Are we really permitted to use a foreign language at work?

Strange question. Isn't it? Of course we are - whenever we need it...

I will start with one of my favorite topics: 'Language and medicine'. After starting the discussion about medical language ( and at least trying to discuss using emergency medical services while being abroad ( I return to the topic, because one of my friends asked me the question today:
'Are doctors allowed to write the patient's documentation in a foreign language?'

His friend needed to get his chest X-ray report in English. People usually need it when going to work abroad, but this situation was a different one - he applied for Postgraduate Studies on a Polish university and was asked to provide all the documents in English (because the studies were opened for international students... at least it was the way they have explained it to him). He tried to obtain the X-ray report in English, but he was refused everywhere.

I knew nothing about this matter so I tried to look for it in the internet and found rather long discussion, which was concluded that the only legal way is to get the report in Polish (as the official language of the country and only one acceptable in legal documents) and have it translated by the professional certified translator, eligible for translating legal documents for courts and public administration.

How do you think? When the doctor decides that his level in foreign language is satisfactory to translate (or create in a foreign language) this short simple text, strictly connected with his profession, is there the any reason in forbidding him doing that? Of course it is understandable that he should take the responsibility for both medical and language mistakes then.

And what about any other profession? The doctor was just an example. But when we create any document (and sometimes in a foreign language) there is always a probability it may be needed by a court or public administration in the future. How is it solved in other countries?

Apr 12, 2018 6:28 PM
Comments · 5
Marcin, this is an interesting topic, but the health services are not a good example in my opinion.

In fields such as administration and IT, I know people are fully entitled to exchange correspondence, documents and reports in foreign languages.

However, when it comes to areas such as legislation or health, things are way more complicated as we're dealing with more than a service or product, there are lives involved.

Health professionals are usually required lots of tests and qualifications and sometimes they even have to start all over in order to work abroad. I don't think this is meaningless.

Unless a doctor is educated and recognised by an entity in the country where this medical evidence/documentation is requested, I wouldn't feel comfortable to trust their authority and would gladly submit to a reliable translation service.

It's not even only about the language, but health standards and even level of instruction can vary.

April 12, 2018
If it's a legally binding document to be used for official matters it would probably have to be translated by a certified translator. But if it's just a "for your information" kind of text, then any translator could do the job. If the professional is willing to write the document in two language versions (for free), that's fine. If they want extra money for it, however, I would ask myself what's better - to pay a non-professional and believe he knows what he's doing, or to hire a translator. I wouldn't risk asking any professional for a single copy written in a foreign language in any case.
April 12, 2018
<em>I don't believe that someone who has passed an exam in translating between two languages becomes en expert in language nuances of every field.

</em>Neither do I!

I can only agree with you about it and specialisation.

April 12, 2018

Thanks @Allie,

I agree that even properly created report may lead to misunderstandings, because medical professionals in different countries often use some keywords or key phrases which are easy to understand for their colleagues and may be unknown to medical staff in other country. But there should be some way of communication while people are moving. Of course the best way in case of an X-ray report needed for work purposes, is to make it in a destination country. This way nobody would put in question if the doctor or translating person is recognized in that country or not. But sometimes people come from their vacation with the documentation of their accident. You say you would  submit it to a reliable translation service. In this case I imagine this service would be a group of collaborating specialists in  language and in main medical specialties. I don't believe that someone who has passed an exam in translating between two languages becomes en expert in language nuances of every field.

April 12, 2018

Of course @Queen the original document in the official language used should be available. I've heard about doctors giving a short 'summary' in English to their foreign patients. But they stopped doing that - it can be treated as a document anyway. But I think most doctors seeing their patients returning from some kind of 'unfortunate' vacations would prefer to receive the summary written by their foreign colleague in English, than seeking the professional certified interpreter of a very exotic foreign language. Finding such person cost not only money but a lot of time as well - and the time may be precious. Of course I think every doctor must be cautious about every foreign document he receives, the same way he is cautious about every word of his patient (people have sometimes strange theories about their health).

And returning to other (not medical) staff. @Allie said the IT and other specialists can freely exchange documents. It may not cost human lives (as in doctor's case) but I have seen a few very bad translations of technical texts done by specialists. And I think that misunderstandings can be harmful in this field too.

April 12, 2018