Terminology Workflows in Companies

Blog post from May 28, 2019

The theory of terminology is an established part of the higher education provided to prospective translators and terminologists. The DIN 2336 standard entitled "Presentation of entries in terminological dictionaries and terminological data banks" was introduced back in 1979. In 1992, the DIN 2342 standard was published under the title "Vocabulary of terminology". So why is this subject area being picked up so often?

Though companies with an international reach usually know how important corporate terminology is, many of them still lack a defined terminology process or terminology workflow.

In this article, you will learn how to define a terminology process and at what point in the translation process terminology entries should be created.

Let There Be Light … or Chaos

Imagine your company—let's call it Lumos—is in the process of developing a new desk lamp. The development name is LED table lamp AB485-01. Being as creative as it is, the marketing department considers this term to be awkward and decides to call it Lumos Clarus. The technical documentation unit additionally makes distinction between energy saving lamps, halogen lamps, LED lamps, and fluorescent lamps. These are available in the form of wall lamps, ceiling lamps, standard lamps, uplights, table lamps, and floor lamps. Our Lumos Clarus is produced in five different colors, which determine the last digit of the development name.

Can you see how easy it is to lose track in such a situation? If the various components of the lamp were to be taken into consideration as well, the result would be a perfect chaos.

Once a specialized term is mistranslated, it costs a lot of effort and money to correct the error in all texts. By this time, it might have already been used in numerous resources, e.g. in documentation, user manuals, websites, e-books, webinars, mails, etc.

Inconsistent terminology does not only delay the introduction of products in new markets, it also corrupts the internal and external communications and gives rise to misunderstandings. As a result, neither the employees nor the customers will be happy.

The article "On the Tip of Your Tongue" by Across Systems explains what can happen if a company fails to do terminology work.

Terminology Work: Defining Processes

Before you start with the actual terminology work, you need to answer four important questions:

  1. What is to be achieved by means of the terminology work? Terminology work is a long process and requires great care. Do not try to process all product names in all languages in one go. Start small and allow the team to gain experience.
  2. Which target groups do you want to reach? How many different terms are needed for a product?
  3. Who will be responsible for the terminology work? Does the company need to hire one or several terminologists? Will the previous translators apply the specialized terms or is additionally manpower needed for this as well? Can the project be rolled out by an external partner (e.g. language service provider)?
  4. Will the terminology database be based on concepts or terms?
  5. What information should be included in the terminology entries? Is it sufficient to provide the definition, the translation, the subject area, and the usage area?

The Right Time: When Should Terminology Entries Be Created?

Basically, there are four points at which terminology entries can be created: during the planning and development phase, during the composition of the source text, during the translation, and after the translation.

Theoretically, the best option would be to enter the terminology during the product development. The specialized terms would be clear from the outset, and many misunderstandings could be prevented along the product roadmap. The problem is that at this stage, there are usually still too many details that have not yet been clarified. Moreover, the terminology can only be entered manually in this phase.

It would be easier to finalize the terminology while composing the source texts. At this stage, the terminology can automatically be entered in the system via an interface between the author assistance tool and the terminology database. The translators can then translate the entries into the respective language for use in subsequent translation jobs.

It is also possible to translate the terminology entries while processing an order. In other words, when the translator sees a term that has not yet been translated in a segment, he can enter it in the database. During the correction, the translation can then be verified. Following the final release by the terminologist, the specialized term can be used in future projects.

If the company has a terminologist, it would not be productive to create the terminology entries in the source language only during the translation. However, it might be possible to have the translator create the entries both in the source language and in the target language.

To start maintaining the terminology database only after the translation is an approach that especially companies that only introduced a terminology system at a very late stage may need to use. Such companies have numerous source texts and the corresponding translations, which contain "hidden" terminology. This terminology can be extracted semi-automatically after introducing the terminology system. We say "semi-automatically" because it still needs to be checked manually whether the translations actually match the proposals of the system. Subsequently, the entries need to be enriched with additional information (image, synonyms, purpose, etc.).

Conclusion

An application-oriented, pragmatic terminology database that people like using and that makes their work easier is an essential element of a company's internal and external communication. To achieve this goal, it is vital to implement defined terminology workflows from the outset. The ideal time to do terminology work is during the composition of the source text. At this time, it is easier to establish the terminology. Moreover, a company can make the defined terminology available to the translators in the source language so that they can translate the entries. The main benefits: The translation gets easier, questions and correction loops are minimized, the time to market gets shorter, the texts become more comprehensible, and the customer satisfaction increases.

tl;dr

It is vital to implement defined terminology workflows from the outset. The ideal time to do terminology work is during the composition of the source text.