Executive Summary

This guide provides practical support for translating health information. It offers tips on overcoming key challenges and links to useful resources. While it is mainly focused on foreign language translation, the principles can also be applied to British Sign Language and Braille.

Why this matters

In the UK, up to 1 million people cannot speak English well or at all[1]. These people have a lower proportion of ‘good’ health than English speakers[2]. Providing culturally appropriate translated health information can help people self manage and take part in shared decision making. Translation is consistently raised as a key challenge by health information producers.

Getting started

  • Remember to follow your standard information production process
  • Start with health-literacy friendly materials
  • Work with trusted voices in the community
  • Ask users their preferred language, dialect and format
  • Prioritise resources for translation by user needs
  • Decide on the most appropriate type of translation and the level of clinical quality assurance

The options

  • Professional translators
  • Informal language support
  • Language technology, also known as machine translation

During translation

  • Think about visual content as well as words
  • Make sure information remains accurate
  • Pilot materials with representative users
  • Remember common terms like NHS may need to be explained

A note on language

The focus of this guide is translation of the written word. When using professional translation services, ‘translation’ will normally be used for the written word and ‘interpreting’ for the spoken word. Subtitles and voiceovers are known as ‘audiovisual translation’.


This guide supports the following PIF TICK criteria:

6.0 Health inequalities: Information is written to meet health and digital literacy, language and accessibility needs of the target audience.

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