Guest post: Translation terminology

Welcome back to our guest post series! I hope you are all having a good week so far.

How about taking that nice coffee/tea/juice/lunch break and read today’s guest post? Our guest today is Raphaël Toussaint.

Welcome, Raphaël!


Glossaries and terminology for freelance translators

Although I am quite confident that most if not all readers know what terminology is, here once again a quick and simplified definition:

Terminology is the vocabulary used in a specific domain, field or industry.

For most translators this means all the terms in their field(s) of specialisation which have a particular meaning in the concerned domain, as opposed to their general meaning (if both a generic and one or several uses exist).

It is however important to make a distinction between the different uses for terminology:

  • Academic
    From an academic or research point of view, terminology work is often descriptive and attempts to be exhaustive (including detailed categorisation of terms); the idea is to draw a complete picture of the terminology in a specific domain.
  • Corporate
    Terminology management in corporate environments tends to be prescriptive, i.e. a company uses terminology to specify which terms are to be used to convey a consistent brand image and which terms are forbidden in their content.
  • Translation
    In the context of translation and localisation, terminology and its management tend to be closer to the corporate than the academic approach. This is linked to the fact that content to be translated often comes from companies. It is also interesting to note that terminology in this context is bi- or multilingual and that the quality of the source terminology can have a huge influence on the effort needed to produce high-quality translations.

Translators often receive termbases from translation agencies (and sometimes also from direct clients) the content of which has to be used during translation or revision. In a best case scenario, such a termbase is consistent within itself and with any related translation memories and exhaustive as far as the content to be translated is concerned. In real world projects, this doesn’t occur very often and freelance translators have different ways how to react:

  • Be annoyed and unhappy about the provided material and the fact that it will take more effort and time to provide a good translation (and additionally they loudly complain about it on social media – Lloyd has provided really useful info about that in the guest post Professionalism in the age of social media)
    This approach obviously doesn’t help anybody because translators will need to invest additional time for each project for said client and will become more and more frustrated. The client doesn’t become aware of problems with their termbase and cannot improve the situation.
  • Add new terms to a personal glossary but don’t bother to inform the client
    This way, translators can at least keep consistency among new terms but it helps remedying existing inconsistencies or other quality issues since the client isn’t aware of them.
  • Use existing termbase but offer suggestions for improving the termbase or adding new terms
    Depending on the relation with the client or agency, translators can either just make suggestions while working with the existing terminology or they might have the freedom to implement improvements directly in the ongoing project.

Many freelance translators keep personal glossaries and this is a commendable and useful practice. A few things can make such a habit even more efficient:

  • It is preferable to keep distinct glossaries according to domains over having client-based glossaries. If you work in only one domain, a client-based approach makes more sense. In case you decide to keep only a single glossary, make sure to use attributes to be able to distinguish between domains and/or clients.
  • Choose the format of your glossaries wisely.
    • Paper will be the least efficient or reusable form, but it can be helpful and quick to jot down something on a sheet of paper, as long as you input it properly in the glossary later on.
    • Word documents are still quite popular, but it is difficult to categorize and sort terms in this format.
    • The most used format seems to be spreadsheets and they indeed offer a certain flexibility when it comes to organising terms. The biggest disadvantage is that you still have to manually search and copy/paste a target term you want to use while translating. The same goes for entering new terms to your glossary. But rest assured, there are ways to handle these issues.
    • Most CAT tools provide ways to look up and add terms directly from the translation interface. This is the most productive way of using and growing your glossaries. If you work with different CAT tools, compatibility however can be an issue, but more on a possible solution later on.
    • Stand-alone terminology tools are obviously well suited to look up, manage and grow glossaries and termbases but not every translator will want to invest in a license (however useful in general this might be). Additionally not only each tool will play nicely with all the CAT tools out there, but if it can export termbase or glossary contents in an exchange format like .tbx or .xml, things aren’t too complicated.
  • Even if you don’t intend to make your glossaries fully fledged termbases, it can be useful to stick to some basic terminology management rules like using base forms (unless a specific form regularly occurs in the contents you translate), be consistent among terms and adding a definition and/or a context sentence to make sure the meaning and usage of an entry is clear, even if you don’t use a glossary for several weeks or months.

In case you prefer to work with spreadsheets or your CAT tool doesn’t allow using or updating glossaries, there are still ways of making glossaries more efficient. For SDL Trados Studio users, there is a one stop solution in form of a free OpenExchange application called “Glossary Converter” which lets you convert spreadsheets into various formats like .tbx, .sdltb or .tmx. The brilliant Jayne Fox and Paul Filkin have provided articles on how to use this app:

Thank you, Raphaël, for accepting my invitation and kindly taking the time to write about such an useful topic for us, translators! 🙂

How do you handle your glossaries?

About the author

After several years as a technical translator, Raphaël Toussaint has become a certified terminology manager and expert for tools and solutions linked to translation needs at ITP nv. Always interested in the technical aspects of the translation and localisation industry, he actively uses social media to grow his knowledge and share his expertise.
Between finding unusual solutions to challenges in translation project workflows and training colleagues in the use of various TEnTs (Translation Environment Tools), Raphaël also attends international professional events and is involved in local meetups and workshops in Brussels where he lives and works.
You can find Raphaël amongst others on Twitter and LinkedIn.