Skip to main content
December 19, 2016

Terminology in localization: it’s not just for word nerds

This post is part of a series on the value proposition of localization strategies.

Accuracy and accelerated time to market are key success factors in every localization project. Proper terminology management contributes to both of these factors.

When you think about terminology, what comes to mind? A dictionary, glossary, or perhaps that horrible fifth grade spelling quiz you had forgotten about until right now?

immature pine cone; terminology can distinguish between a cone and a cone

The canonical non-conical cone.

Terminology management is often seen as a pet project for “word nerds.” But if properly managed, it can be extremely helpful in many ways. Terminology can:

  • Ensure that the same term is used consistently to mean the same thing
  • Clarify communication within your organization
  • Clarify the information presented to customers and prospects
  • Improve the experience of those using your products and services
  • Reduce the number of questions about your content

Basically, the better defined your terms and their use are, the better experience you offer. This experience extends to all content consumers, from internal associates to the general public.

How terminology helps localization

When creating content for translation, it’s important to use the same word to mean the same thing. Words need to be contextually accurate. Terminology can dictate whether or not a word is appropriate to use, or if allowable only in certain contexts. Enforcing how words are used clarifies meaning and intent, and reduces the number of questions that translators have (and the time it takes to answer them).

Some words in one language may not exist in another language. Translators will need to use a creative description or another suitable word for this untranslatable word. Defining this word in your terminology set gives translators the context needed to develop an accurate translation.

Translated terms can be added to your managed terminology set to further aid translators. As with your source language, translated terminology can inform which words to use, which to not use, and which are appropriate alternatives in certain contexts. This practice helps all translators (especially newly-involved ones) ensure consistency and accuracy in their translations.

On managing terminology

There are many ways to manage terminology. You can invest in an enterprise-level terminology management system, or you can use spreadsheets or text files to capture your terms. Your terminology should include the following:

  • Term
  • Part of speech
  • Definition
  • Acceptable alternatives (if any)
  • Alternatives to avoid

Regardless of the approach, it’s important to capture these terms along with their meaning, use, and appropriateness. Share this information with everyone involved in developing content for internal and external consumption.