Proper terminology management in translation helps your company communicate successfully no matter where you do business.
Because using the right words is key to clear communication. But in many technical fields, certain words have specialist and often unusual meanings.
The same is often true within organisations. Without agreed meanings for branded terms, communication can quickly break down.
International operations magnify the issue even further. What is the correct translation for a branded term? Or a complex piece of technical terminology in a field such as medicine or law?
There is one way to guarantee that your international communications are clear and cohesive – and that your company has a strong international presence.
That method is terminology management.
What is terminology management?
Terminology is “the body of terms used with a particular technical application” in a subject, profession, company or organisation. Terminology management involves everything necessary to store and document those terms so that they can be easily referred to and used.
Physically, this might look like a list of terms and their agreed translations into your target languages. This list might include the mapping of relations between terms or diagrams showing how they relate to each other. It is also likely to contain sample sentences to show context, meaning and how terms can and should be used.
Organisations which focus on terminology management find themselves rewarded with clear, consistent, readable and on-brand materials. It’s the reason so many companies produce brand guidelines and related documents.
But terminology management really comes into its own when used in translation. It ensures that, when there are multiple options for choosing the translation of a given term, your translator already knows the correct one to use.
Why is terminology management important in general?
If you are starting from a position of almost zero management of your terminology, reaching the stage where you are in control of the language your company uses can seem like it’s going to be a long journey.
Indeed, it might be. But the risks involved in not instituting a system to manage the terms your company uses in any language are large indeed:
When terms aren’t used consistently, it can easily create situations where there is confusion or misunderstanding.
In some surveys of professionals, the numbers reporting that even the same departments within a company regularly use different terminology rises as high as 50% or more.
2) Wasted time
In same-language conversation, having an agreed, consistent terminology means there is no time wasted trying to work out what a colleague is saying. The alternative is a lot of time used up unnecessarily – sometimes fixing problems caused by tasks completed incorrectly due to poor communication.
Without consistent terminology in translated communications, the potential for wasted time can be much greater. The translators, editors and proofreaders involved in your project will need to work out what is meant by any non-standard terms, usually wasting time and money as they research and confirm meanings. Or need to edit meanings which they really needed to understand before the project started.
With access to proper reference materials – in the form of your carefully constructed termbase – in front of them, the process takes seconds or less.
3) Wasted money
When your translation team needs to spend a lot of time working out what is meant by all of the unusual terms in a document, the translation process ends up costing a lot more money.
This is sometimes partly because most Language Service Providers these days Computer-Aided Translation software which reports a “match rate” which can be used when calculating how much work a project will take – and thus, how much you might be charged for it.
Proper terminology management can result in large savings – perhaps up to even a third of some project budgets, according to some surveys – meaning any time or costs involved in creating a database of terms is usually more than offset as soon as it is used.
4) Poor quality communications
High-quality translation and communication of any kind are only possible when terminology is used precisely and correctly.
This is perhaps the greatest contribution which the management of terminology provides to companies. It boosts the quality of your communications, helping you to create a stronger brand and positive company image.
5) Poor company image
Scrappy, inconsistent terminology use often creates a negative impression in the minds of consumers and partners. Especially when this usage marks a brand as a foreigner trying to do business in a market or industry they don’t care about enough to try to understand.
Most customers are far less likely to trust a company when:
- They can’t work out what a brand is saying
- They think a brand is communicating incoherently or imprecisely
- A brand’s communications refer to established local or industry terms, practices, cultural reference points or events in strange or nonsensical ways
Why is terminology management in translation in important?
The dangers of confusion, wasted time and money and reduced communication quality and company image are all exacerbated when language barriers are involved. This makes terminology management in translation a major concern for businesses of all sizes.
In translation, the best practice for most organisations is usually to have a glossary of terms for each industry, region and project. At Asian Absolute, we have termbases agreed with each individual client too, enabling our linguists to be able to refer to agreed translations of all important terms within a document, saving time and money for all of the people we work with.
Proper management of terminology – sometimes referred to as “terminography” – carries those benefits forward to future projects too. This ensures your communications are consistent both internally and across projects.
How terminology management works
Most organisations of any size will have some method for documenting the terminology they use. As organisations start to grow, they tend to expand their needs to term documentation through various stages:
- A simple shared Word document or other text files.
- An Excel sheet or two as the file becomes a true database.
- For larger organisations or those focussed on correct term use, a specialised Terminology Management System containing many hundreds or even thousands of well-defined terms in multiple languages and regions.
Creating even the simplest of these requires an organisation to go through several steps:
1) Term collection
Any words, terms, phrases or concepts which require documentation need to be collected and gathered together into the same glossary or database.
