Have you ever stared blankly at a page containing scientific, technical or medical text? These documents are full of specialized terminology that can make anyone’s head spin. Technical fields practically have their own language.  Just try reading a medical text in your native tongue without any prior knowledge, and you will see just how difficult it can be!

Then add translation to the mix. Think about a medical text and all of the specialized terminology that it contains. To properly translate a medical document, you will not only need to know the two languages, but also understand the “language” of medicine.

Technical texts are dense with uncommon, specialized terms; non-specialists don’t see things like “ventricular tachycardia” every day. Keeping track of all the terms during a translation and staying consistent with those terms throughout a text during the translation process can be a challenge (especially when there are 20,000+ words to get through).

What is Terminology Management?

Terminology management is the process of documenting terms in a systematized and orderly fashion. The process can be as simple as creating a list of terms that appear in a text and their equivalents in the target languages, or as complex as creating concept maps and diagrams of how terms are related to each other. In the middle would be a list of terms and equivalents, plus term definitions and perhaps even examples of contextual usage of the terms.

Terminology management should be begun before a document is actually translated. Since terms are the key to meaning in a technical text, documenting them upfront can help a linguist become even more familiar with the meaning of a text. While the step can take a little more time in the short run, it makes translation easier because the linguist has more familiarity with the text and its meaning. Some theorists think of translation as a decision-making process, and when terminology is managed upfront, many of the decisions are already made before the formal translation has begun.

Steps Involved in Terminology Management

Several steps are involved with terminology management. The first is to decide what kind of terminology management system should be used. Take, for example, the humble glossary. It’s a simple list of key terms and their equivalents in the target languages. To create a glossary, the glossary creator, or terminologist, must first read through the source text and determine which terms are the most important and require documentation. One criterion to use for this is the number of times a term appears throughout a text. If a term appears at a high frequency, it certainly deserves to be documented. Another useful criterion is the degree of specialization of the term. If it is not a common, every day term, it should be documented. Once the list of key terms is set, the glossary can be translated, and document translation can also begin. If needed, the glossary can be updated during translation, or any other step over the project lifecycle (based on the judgment of any linguist who works on the project).

Importance of a Glossary in Terminology Management

A glossary (or any other terminology management files) is useful to both linguists and the client. A client can keep their own glossary and use it for similar future projects. That way, consistency across all your translation and localization projects can be maintained.

Additionally, terminology management can involve documenting terms that should not be translated (and typically are not translated), such as proper names, proprietary terms, company names, trademarked terms and so on. This helps to eliminate any “guesswork” for the linguists and lessen the time spent fielding queries – some other benefits for all project stakeholders.

Even the simplest terminology management system can produce noticeable benefits for the translation of technical documents. It essentially boils down to a list of rules to follow for the translation of highly specialized terms, which are the key to meaning in technical texts. With some simple rules in place, consistency becomes much easier for any linguist on the team for a translation project.

As you can see terminology management can be a key component to the translation process. It can greatly help your language service provider maintain consistency across all projects guaranteeing that you will be pleased with the outcome.



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