Glossaries for Translators: Why You Need Them

Photo Credit: Alex Read via Unsplash

This post was originally published on the Ben Translates blog. It is reposted with permission from the author.

If you are a translator and you haven’t made your own translation glossaries yet, you need to create one right now. You are not just missing out; you are doing yourself a disservice. The benefits of creating and maintaining your own glossary(ies) cannot be understated, from increased productivity to better translation quality. They are essential tools for all translators that should be put to use on every single project. Need a little convincing? Below are five reasons you shouldn’t spend another minute without creating your own glossary (or glossaries!).

Glossaries are worth their weight in gold

Conservatively, let’s say your first glossary has about 100 terms in it and that you spent an average of five minutes researching each term. If your hourly rate is $50, that glossary is “worth” just over $400. Now, picture this: my personal Chinese to English glossary, which I use for every project that crosses my desk, currently has 1,258 terms. One SAP glossary that I accessed had 16,383 terms in five languages. Imagine how much a glossary like that is worth! By maintaining a glossary, you are capturing value, like a bank account whose balance never decreases.

Glossaries help you work better and faster

Now imagine how much more quickly and accurately you could work with the help of an impeccably-researched 16,000-term glossary. As we all know, time is money. If you never have to research the same term twice, you will be able to work faster, more consistently, and ensure higher quality. Translators who want to stand a chance of competing effectively in our ever more discerning market must compete on quality, not price, and glossaries are an effective way to work both better and faster.

Glossaries are not difficult to create

Actually creating the glossary is the easy part. If you use a CAT tool, it will have an integrated feature for adding terms and their equivalents. Some products, like SDL MultiTerm Extract, will identify and extract terms from a corpus of texts for you (at a cost) while tools like memoQ QTerm, as one reader pointed out, have a free integrated term extraction feature. Don’t use a CAT tool? That’s OK! A glossary can easily be made in Excel or in a free version of an Excel-type software, such as those published by OpenOffice or Google. A glossary can be made with just three columns: source language, target language, and notes, in which you can include an explanation of one or both terms, definitions, etc. If you like, you can add any number of additional columns for context, definition, where you found the term, and the date that you added the term. You can then alphabetize the column by either the source or target language column and search for specific terms as needed.

Glossary creation can be monetized

In addition to being a great resource for yourself, glossaries are a great product that you can sell to new or existing clients. Glossaries provide you with a host of benefits, and you should be able to sell your clients on those same benefits: increased accuracy, better consistency, and the creation of a valuable asset that they own and can control (with your help, of course). Want more help convincing a client to purchase terminology management services from you? Have them read my post on glossaries for translation buyers.

Glossaries evolve

Glossaries, like languages, are living things. You will never be able to take your glossary, put a bow on it, and call it done. As you, your clients, your areas of expertise, and your knowledge evolve, your glossary will undoubtedly grow, change, and improve, too. New realities will become new glossary terms. You very well may find a better term for that entry you added last week or even last year, and that’s OK (in fact, it’s great!). As time passes, it will become an increasingly valuable asset for you and for your clients.

Have I convinced you yet? The bottom line is that glossaries are invaluable resources for all language professionals. If you don’t have one yet, make creating one the first thing you do after you are done reading this. The effort you put in will pay you back ten times over, guaranteed.

Please consider subscribing to this blog for more content like this. If you absolutely love your glossary(ies), please like this post and tell me about it by tweeting me at @Bentranslates.

Stumbling on the Vocabulary of National Life (Part Two)

by Joseph P. Mazza

This post is part two of a two-part series by Joe Mazza. Read last week’s post here (you won’t regret it): Stumbling on the Vocabulary of National Life (Part One).

Having survived the surly eviction from a Latino grocery store, I decided long ago to pursue the vocabulary of national life on less dangerous turf—namely around the dining room table, followed up by copious online research. Then I check my research after the next meal, just to keep things real.

In some cultures, it is not uncommon to spend a good hour or more chatting around the table after any meal, and there have been times in my life when these talks have lasted far longer, with one meal simply blending in with the next. In Peru, they call this post-prandial prattle la sobremesa, which in itself is one of those hard-to-translate cultural bywords. Naturally, after countless sobremesas in Lima and DC, spread out over two decades, my storehouse of Peruvian expressions is enormous. And my information extraction techniques have become more refined with the passage of time!

At last year’s ATA Annual Conference (2018), I delivered a session focused on eight words that stood out in this 20-year campaign to master the Spanish of Peruvian life. Each word had been a challenge for me, and each challenge had a story. The input from the Peruvians and non-Peruvians who attended my session was invaluable. The hardest part of preparing the talk was deciding which eight expressions to pick.

Criollo and cholo

Two words were ethnographic labels—criollo and cholo—that have proven supremely difficult to translate. The first term is a cousin of “creole” in English, so an ATA Annual Conference in New Orleans was the perfect venue to discuss it. You have to take on a word like “criollo” in a single-country context, so “creole” is of little use as a translation.