2) Term documentation
Each entry in that database needs to be expanded into fully useful documentation about that term. An entry in a terminology database might include:
- The source term (in the original language)
- A definition of the source term and where the definition comes from
- The agreed target term (in the target language)
- Some sort of context showing how and where the term should be used
- Information about the subject field, industry and region it is used in
- Whether the term is approved for use, preferred or banned
- Associations with the term which are encouraged or forbidden
- Projects or products the term is related to or should be used with
- History and dates of changes to the term
3) Term review
Someone within your organisation should have final control over your terminography. Regular reviews of your termbase ensure it is always up-to-date and relevant.
In translation projects, you should ensure your expert reviews any sections of your termbase which your Language Service Provider (LSP) might be using before a project begins.
4) Term storage
Even the smallest organisations should take sensible steps to safeguard their terminography from other eyes. Data security is a vital part of protecting your business from competitors and bad actors.
Your LSP should be aware of this too. At Asian Absolute, for example, we use the kind of information security systems usually used by international banks.
5) Term consistency updates
As your company grows, the terms you use to refer to the different products and services you offer and the processes you use will change.
Regularly updating your own database of terms ensures that your terminology stays consistent.
Terminology management best practices
The basic steps above show what you need to do to create a terminology database or glossary of terms. But what should you be aiming for as your final goal?
Here are some terminology management best practices which it’s always a good idea to follow:
1) Strive for consistency
Consistency is something that proper management of the terms you use in your business communications will help you achieve.
You don’t want to have the design department of your company calling one of the major features of your key product as one thing, while your sales department refers to it as another – all while your product packaging refers to it something else. Even though a specialist in the field knows it already has an actual scientific name.
Consistency is also something you should strive for when you’re collecting and recording the terms themselves. This consistency will improve the quality of your communications in any language. Not to mention reduce translation costs and time.
2) Centralise and educate
The whole point of managing your terms is to make sure everything proceeds from a central point of understanding. Having multiple systems or individuals within your organisation who do not know how important it is to follow your agreed terminology uses can quickly undermine the system.
That’s why it’s important to educate everyone within your organisation on the importance of following the agreed uses of terms.
This centralisation will stand you in the best possible stead when you’re using your database to translate your communications for new markets.
3) Establish responsibilities and workflows
Not everyone should be able to update or make changes to your glossary. This dilutes the cohesion of the whole system.
Instead, you need to have set roles for individuals who are allowed to:
- Update, validate and suggest changes to your documented terms.
- Add the definitions or context which fully fleshed-out terms require
- Import or export information contained within your terminology database
4) Integrate with other tools
Once you have your systematic method of collecting and organising important terms in place, it’s time to get the most out of them.
When terminology management is used in translation it’s possible and advantageous to integrate your glossary with Computer Aided Translation tools.
Once this is done, some translation tools will be able to automatically check that your translated documents have used terms found in your termbase. They should also be able to highlight areas which might need some attention because they potentially don’t use the right terms.
If you use a Translation Management System, your termbase should also integrate with that.
5) Meet the right standards
There are several important international standards governing terminography:
- ISO 1087-1 for terminology work and terminology
- ISO 704 governs principles and methods in terminology work
- ISO 10241 governs standards for monolingual and multilingual terminological entries and is based on the above
- TBX (Term Base eXchange) is an ISO-approved, open XML-based standard for exchanging terminological data
By following the rules and guidelines set out here you will find it easier to collaborate with other organisations, such as the Language Service Provider you’ve chosen.
4) Create specific glossaries for specific projects
Another relatively easy task once you have an established termbase is the extraction of a subset of it which will be needed for a specific project.
You can also set up a standard pool of terms to be extracted from your termbase for given categories of project.
Using the automation features which most modern Terminology Management Systems come with, you can have your system follow your rules to create a relevant glossary of terms, style guide or Translation Memory ready for a given project quickly and easily.
5) Consider the future
As your company grows, your range of products and services might expand, as will the number of languages you’ve localised them into and the number of formats you might need to create content in.
By having a centralised, consistent system with set responsibilities and workflows, you ensure that whatever system you use to manage your terms is ready to expand when you need it to in the future.
Crucially, you ensure it can expand in a way which is consistent and which tracks the changes you’ve made along with way, providing critical context when your content creators and translators need it most.
Terminology management – where to start
When it comes to terminology management in translation, as always, the best place to start is with your Language Service Provider. They should have extensive experience in creating and working with terminology databases.
This means they should be willing and able to work with you to create one for a specific project – and one which will be useful to ensure consistency across future projects.
Starting from a place of no terminology management can feel overwhelming. But the benefits in terms of cost and time savings and boosts to brand strength, consistency and quality of communications make it entirely worth the effort.
Talk to the experts about the terms you’ll be using in your next translation project.
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