When a client comes to us with a technical or specialized translation job, the first thing we recommend is the creation of a multilingual glossary to guide the translation process.
Most industries have their own specialized vocabularies of words or phrases that would not be familiar to the general public. In some cases, industries will give a special meaning to a common word or phrase. Some terms may even be specific to your company or product if you’ve developed something unique.
Take as an example an engineering firm for which we once did some translation. The firm made films and laminates that were in turn used in a variety of other industries ranging from aerospace to fashion. Its site used terms like “Flexible Web Metalization,” “Reflective Insulation,” and “Radiant Barriers.”
Although we’ve used a very technical example, there can be specialized terms in a variety of areas from music to games to advertising.
Besides the terms that need translation, there are often other words and phrases, such as make and brand names that should never be translated. These should also be noted in your glossary.
A glossary compiles these types of terms and provides a brief definition and context information, including what the part of speech (noun, adjective, verb). A multilingual glossary is the same list of terms with approved parallel translations for each term or phrase. So how are they created?
Creating a multilingual glossary
- Create the English language source glossary. Sometimes the client already has a glossary that can serve as a starting point. We also have tools that can pull frequently used words and phrases from the material to be translated. We then cull that list to take out any terms that are obviously not terms of art. Note: If the same term is used in different contexts with even slightly different meanings, the term should be entered in the glossary more than once with notes about the different contexts.
- Customer review. Next, the list of terms goes back to the client for review so that they can approve the terms selected, add any needed definitions or context, and insert any other terms that the client thinks should have been included.
- Translation. The final list is sent to the translator, who researches the terms where necessary and enters what the best translations for each term.
- In-country review: Ideally the term list and the parallel translations are sent to the client’s in-country reviewer. This will be someone who knows both the source and target language well, is familiar with the industry, and, most importantly, can make time for the project.
- Implementation of reviewer changes. Changes made by the reviewer are sent back to the original translation team for their reaction. After reconciliation of any issues raised by the translators, the final glossary is updated to reflect the agreed upon changes.
Steps 3, 4, and 5 are, of course, also carried out for each language involved in the translation process.
When the parallel list of terms is ready, we upload the glossary to the computer-aided translation (CAT) tools used by our translation team. The tool uses the termbase to flag source terms and prompt the translators as they work to ensure that the approved translations are used consistently throughout the client’s materials.
Benefits of a multilingual glossary
Translating specialized terms correctly and consistently ensures clear communication with potential customers. The wrong terms can cause misunderstanding, confusion, and lost sales. Even if the potential customers “know what you mean,” the fact that you don’t know the proper term for something in their language is likely to make them less trustful of your product or service.
Having the proper terms will also help with multilingual keyword research for international search engine optimization (SEO). If potential customers aren’t searching on the terms you used, they won’t find you.
The terminology base established can be used for translating other company materials, ensuring consistency and accuracy not only in the initial translation project, but across all documents and types of media (websites, videos, presentations).
Preparing a multilingual glossary takes a little time at the beginning of a translation project, but it is time well spent. And it can ultimately decrease translation time by avoiding going back and forth with questions from the translator or having to fix translations after the fact.
If your company is thinking about translation, you might want to get started on an initial glossary today. In fact, a glossary can be helpful even if you’re not ready for translation, because it can be used by marketing and other consultants to understand your operation.