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18 Ways To Pronounce Medical Copy

Edge Studio

You’re not a doctor but you’re asked to play one at the microphone? How on earth do you pronounce medical jargon without giving yourself away?

One answer, probably the most universal one, is: Don’t. If you’re not experienced at medical text, consider referring the client to someone who specializes in the genre. Pretending to be something you’re not is likely, sooner or later (in this case, probably sooner) to embarrass not only you, but also your client. An embarrassed, disappointed or misled client is unlikely to hire you again. That’s why you’ll need a Medical demo, and as with any demo, you shouldn’t make it until your truly ready.

But there’s always a first time. Maybe you’re planning to enter the medical narration field when you’re ready, or a regular client needs a medical narrator — stat — and, knowing you’re a quick study and that they can help you with the few unusual words, you’re the one they call. If so, lucky you.

You may want these tips in pronouncing medical terminology.

(This article focuses on pronunciation of the terminology. For other guidance on Medical Narration, including tone, skills needed, Medical Narration demos, markets, marketing, and audiences, visit our two archived Talk-With-a-Pro sessions at with Randye Kaye and Colleen Brown.)

1. If you’re not experienced at reading medical copy, say so, up-front. If the client wants to give you a chance, thank them for the opportunity, and (having read the rest of this article), do everything you can to make it your best read ever, while making their job easy.

2. Approach it as you would any narration. Whether the audience is medical practitioners or patients, they’re people just like any others. The thing is, with a plain-language narration, you can probably be sure you understand everything you’re saying. You know what implications one sentence has for the next. And you can assign an appropriate emotion to each sentence in the copy. With medical copy, the meaning may not be obvious. (Or you might think it is, and be wrong!) Wherever you have a question, ask the director or client what it means. Since they realize this isn’t your specialty, they shouldn’t mind providing a few simple answers. This is always a good approach to any script, but how does it help pronunciation? The better you understand what you’re saying, the more naturally jargon will fall into place.

3. Listen to other medical narrations. You might find some that deal with the same subject as you’re facing. If there’s no time for that, read on. But make a note to listen to medical narrations regularly, so that next time, you’ll be more familiar with the genre. In order to sound fluent, it helps to know what fluently spoken terminology sounds like.

4. For practice, you can read medical textbooks, periodicals, scripts you’ve transcribed from documentaries, and web pages found via a search engine.

5. Consult a medical dictionary. Most online dictionaries even have links the play a person pronouncing the word. Two places to start are:

6. Note that some words have more than one pronunciation. The first pronunciation listed is probably preferred, but some dictionaries may disagree as to which is preferable. Also, preferred pronunciation might change over time, or from one field to another. For example, “nsaid”: This can be said as “N-sed” or “N-sayd.” In advertising, the preferred form seems to be “N-sed,” possibly so it doesn’t sound like “AIDS.” There are also differences in some words from country to country (e.g., U.S. vs. Canada). If in doubt, ask the director which the client prefers. Above all, be consistent.

7. The lessons you learned in Second Grade still work. Look at the word and sound it out syllable by syllable. Break big words up into smaller words. It sometimes helps to determine what the root word is (Latin, Greek, French, etc.) and proceed from that.

8. Ask a friend in the field. You probably have several friends with medical training. Even if they’re, say, a psychotherapist, not and M.D. or nurse practitioner, they might be able to help you sort things out.

9. When you encounter to a potentially troublesome word, practice saying it in context without pausing or change in your tone of voice. To your audience, the word may be no more unusual than everyday English (or whatever language the script is in).

10. Remember to speak thoughts, not words. Understand the “story.” Not only will this help you get through problematic words without tripping over them, it leads to a more natural read.

11. If you need to read a medical textbook in electronic version, you might need a CHM reader. Most medical textbooks are published in this format. There is probably a free CHM reader you can use.

12. Take heart – once you’re on a roll in this genre, you’ll find that many words share pronunciation principles. But keep learning. Any new bit of knowledge might help you sooner or later in this field — and in narration generally..

13. In this genre, producers usually will give you the script in advance. Ask to see the script as soon as it is available. Even if it’s not the final draft, you can research it and get some practice. Circle any words or concepts you’re not sure of, and ask about them or look them up. But watch out for later changes. If you can’t get the script ahead of time, don’t panic. If it’s aimed at patients, maybe there’s no medical jargon in it at all.

14. Some clients will want to be on the phone with you, so they can check your read and pronunciation in “real time.” Great – if you mispronounce something, they’re likely to catch it and correct you. But they’ll want you to be as correct as possible to begin with, and of course you’ll need to be able to say the word as they instruct. Some people just can’t get the hang of that, at least not quickly.

If your audience is medical professionals, you’re not expected to be perky. Talk to professionals in a professional tone. If you’re speaking to patients or other lay people, you probably need to be more “friendly.” It’s still the Medical Narration genre, but the thoughts, emotions and words might be the same as in any other.