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Why terminology matters

For most people, translation is about changing words from one language into another.

While this is true in a basic sense, there’s a lot more to it.

For one thing, language is part of the fabric of society and carries lots of cultural information. Language develops, grows and changes with time.

And in some cases, language represents thoughts that are unique to particular societies. For example, think of the Danish word hygge and all the connotations that it carries.

Having said that, most businesses use functional language that won’t always convey nebulous concepts. Quite the opposite, businesses should aim to keep their language simple - it’s an incredibly positive strategy to adopt when dealing with your target audience.

Yet different professions and industries also have their ways of communicating.

We often talk about jargon as something we should avoid to keep communication running smoothly, but often jargon is a type of linguistic short-hand that professionals use to communicate common concepts with others within their profession. It’s only jargon to ‘outsiders. Those inside the profession know exactly what is meant.

Each discipline has its set terminology and one of the main tasks of a translator is to make sure this is effectively communicated.

Translators do this using a process known as terminology management.

Terminology management helps organisations control how language is used.
Every industry has its own language

Terminology management - what is it?

Terminology management means identifying, collecting, organising, and maintaining a consistent set of terms and their definitions in a specific domain or subject area.

This information is collated into a glossary which acts as a reference resource for translators.

Terminology management plays a crucial role in ensuring accuracy, consistency, and efficiency.

And making sure there is a glossary on hand during the translation process is an essential first step.

Here are some reasons why:

1. Accuracy

Accurate terminology is essential in ensuring the accuracy of the translation. It’s a mistake to assume your audience knows what you’re talking about.

Using the wrong term can completely change the meaning of a sentence, leading to misunderstandings, confusion, or even legal liabilities.

With proper terminology management, translators can ensure that they use the right terms in the right context.

2. Consistency

Consistency is key in translation.

Inconsistent terminology can make a translation difficult to read and create confusion for the reader. By using a consistent set of terms, translators can ensure that their translations are clear and understandable and that they convey the intended message.

3. Efficiency

Terminology management can help translators work more efficiently.

By having access to a centralised terminology database, translators can quickly find and use the correct terms, without having to spend time researching or creating new terms.

This can help to speed up the translation process and reduce the likelihood of errors.

4. Quality

Proper terminology management can also help to ensure the overall quality of the translation.

By using a consistent set of terms, translators can ensure that their translations are accurate, clear, and easy to understand, which can help to enhance the overall quality of the translation and improve its effectiveness.

It makes sense for any organisation that wants to translate content to create a glossary of key terms and decide how they should be translated in advance of any translation project.

This will save time and make it easier for the translator to do a good job.

So you might be wondering…

How do I create a terminology management system for my translated content?

Agreeing terminology should be a team activity
Involve your key stakeholders

Creating a terminology management system can be a simple or complex process depending on your organisation. For example, the more technical your content the more detailed the process will likely be.

The key point to keep in mind is that the degree of complexity will depend on your organisation’s needs and how the glossary will be used.

Don’t overcomplicate things unnecessarily.

But here are some general steps that can help you get started:

1. Identify the terminology to be managed

Start by identifying the key terminology that is specific to your industry or domain.

This may involve working with subject matter experts or reviewing existing documents to compile a list of important terms.

Try to involve all your key stakeholders so that there’s a consensus on the overall content of the glossary but keep the work moving along by allocating sufficient time and resources for people to contribute positively.

Deadlines are essential and there needs to be an agreement that egos and personal preferences should be put aside when there’s more than one option available.

2. Create a glossary or term base

A glossary or term base is a database of terms and their definitions, translations, and context. You can create this database using a software tool or a spreadsheet.

Add the terms you want to record in the source and target languages and their definitions in the target language.

Include as much context as you feel is necessary, such as the domain or subject area where the term is used, and any specific usage notes.

Again, the level of detail will vary from organisation to organisation.

Organise the terms and definitions alphabetically or by subject area, to make it easier to find and reference specific terms.

Some glossaries are simple two-column spreadsheets listing terms and their definition. Other databases have links to source documents, illustrations or videos that picture the terminology item (especially if it's a piece of equipment), and list multiple language equivalents.

3. Define your workflow

Decide how you will manage terminology in your translation process.

This may include identifying who will be responsible for maintaining the glossary, how terms will be added or updated, and how the glossary will be integrated into your translation process.

Share the terminology record with your translation team, and encourage them to provide feedback, suggestions, or corrections.

This will help ensure that your terminology is accurate and consistent across all your translations.

4. Continuously update and improve

Keep your glossary up to date by regularly reviewing and adding new terms.

Encourage feedback from your team and incorporate changes as needed to improve the accuracy and consistency of your translations.

It’s important to keep the glossary or term base as ‘neat and clean’ as possible, so someone needs to look after it to avoid duplicate or conflicting entries.

Too much effort?

Now, this might sound like a lot of work, and it does require investment both in terms of time and money - but it will be worth it.

Of course, you can always use a professional translator to manage the task. This will ensure the terminology management system is fit for purpose and contributes to improved communication in all the languages you use in your business.

Regardless of the final size and shape of your glossary, terminology management can ease workflows, and help all of your team - from those who write product descriptions, to copywriters, document creators and translators - communicate in a streamlined and efficient way.

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