5 Things to Know About Creating a Multilingual Glossary [Cliff Notes]

5 Things to Know About Creating a Multilingual GlossaryIf you are new to localization, or if you consider yourself a non-technical localization professional, then this blog series is for you. Today’s topic is about when, why and how to create a terminology database.

Say you sell a product to a very specific market — pool players, gamers or foodies. Products serving these industries will have their own vocabulary, or lexicon, with terms like “bank-the-8,” “aggro,” or “barding.” Using these terms correctly in your source and localized materials will make your users feel right at home and, ultimately, inspire them to buy more product — provided they are translated correctly. You need a multilingual terminology database.

A terminology database, or glossary, contains a list of product specific terms and their translations. We are not talking about industry-standard phrases and terms that would be well-known by translators and users, such as “web application” or “user interface.” A glossary term is a concept specific to your company and product, and it is usually a clump of nouns all in a row. (Linguistic nerds call this a noun cluster). Think “tri-purpose wonder-widget” or “solar-powered plastic apparatus.” It is not just frequently-used terms, but terms that are important to your product.

Managing your terminology can prevent misunderstanding, errors, and frustrated or angry customers. Importantly, it can also help people to find your product online, when searching for it by name: branded keywords can account for a significant amount of searches and website traffic.

When Should I Do This?

While this is a task better done late than never, it is best done first. It is a small up-front investment that will give you big returns.

If you build and translate a glossary before your project starts, you are able to use those terms everywhere — in both the source and translated versions. For even broader benefit, you would use the terms in all your corporate materials such as marketing materials and web content.  

How Big of a Glossary Do I Need?

Here’s an example: a typical program may include a website, a product manual, and some marketing material. Let’s say this body of content is 40,000 words. Around 250 terms would be typical for this body of content; fewer if the content is highly repetitive, more if there are a great number of product-specific terms, or if the source text is especially complex and technical. This is 1% or less of the total word count. That percentage decreases with bigger volumes.

How Are They Created?

Creating a glossary is neither complicated nor time-consuming. Sequential steps include:

  1. "Term mining," or extraction of terms from any existing materials. This can be done manually or automatically using a term extraction tool.
  2. Client review and approval of initial term list
  3. Finalization of source term list
  4. Definition of each term
  5. In-country translation of new terms and revision of any legacy term translations
  6. Client review of initial translations
  7. Implementation of changes
  8. Creation of the glossary: transfer of new terms into required format; merge of new terminology with master
  9. Automation of usage via an industry standard term tool

Now You Must Maintain It

After the above steps, you have a glossary, but you cannot rest on your laurels. What if your translator asks a question or gives a suggestion? What if a customer or in-country reviewers misunderstand something because the term’s translation is not accurate? What if your software UI changes?

Just like you do with your car, you need to maintain your glossary.

Maintenance means adding, changing, or deleting terms as required, and there are a variety of TermBase tools to assist with management. Industry standard ones include SDL MultiTerm, Kilgray’s qTerm2, and various translation tool companies embed term tools into their computer-assisted translation tools.

What Else Can a Tool Do?

As mentioned, term base tools can extract terms from source and target content, manage a terminology database.

After you’ve done all this work, you want to make sure the terms are used consistently and propagated through all of your material. Tools can automate the use of those terms in any new translation. Glossaries can be stored in some simple form (CSV file, Excel file) or in a format compatible with CAT tools. Then, the tool itself does the work.

Target files can be checked for:

  • Use of the translated terms. The tool provides the translator with the translations of the terms if they are present in both source text and in the term database.
  • Disuse of synonyms. A glossary should also contain any false or undesirable translations for a specific term. Additionally, when creating the source text, the technical writer should check that they are using only the correct term, and not an undesired synonym.
  • Incorrect translations of a term meant to stay in English
  • Consistent translations of terminology

Glossary efforts can go a long way in making your translated deliverables consistent — whether within each deliverable, or between them all. This way, your target pool player, gamer, or foodie, knows that you know what you are talking about, can understand your materials clearly, and has a customer experience that makes him or her want to buy your product.

Lastly, a glossary is one of three crucial assets that help drive consistency and clarity within your translated materials. For more information on the other two assets — Translation Memory and Style Guides — see this recent blog here.

If you have taken the time up-front to create and translate your glossary, how has it helped your business?

Like what you've read? Click to Subscribe to the Moravia Blog!