Another interesting session I attended at the Gilbane Conference in Boston last week was called Creating Multilingual Taxonomies. The speakers, Heather Hedden and Ross Leher, were clearly experts in the field of taxonomy development. I enjoyed hearing their thoughts about multilingual taxonomy and seeing some of the workflow that they use with their customers.

As my readers know, I have a special interest in terminology, particularly how it relates to translation and localization. Taxonomy in the linguistic sense is the practice of organizing and classifying terms. I think that the discipline of multilingual taxonomy is growing, as more companies translate more content (terms) into more languages every day.

While I enjoyed seeing the tools Heather and Ross use (Ross is the CEO of WAND, Inc.), the one note of caution I have for the taxonomists is this: Don’t treat taxonomy, particularly multilingual taxonomy, as a separate effort from terminology management and localization. Doing so further silos organizations and works against a unified corporate effort.

When I asked about the relationship between translation memory and multilingual taxonomy, the speakers had no answer for me. It was as if they had not thought about it or didn’t see its importance. That doesn’t make sense to me. You cannot (or at least should not) create a multilingual taxonomy in a vacuum without the engagement of localization and translation people. It is from their translations of the source text that the multilingual taxonomies are developed.

If you take your English taxonomy and send it out for translation without providing the context for the terms, there is a high likelihood that the translations will not be accurate. Instead, I would recommend using the translation memory, created by translating the actual content, as the basis for creating a multilingual taxonomy. Not the other way around.

Another interesting note: Ross  stated, unequivocally, that all translation should be done in-country by professional translators. He left no room for any other type of translation. Well, yes, in an ideal world, with unlimited amounts of time and unlimited amounts of money, having all of your translations done in-country by professional translators is be nirvana. Unfortunately, we don’t live in ideal times. Companies are constantly looking to cut translation costs, which are currently out of control. In-country translation by professionals is simply not practical in all situations. And this is exactly why creating a solid, well-organized, and well-developed multilingual taxonomy is critical. Without it, the various avenues for translation will not all produce the same level of quality.

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget the basis of a solid, well-organized, and well-developed multilingual taxonomy. It is the source content. By focusing on your source content and making it global-ready, you will be able to create a great English taxonomy and a great multilingual taxonomy. You’ll also have content that is easier to read in every language, and faster and cheaper to translate. Such a deal!


Val Swisher
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