Multilingual Glossaries: Tricks of the Trade

Multilingual Grossaries

The first important step with a glossary is to ensure that you are correctly differentiating from a list of terminology. A glossary should solely consist of specialized terms that are unique to that particular field e.g. gaming, financial services etc.  Where words have more than one meaning, for example, “laundering” as in “money laundering”, then only the meaning relevant to the article would be included in order to avoid confusing the readers. Terminology is a system, rather than a list of words, so as a language services provider you won’t be getting off to the best start if you are confusing the two.

Collect Your Content

Once you are sure you know what you are doing, the next step is to collect all the content that you will need. Ideally, this should be done at the planning stages of a project so that any terminology you agree on is applied consistently throughout. It can then also be used in advertising campaigns for products, online material etc. Thought needs to go into all the possible sources of content for the glossary, which will obviously vary depending on what the field of expertise is. However, you will definitely need access to at least a couple of subject matter experts.

How Big Should This Be?

The simplest way to answer this question is to ask another question — what terms requires further explanation? Terms can be technical, but mainstream enough for a general reader to know what is meant for example “user interface.” However, if it went into a more technical aspect of the user interface, that is likely to be where a definition may be required. In general, common sense goes a long way, and it is better to provide more terms than people need than risk misunderstandings and irate customers. The general consensus is that technical language makes up around 1% of source documents.

Agree Definitions

Once you have devised a list of terms that you believe requires definition, make sure that you agree to both the list and the definitions with your client. This is absolutely key to help prevent any misunderstandings between the language services provider and the client.


Like any other piece of work, it is important to maintain the glossary. Technical fields in particular move extremely quickly and cutting-edge technology can become obsolete within the space of a couple of years, so it is critically important to stay up-to-date with what is going on in the sector and keep the glossary up-to-date. You may also find that, despite every effort, terms have been missed out of the initial term gathering exercise and questions received lead you to add more terms.

A truly thorough glossary is an excellent way to ensure consistency and clarity in your translations, but ultimately it will also help to save time if you have people working on similar material in different languages. It will also help your target reader feel comfortable and feel that you know the topic you are writing and that you understand them and their concerns. Obviously, for your client to successfully market and sell into that geography, this is critically important.

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