Blog post dated Apr 15, 2019

On the Tip of Your Tongue?

How Terminology Work Can Help You

Consistent use of terminology is a must for international corporations that want to deliver high-quality texts while keeping their translation costs low. However, the reality often looks quite different.

The absence of a terminology database in many enterprises impacts the entire supply chain. But even if such a database is available, terminology work can still be quite difficult.

An Article by

Flurina Schwendimann
Freelance Translator

How can an enterprise establish efficient processes that will enable all to benefit from the terminology work?

Regardless of whether an enterprise works with language service providers or freelance translators, there is always a lone warrior at the end of the supply chain who juggles with multiple projects and tight deadlines. Moreover, large projects are often handled by several translators at the same time.

Usually, this common approach works smoothly. However, problems arise when freelance translators receive orders without any relevant customer terminology. In this case, the research of specialized terminology can be very time-consuming. Moreover, it can be very difficult for the translator to ascertain whether a particular specialized term is correct in the context of the order.

Missing Terminology Work

Sometimes, the customer will notice that the wrong terminology has been used. He will report the errors to the responsible project manager or, if he does not work with an agency, directly to the translator. This widespread approach results in prolonged correction cycles, extra costs, and frustration for all involved in the translation process.

Some customers might think: "Well, it's the translator's fault. He didn't do enough research to find the right terminology, so he needs to correct the error."

However, what we are talking about is not general language, which the translator must of course be familiar with, but about company-specific terms such as translated titles of internal policies or menu items of custom-programmed administration software. Such language can be so specific that the translator will inevitably make mistakes no matter how much effort he puts into his work.

For this reason, some translators prepare a terminology database for their regular customers without their assistance. In the medium to long run, this can save time. Yet, this approach might not be the most suitable.

For instance, the company loses a valuable resource that could help improve the text quality. On the other hand, the translator might not be informed of the company's terminology work.

The company loses a valuable resource that could help improve the text quality.

Solution: Introduce a Terminology System

A better solution would be to introduce a terminology system. A company's entire specialized vocabulary can be defined and maintained in such a database along with additional information on the use of specialized terms.

Regardless of whether the text that is being composed is to be used in user manuals, training documents, or display texts, all parties who work on the text will thus know which term is correct or preferred in a particular context. This function is very important for marketing departments.

It provides assistance if a product name needs to be localized or if particular terms or translations should be avoided in a certain context. If a writer or translator uses a term that is not approved, the system will alert him and suggest an alternative.

A company's entire specialized vocabulary can be defined and maintained in a terminology database.

Getting the Go-Ahead for the Purchase

In the translation industry, terminology work is a very important subject area. It is examined in university studies and is discussed in numerous presentations, books, and specialized articles.

So why are many companies still so negligent when it comes to terminology work? Why do companies often fail to determine a process for the collection, definition, classification, and standardization of terminology?

One of the challenges might be to convince the decision-makers in the company of the need for a terminology system. To someone new to the subject area, the added value and the saving potential may not be obvious at first glance.

Often, only a limited group of people in the company are responsible for the translation process. This group might not have the needed leverage to draw the management's attention to the benefits of a terminology system. In view of the fact that the entire company will benefit from a terminology system, it might be good to involve other departments as well in order to jointly introduce the project.

The entire company will benefit from a terminology system.

Common Problems of Terminology Maintenance

Even companies that already have a terminology system can experience difficulties successfully using the system in their daily work. Many companies simply do not have time to do terminology work and enter new suggestions. This is one of the reasons why often only large, multinational corporations have a well-maintained terminology.

In other cases, the translator may be provided with a terminology database of a poor quality.

Common challenges are:

  • Poor quality, they contain mistranslations, so the translator is unable to use them.
  • Incomplete entries, e.g. they are not maintained in all languages or do not contain all definitions.
  • They do not satisfy the formal criteria of a good terminology database. For example, if the initial letters of English terms are always capitalized, the translator will not be able to directly insert the words with a click.
  • Internally, the terminology databases are used as "general dictionaries". Sometimes, there may be 10 terms for a general word that must anyway be translated differently according to the context, but no company-specific terms.

The Terminology Process in Practice

It cannot be stressed enough that every enterprise that operates on an international scale will benefit from well-maintained terminology. Therefore, it would be advisable to recruit a terminologist to take care of the subject area.

Of course, the terminologist cannot handle the entire project alone. Successful terminology work requires good cooperation between the terminologist, the translators and experts in the various departments. Every actor plays a key role in the terminology process.

Euphoria often breaks out immediately after the introduction of a terminology system. Everybody eagerly suggests new terms, and the database is quickly populated. After a few weeks or months, however, the initial enthusiasm cools down, and everything goes back to the same old rut. To prevent this from happening, it is important to clearly define the terminology process. For example, the following could be determined:

The suggester can be anyone in the company who has access to the terminology system and finds a term that he considers to be relevant. In this case, the expert is the person who is familiar with the subject area that a term refers to, e.g. the product. As soon as a term has been validated by the terminologist, the translators can be asked to localize it. If necessary, the translated term can be checked by a reviewer in the target country and then be released by the terminologist. The next time the term appears in a text, the translator will see the entry in the respective language direction in the editor.

Alternatively, you could do your terminology work with your translators. The translator for the respective language combination can also serve as suggester, terminologist, and translator. For this, the translator must have a good knowledge of the terminology work and your products or services. Moreover, close collaboration between the translator and the respective expert is a must.

Successful terminology work requires good cooperation between the terminologist, the translators and experts.

Extra Tip

A terminology database is not meant to be a general dictionary for internal use. Rather, it should be a collection of company-specific terms that offer genuine added value. It is up to the terminologist to decide which terms should be included. Not everybody should be permitted to release terms: After all, you wouldn't entrust your Ferrari to just anybody simply because they're able to drive a tractor (says Heike Kurtz).

Other Benefits of Well-Maintained Terminology

Technical Writing and other departments in which content is produced benefit from a well-maintained terminology database. Why? Via an interface, the terminology database, which is usually part of a translation management system, can be connected to the company's editorial system. In real time, the system proposes context-specific terms that had already been used and translated in the past to the authors. In this way, consistent terminology can be ensured from the outset.

Additionally, some terminology systems enable the corporate vocabulary to be made available as a reference work for the entire company by way of browser-based access. Consistent use of the terminology throughout the company strengthens the corporate identity and the customer trust.

Using authoring assistance tools such as Congree, it is also possible to enter new terminology suggestions directly in the editor (e.g. Microsoft Word), enrich them with additional information, and transfer them to the terminology database. In this way, your company's employees can save even more time.

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Your company sells high-quality products or professional services, and you spend a lot of money on market research, development, and production. Apart from this, terminology work is vital for the success of your company. No matter how good your company is, you are bound to suffer competitive disadvantages if you are unable to present yourselves with the right words.

Therefore, do not delay your investment in a professional translation management system with a terminology component, such as the Across Language Server and maintain the terminology database in order to ensure your success on the international market.

White Paper
Terminology Workflows – Moving Toward Improved Consistency

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