Terminology Management and Why it Matters

Terminology Management and Why it Matters


Some areas of translation work are more complex than others. Take highly technical areas of medical translation, such as translating physicians’ manuals. This type of long-form material tends to use a great deal of specialised terminology. It’s often so arcane that even native speakers of the language won’t understand much of it.

Even something as simple as eCommerce product descriptions can contain specialised terminology that adds an additional layer of complexity to the localisation process.

That’s where specialist translators come in. People working in this area of translation tend to be very specialised for that type of translation work. They’ll often need to understand a very specific vocabulary for that particular area of focus, whether it’s medical or technical. It’s essentially a special kind of language for that particular area of material. And that language needs to be managed properly.

Pinning down the precise terminology, and its equivalent in the language of translation is a major part of any technical translation project.

Usually, these projects will be approached using some kind of terminology management system. This is a way of managing the language used in the project in a systematic way, which acts as a guide to translating the entire work. Another way to look at it is that the most significant and challenging parts of the translation – the technical language – is tackled before the rest of the work even begins.

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Having a terminology management system in place also helps if there are multiple translators working on the same material. When you’re approaching a large project such as a technical manual, you have the option of running the project slowly using a sole translator or more speedily using a team of translators.

It’s common for teams of translators to be used in order to speed things up and get to the finished work more quickly. But there’s a danger of inconsistency. That’s another good reason to have a system in place to manage terminology across the entire team.

If you’re a larger business developing products for multiple markets, you may need to build a more robust terminology management system fit for even hundreds of linguists working on projects throughout the year.

Take Microsoft, for example. The multinational technology company, most famously known for its suite of digital products, places terminology management at the heart of its product development process. Not only has it developed its own company-wide terminology management platform, but the US-based company publicly offers its terminology resources online in the form of downloadable .tbx files or API integration.

Microsoft's language portal

The Microsoft Terminology Collection is a set of standard technology terms used across Microsoft products.

It’s not just teams of translators that need to use terminology guidance. It’s also easy for a sole translator to lose track of their terminology across a large project. Having a terminology management system in place is helpful even if it’s just one person working on the project.

It’s also helpful to have a system like this in place for any future changes to the material or subsequent projects working in the same area of focus.

Client involvement

Terminology management is also a way for clients to get involved in guiding the translation project and ensure accuracy. This is a two-way process: it’s valuable for the translation team to be able to work with the client on reaching an agreement for the best terms to use.

It’s also valuable for translators to receive guidance on how precise terminology needs to be and whether it’s ever appropriate to use abbreviations or less technical equivalents. For example, the precise technical term might be ‘pressurised metered-dose inhaler’ but this can be abbreviated to MDI or called something far less formal, such as ‘puffer’.

Managing the terminology involved in a translation project can be as simple as building a glossary of terms. Sometimes a more rigorous approach is necessary, where the translators will also need guidance on how terms relate to one another or some cultural notes relevant to the target audience.

A really well-fleshed out terminology guide might include information such as what the correct plural is to use when the term should be capitalised or abbreviated and perhaps some examples of how to use the term in textual context.

For retailers or large brands that have specific brand terms that convey their unique positioning or tone of voice in their home market, maintaining consistency of these brand terms in international markets is crucial.

The North Face technology page for DryVent features.

The North Face keeps a number of trademarked key terms in English to ensure consistency across multiple markets.

Brands such as The North Face, keep trademarked brand names such as DryVent and GORE-TEX in English in order to manage the brand image in local markets. Some brands may not even translate colours, categories or product names in particular markets, such as All Saints in Japan.

Identifying key terminology upfront and carefully maintaining glossaries as you add products and languages will ensure that linguists use key terms correctly in each market, as well as saving you time and money as you expand your market reach.

Managing remote teams

It’s often hard to get hold of people with the right skills to work on technical translation projects. Highly specialist translators are often in short supply and that’s especially true for the rarer language pairs.

You may find it relatively easy to find three medical translators working from French to English but you’ll find it much harder to track down three working from Swedish to Malay. It’s often common for translators to work remotely and sometimes across different time zones. This adds an extra layer of challenge to the average translation project.

That’s why the technology you employ is so vital to the success of your translation project. Good translation and project management technology will support remote translators to work harmoniously. This allows for rapid and accurate completion of your project.

It’s important that terminology management approaches are considered as part of the technological solution. For example, you’ll need each member of the team to have visibility of the agreed terminology. You may want to add editorial controls so that only signed-off terms are used.

The right technology puts terminology management at the heart of your project, making it visible to everyone working on it. It ensures a harmonious approach to completing ambitious projects, even if there’s a large and scattered team working on it.

The best thing you can do as a client is play an active role in terminology management. It’s a good way to input into the project early on and give it the direction that will ensure its success. A good translation project starts on firm foundations. The foundations are built on team, technology, and often, a solid terminology management solution.

Written by Demetrius Williams
Demetrius Williams
Demetrius Williams is a Digital Marketing Specialist at TranslateMedia and has previous eCommerce experience working with a number of luxury brands in the fashion and beauty industry. He enjoys photography, binge-watching Netflix and can often be found roaming around London with a camera in his hand.

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