Multilingual Term Master

Editor’s Note: This guest post is by Scott Bass, the Founder and President of Advanced Language Translation Inc


There is a saying among translators and localizers, “Content is king, but terminology is god”. Without solidly researched, defined and translated terminology, the translation process suffers dramatically, as does usability by the target audience. Multilingual terminology development actually begins with source language terminology development.

Why is Terminology Development Important?

Some corporate communications and marketing departments haven’t yet tackled terminology development. After all, “a rose by any other name, is still a rose”. Or is it a marigold? For someone that does not know flowers, neither name means much. Terms are not just the names we hang on features and functions; they are concepts that define what our company’s products do and the benefits they provide. When terms are not defined, there are huge opportunity costs for organizations when they: (1) write about their products; (2) train individuals to use their products; and (3) translate product documentation and marketing collateral.

Why is Multilingual Terminology Important?

Multilingual terminology management facilitates source language term management and translation. It will…

  • Compel you to better manage your English terms
  • Allow you to track your choices and preferences for terms in specific contexts (e.g. engineering, marketing, etc.)
  • Ensure accurate and consistent terminology in every language
  • Give your company freedom to work with different translation sources (in-house vs. out-sourced)
  • Streamline the translation client review process
  • Set a standard for your translation provider and give you a way to benchmark their work
  • Allow for increased translation automation, which will lead to faster turnaround and lower costs for you
  • Provide a foundation for your keyword strategy when marketing on the web in multiple languages
  • Serve as an important training and reference tool

Steps to Success

For companies that have not attempted terminology development, let alone multilingual terminology development, the task can seem daunting. The gold standard of multilingual term management is a multilingual termbase. The following is a progressive list of steps that you can take to work up to building a complete multilingual termbase:

  • A simple glossary: List of critical terms in English (source language) and their definitions
  • Bilingual termlist: English (source term) paired with its translated (target) equivalent
  • Bilingual term table/spreadsheet: A bilingual termlist with corresponding information such as:
  • Definition of term
  • Sample sentence showing term’s usage
  • Product name/type that uses the term
  • Domain (e.g. “Software” or “Medicine”)
  • Other usage notes

Bilingual terminology database: A bilingual term table or spreadsheet entered into a database (most, if not all, translation management systems have a terminology management tool-e.g. qTerm™ by Advanced Language Translation; Multiterm™ by SDL Technologies).

Multilingual termbase: A termbase tool that integrates with your translation provider’s translation tool set; elements include:

  • Definition
  • Context sentence
  • Part of speech
  • Acceptable and non acceptable variants
  • Product (with which the term is associated)
  • Usage (e.g. marketing, engineering, legal)
  • Status (e.g. approved, in review, etc.)
  • Admin status (e.g. “deprecated”, “preferred”, “standard”)
  • Image and/or screenshot (incredibly useful for technical material)
  • Audio/video references

Step one, creating and maintaining a glossary is a critical starting point to multilingual terminology management. It saves your translation provider a lot of time, which in turn saves you time and budget. Technical authors know that some terms are quite technically challenging and therefore, may be difficult to translate. Such terms must be included in the glossary as a starting point for a multilingual termbase. 

The next three steps to achieving your terminological apex involve working closely with your translation provider. Your project manager and linguists will work collaboratively with you to define your critical terms in each language and gradually build your term database. Step four involves a higher commitment to a more robust technology, capable of managing a large volume of terms and all relevant data. 

When you reach step five, a multilingual termbase, the best option is to coordinate access to your translation provider’s terminology management tool. This way, you can manage terminology without having to invest in another tool. Many translation providers offer this at no additional charge, so ask yours if this is a system that can be supported.

Terminology management should be a standard part of your provider’s services because it hugely benefits them and you. Even a simple termlist enables providers to engage you and your in-country subject matter experts early in the translation process. It allows you to gauge whether your vendor has the requisite experience, knowledge and research skills to translate effectively, making it more of a credibility-building exercise for you. 

Advanced Language Translation has made terminology development and management an integral part of its core services. If you have questions or need assistance getting started (or moving to the next level!), let me know. With the right help, multilingual terminology management does not have to be a daunting task.

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