gustavo Lecomte, a seasoned Localization Project Manager with extensive experience providing translation solutions to the life sciences industry. We discuss the general process of translation for the life sciences and why having reasonable expectations about deadlines is important for the success of translation projects.
How long have you worked as a Localization Project Manager for the life sciences industry, and what was it that drew you to the localization industry in general?
I have worked now for more than 3 years as a LPM with a focus for the life sciences industry. I think my connection with the localization world has always been part of my life, as I grew up in various countries and have a multicultural and multilingual family. The localization industry was the perfect fit for me because multilingual communication isn’t just what I do at work from 8 to 5, but I literally live it every day!
What, in your experience, are some of the challenges of life science translation, and how do you or have you gone about working with your clients to overcome those challenges?
First of all, you have to consider the actual words, “life science”. We’re talking about an industry that has a direct impact on people’s daily lives and health. There’s no tolerance for errors. It’s a heavily regulated industry and as such clients often request multiple QA steps. To avoid wasting time through unnecessary extra QA steps, it’s really important to get it right the first time. And getting it right means choosing the right experts for the job. Here at Language Intelligence, we have a solid ISO-approved translator’s recruitment process. We not only look for native speakers located in the target country but we also look for professional translation degrees, experience within the medical translation vertical, and a degree in a medical field. In our current pool of linguists we have nurses, optometrists, physicians, therapists, veterinaries, obstetrician, among many other medical professionals.
What have been some of the most commonly requested languages you’ve seen over the past year for life science translation and what causes do you think have led to certain trends in demand for those languages?
Over the past few years Spanish skyrocketed in the U.S. market. It seems that the industry in general realized the potential and the need among the U.S. Spanish-speaking population. Other than that, Asian languages, such as Chinese, are on a constant and steady path of growth.
Can you briefly walk our readers through the life science translation process? How long from the time a project lands on your desk before clients receive their completed translations?
When we receive a project here at Language Intelligence, the first step is to make sure we have all the necessary documents—all the fonts, images, reference material, and software string translations (if available). After that we go through a source file analysis to clearly identify the medical specialty and to check for translation challenges such as acronyms. We ask ourselves questions such as: Should they all be kept in English or should we find an equivalent? What should we do when can’t find an equivalent? Should we use American or Metric measurement units? Is the software translated or should we provide UI translations for informational purposes? All these questions should be discussed prior to starting the project in order to avoid confusion and issues down the road.
Then comes a crucial step: linguist selection. Because of our rigorous recruitment process here at Language Intelligence, it’s a fairly easy to choose linguists because they’re all clearly identified in our database by their specialty. What happens when it comes to a new language or a new specialty? In such cases we contact, test, verify, and recruit new linguists to participate in the project. During linguist selection, our desktop publishing team preps files for translation to make sure all the text that is supposed to be translated gets translated. From there our team goes through the translation and edit phase of a project. This two-step translation process is our standard ISO-certified practice for ensuring quality translations. After the first linguist has translated the material, a second linguist performs an edit to ensure fluency, accuracy, and adherence to instructions. When the translation is finalized, our desktop publishing team takes over and starts the proper formatting step.
That is the process by which a target document is edited to maintain the look and feel of the source document. During Formatting, the layout of translated files are matched with the original source files as closely as possible while adhering to locale-specific requirements, such as punctuation usage, bi-directional text, etc. This can include image editing as well as recreation of images if necessary. Layout and format of the target files may require adjustments to accommodate translated content as appropriate for the target language and locale. After the formatting step comes a final QA step we call the Final Format Verification (FFV) During FFV, formatted materials are compared to source materials to verify that formatting items (font usage, punctuation, numbering, image placement, and general document layout, etc.) accurately match the original materials provided by the client and adhere to additional requirements that may apply (such as project-specific or client-specific formatting requirements).
If the final format of materials is a printout, FFV is performed with printed hard copies. Changes and notes should be recorded on the localized printout. After FFV, the files are delivered to the client either via email or via our secure FTP site.
What’s one thing above all, from the perspective of a localization project manager, that you’d like people in the life sciences industry to know about the translation process?
Unless the original English document was written in half a day, its translation can’t be completed in a day. It might seem evident, but generally speaking we always receive tight deadlines for projects. Clients expect us to deliver fast, accurate, and cheap translations simultaneously, but just like riding a unicorn, it’s impossible to get a perfect score in every category.
What’s something you like to do in your free time and why?
Travelling! I think it is the most rewarding experience you can have. Engaging with new people, new cultures, new places—it just broadens your mind and your perception of the world. You don’t need to go to the other side of the world to see fascinating landmarks. Nowadays, you can just google “what to see near . . .” and then turn on the GPS and go!