Term consistency in document translations

Term consistency in document translations – how important is it?

Just as there is more than one way of saying something in English, there is more than one way of saying something in other languages.  The meanings are the same, but the style, character length and other features may vary. Sometimes, when it comes to corporate branding or general client preferences, there is a need to standardize terms used in foreign languages. The most common example is the need to have consistency between product manual terms and marketing material.  It might not be possible to standardize every word, but “key words” can certainly be taken into account in translations.  

This article will explain how language service providers (LSPs) standardize translation terms, what tools they use, and how they work.  We will also cover when it makes sense to bother with these tools.  

How do LSPs standardize terms?

Assuming the LSP is using professionally trained translators, LSPs standardize terms using a tool called a Translation Glossary – or simply a glossary – and its digital relative the Term Base.  The Term Base is created from the glossary and acts as an extension to translation memory, which captures whole segments of text.  

What is a translation glossary and Term Base?

A translation glossary is much like a typical glossary (a list of words, perhaps with a definition or use case) but for translation purposes.  Either the client can specify which “source” terms to capture from the “source text” or the LSP can. The client can also specify which preferred “target terms”  to use in the translation of the source terms. The glossary looks much like this:

Source term

Target terms

applicator swab

bastoncillo aplicador

suction toothbrush

cepillo de dientes de succión

vented patient

paciente con respirador

This same bilingual table, in a special format compatible with computer-aided translation (CAT) tools, is called a Term Base.  The reason for this distinction is that glossaries may not always be uploaded to CAT tools. The primary reason a glossary may never become a Term Base is because the source files will never become compatible with the CAT tools (scanned PDFs are the best example of this).   

How does a translation glossary work?

Together, the pair of source and target terms help standardize translations.  During the translation process, as the translator encounters a term on the list, they apply the term on the right.  When using a CAT tool, the computer does the scanning and comparing for the translator, so as the translator is translating and they are in the process of translating a sentence with a glossary term in it, the computer will flag the term is being one in the glossary and also show the preferred glossary term.  The translator will then decide if and where, within this context, the target term should go. Note that this is within the CAT tool environment, where this scanning process is automated. This allows a perfect and systematic approach to implementing preferred terms. In fact, the translator must go out of their way in order to avoid using the term since unimplemented terms will be flagged (automatically) in the quality control process afterwards.  

If the environment that the translator is working in is anything but a CAT tool environment, then the translator needs to have memorized all the terms in the glossary in order to notice when they come across one – this never happens, although they certainly try.  The most common example is when the source file is a PDF or any type of graphic file that is not compatible with a CAT tool.  

How important is a translation glossary?

It depends on what the purpose of the translation is for.  At BURG, we distinguish between translations for external use and translations for internal use.  Translations for external use usually means that the client of our client will see it and therefore business and business risk is substantial.  In this case, particularly with marketing material or other client-facing content, clients tend to value terminology consistency and preferred terms.  If, however, the purpose of the translation is simply to “see what it says” consistency in terminology may not add any value at all and would not be worth taking into account in the translation process.  

If you’d like to learn more about how BURG Translations helps you ensure high-quality translations, contact us todaybest-practices-for-translation-and-desktop-publishing