Translation for technical terms: how to build a multilingual glossary

Translation for technical terms: how to build a multilingual glossary

When a client comes to us with a specialized translation job, we recommend translation for technical terms followed by creation of a multilingual glossary to guide the translation process.

Most industries have their own specialized vocabularies of words or phrases that would not be familiar to the general public. In some cases, industries will give a special meaning to a common word or phrase. Some terms may even be specific to your company or product, if you’ve developed something unique.

Take as an example an engineering firm for which we did some translation. The firm made films and laminates for use in a variety of other industries ranging from aerospace to fashion. Its site used terms like “Flexible Web Metalization,” “Reflective Insulation,” and “Radiant Barriers.” All of these had very specific translations in the target languages. You’ll find specialized terms in a variety of areas from music to games to advertising.

A glossary compiles these types of terms and provides a brief definition and context information, including what the part of speech (noun, adjective, verb). After translation, it becomes a multilingual glossary.

Creating a multilingual glossary

1. Create the English language source glossary. Sometimes the client already has a glossary that can serve as a starting point. We also have tools that can pull frequently used words and phrases from the content to be translated. We then cull that list to take out any terms that are obviously not terms of art. 

2. Approval and translation of terms. Next, the list of terms goes back to the client for review so that they can approve the terms selected, add any needed definitions or context, and insert any other terms that the client thinks should have been included. We send the final list to the translator, who researches the terms where necessary and performs translation for technical terms.

3. In-country review: Ideally the in-country reviewer vets the translations. This person should know both the source and target languages well, must understand the industry, and, most importantly, can make time for the project.

4. Implementation of reviewer changes. We send the reviewer’s changes back to the original translation team for their reaction. After reconciliation of any issues raised by the translators, we update the final glossary to reflect the agreed-upon changes.

We carry out steps 2, 3, and 4 for each language required by the translation project.

After review and approval, we upload the glossary to the computer-aided translation (CAT) tools used by our translation team. The tool highlights source terms and prompts the translators as they work. This ensures that the approved translations are used consistently throughout the client’s materials.

In addition to terms that need translation, there may be other words and phrases, such as make and brand names, that should not be translated. These should also be noted in your glossary.

Benefits of a multilingual glossary

Preparing a multilingual glossary takes a little time at the beginning of a translation project, but the investment pays off.

  • A multilingual glossary helps keep your project on schedule by reducing questions from the linguistic team and reducing the time required for review.
  • A multilingual glossary will support keyword research for optimizing your global website. The keywords on your website need to correspond to the search terms used by potential clients. Otherwise they won’t find you.
  • The multilingual glossary will support translation of future company materials, ensuring consistency and accuracy not only in the initial translation project, but across all documents and types of media (websites, videos, presentations).

Translating specialized terms correctly and consistently ensures clear communication with potential customers. The wrong terms can cause misunderstanding, confusion, and lost sales. Even if the potential customers “know what you mean,” the fact that you don’t know the proper term for something in their language will damage their trust in your product or service.

If you need technical or specialized translation, you might want to get started on an initial glossary today. In fact, translation for technical terms can be helpful even if you’re not ready to localize all your materials. A glossary can be used by marketing and other partners to help potential clients understand your offerings.