Translation glossaries

The greatest difficulty in complex, specialist or large translations is consistency. Many words have several alternatives; any Thesaurus offers a bewildering (confusing; baffling; maze-like; puzzling; mystifying; incomprehensible) range of options for the simplest words, so complex text presents many issues for the unwary translator. If you don’t believe us, have a look at our Fun Stuff page!

The problem’s greater for technical language and emerging concepts. Many languages have developed unique terminology for new technologies, and many technologies and sectors use common words in entirely different ways – consider for example a “frame” in artworks, in a criminal court and in shipbuilding. Many traps exist for the translator – we pride ourselves on the care we take to ensure consistency and correctness of language.
Remember also that many “established” concepts in the West are embryonic elsewhere, with language still in flux and many “suitable” (and less so) terms in simultaneous use. Identifying the right one is key.

A large or extended duration project, which may involve several translators, presents a different problem. The risk then is of different translators using differing translations of the same concept, resulting in an inconsistent and confusing end-product.

The solution is the Glossary; a defined set of terms and vocabulary agreed between our client and ourselves. With our translators we ensure these terms are used consistently across the assignment, and related projects. Linked in to our quality systems and project management our effective use of glossaries combined with carefully selected and experienced translators are key to our performance.

Modern computer-assisted translation, or CAT (NB: – NOT machine translation!) extends this, allowing whole sections of existing translation to be re-used; we employ it widely ourselves and used correctly it’s great. Unfortunately some translation agencies see it as a panacea for everything, allowing them to “translate” ever-higher volumes for ever less effort – sadly not always the case. We recently reviewed an agency’s translation in which “pig iron” was indeed used consistently and thoroughly thanks to their use of CAT – sadly however, the translation was for a pork and bacon producer and the “iron” shouldn’t have been there… The tool’s good but really is user-critical! Oh – and never, EVER, trust anyone offering low-cost machine translation for anything remotely important!

Did you know that well-prepared interpreters also use glossaries? Many assignments require use of client-specific language, and we will always take the time to brief our interpreters properly for you, including arrangement of a glossary. The interpreter will familiarise themselves with this in readiness for the assignment.

To the end-user, whether reading or listening, inconsistency of descriptions and terms is at best a confusing annoyance, and at worst may lead to misuse of equipment, injury, or even more serious losses. For technical or large projects your translation supplier should always generate and manage a glossary – and simply offering CAT is no substitute. If your supplier doesn’t manage a glossary, you may like to talk to us.