When it comes to customer concerns, speed is often at the top of the list. This is especially true for first-time or infrequent translation buyers. Often, translation is unplanned, and sometimes upstream production delays can create significant pressure to deliver the translated materials quickly. Regardless of cause, urgency to complete a translation project as fast as possible is the norm.
In terms of Chinese, a single translator can translate only about 2,500 words – about 10 pages – per day, a very common practice is to divide the content and distribute the work across multiple translators. Having a team of translators working in different time zones (“following the sun”) keeps projects rolling 24 hours per day, effectively tripling daily throughput.
However, having a team of translators working on a single project presents its own problems. The overall project may be completed faster but when the individual pieces are combined they may have issues with consistency. For example, one translator may translate prescription drugs into Spanish as medicamentos recetados while the second says medicamentos con receta and the third chooses medicamentos bajo receta médica. Each may be correct, but using all three in the same document affects the readability and perception of quality of the materials – it reads like a poor translation. It would be similarly confusing if this article mixed the terms “glossary,” “lexicon,” and “vocabulary” with no distinction or context. What’s the best way to prevent these types of problems before they happen? The answer lies in the preparation of a glossary.
The Power of a Glossary
A good glossary is a translator’s best friend. With minimal effort to prepare, glossaries save both time and money in the long run and help ensure quality and consistency.
Because many quality issues involve the mistranslations of key words and technical concepts, good glossaries remove a significant source of possible translation issues before a project even begins. Glossaries answer questions about terms that are highly technical, have multiple translations or meanings, are vague or open to mistranslation, are non-translatable or require marketing input (e.g. tag lines, product names, etc.).
Glossaries do more than prevent mistranslation. They also help translation service providers understand their client’s communication preferences. With a clear understanding of preferred terms, translators can achieve the voice and tone a client is looking for. A child’s stuffed animal in the US is called a plush in England. Both are correct, but the glossary will give the client the opportunity to formally document which option is preferred.
Tips for Building a Glossary
Although translation service providers will do the bulk of the work, compiling a glossary requires a commitment from the client as well. Clients should identify native language stakeholders from each region to perform reviews, stakeholders who can set aside sufficient time to review and comment on the terms suggested by the service provider. Reviewers might be engineers, lawyers or doctors who decide on technical terms, or they might be from sales and marketing, deciding on words that affect the brand in their local markets.
When choosing which words to include, focus on those that are specific to your company and product instead of industry-standard phrases and terms. For example, if you build cars, you’d unlikely need to include the word “engine” in your translation glossary. You would, however, want to include a consistent translation for your patented “vehicle stability and traction control system” to protect its image abroad.
Glossaries should also contain any false or undesirable translations for a specific term. This includes terms that are not meant to be translated. For instance, Burger King has decided that “Whopper” is not translated on their Spanish-language menus. But the “Double Whopper” gets a slight tweak on Spanish-language menus with “Doble Whopper.”
As glossaries can eventually include thousands of terms and phrases, it’s important to make sure that your service provider has an automated integration of the glossary into the translation process. Translators will not necessarily always know when to check if a word or phrase has a glossary entry, and they can’t lose time looking up every word in a separate glossary document. Instead, the provider should utilize technology that automatically tells the translator when the current word has a glossary entry. This fundamental level of automation ensures that the translator doesn’t waste time and never misses a glossary term.
Finally, it’s important to think of your glossary as a living document that must be maintained. Maintenance means adding, changing or deleting terms as necessary. Although compiling a glossary may seem like a chore, it really is a small up-front investment that will yield big returns.