In Peru the word suggests a mixture of cultures, particularly along the coast, where European blended with African and Native American. Yet the focus is on the sum of the parts, not the parts themselves, and when a Peruvian says something is “criollazo,” (super-criollo), you think of how some in the United States say “all-American.”

Peruvians are fond of citing examples of their innate ingenuity, using the phrase “la chispa criolla” (the spark of criollo genius). I have been called “el gringo criollo,” and take that to mean I have earned my merit badge in Peruvian studies!

But so often these are loaded words, ones that can include and exclude, depending on one’s perspective and intent, and ones an outsider such as me had best be careful about using.

Cholo” is perhaps even more fraught, focusing as it does on the Native American contribution to Peruvian life, acknowledging the blending with other cultures, and ranging from the proudest epithet to the vilest insult. Peruvians will call out to their buddies, “Oye, cholo…” (Hey there, cholo), and one of my wife’s cousins refers to me in direct speech as “cholito de mi corazón” (literally “little cholo of my heart”). Here, the word is almost denatured from its original meaning.

There is a comic series called Super Cholo, and a popular YouTuber named El Cholo Mena which tempt one to think the word is safe to use. Yet examples of disparaging uses of cholo are easy to find in print, on the Internet, and in everyday speech. It is a word that invites a translator’s note, which invites even more trouble!

El Señor de los Milagros

Turning to the spiritual side, we looked at the Catholic devotion to el Señor de los Milagros (the Lord of the Miracles), to whom most of October (el mes morado) is dedicated in Peru. The primary miracle occurred when an image of Christ, painted on the wall of a church in Lima frequented by Afro-Peruvians, survived an 18th Century earthquake.

If you are Peruvian, you are expected to know that el Cristo de Pachacamillo, el Cristo negro, and el Cristo morado all refer to el Señor de los Milagros; that you will see hundreds of people each October wearing robes known as la túnica morada, la indumentaria morada, or el hábito morado, and that you will be eating the traditional cake known as el turrón de doña Pepa.

Armed with all this cultural knowledge, we were ready to take on this 2014 headline from El Comercio: “Despide el mes morado con el turrón de los feligreses.While the uninitiated might be tempted to translate this as “Saying goodbye to the purple month with the nougat of the parishioners,” during my presentation, we were able to infuse authenticity into our translation, and came up with “Month-long religious festival concludes as the faithful flock to buy traditional dessert.” I thought “flock” added a nice spiritual touch!

Los conos

Next we turned to the terminology of urban planning in greater Lima, the sprawling metropolis that more than a third of Peru calls home. There, the term “los conos” (the cones) refers to the newly developing triangle-shaped areas (or “Lima emergente”) to the north, south, and east, as contrasted to “Lima tradicional,” which includes the city center (aka Cercado de Lima—because there was a wall around it once) and its outlying districts. Somewhere in the middle is the old port city of Callao.


Most demonyms (gentilicios) in Peru fit predictable patterns. Hence those from Arequipa are arequipeños, and those from Chachapoyas are chachapoyanos. But the proud people of Callao are chalacos, and they consider themselves a breed apart from their neighbors, los limeños. The good-hearted sparring between chalacos and limeños is not unlike the exchanges I have overheard between the denizens of the various boroughs of New York City. One piece of advice learned the hard way: when you land at LIM (Jorge Chávez International Airport), never tell a chalaco cab driver you are glad to be in Lima. You are likely to hear “You mean you are glad to be in Callao—you’ll be in Lima in a few minutes!”


Suyo” is a Quechua word meaning “quarter,” and it is often mistaken for the Castilian possessive pronoun el suyo (which maddeningly translates to his, hers, its, theirs, or yours). This double entendre is rich fodder for clever journalists. The Quechua suyo comes from the four quarters into which the Inca Empire, or Tahuantinsuyo (Land of the Four Quarters), was divided.

The boundaries of the quarters radiated from the capital at Cuzco, the “navel of the world” (qosco in Quechua). One needs this deep history to understand the term’s modern usage. For the contemporary Peruvian, “los cuatro suyos,” means “from all corners of the country.”

The famous “Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos” (March of the Four Quarters) in July 2000 was a nationwide protest march converging on Lima. The Peruvian diaspora in the United States is sometimes referred to as “el quinto suyo,” (the fifth quarter), which should be an oxymoron.

La U/Alianza

As a nod to the soccer fans in my audience, I included the Janus-faced pair La U/Alianza—two rival crosstown soccer teams in Lima. Loyalty to one team or the other is a point of honor among many Peruvians, and the outsider must tread with a good set of chimpunes (cleats) on this dangerous playing field!

The Club Alianza Lima, aka los aliancistas, los blanquiazules, or los íntimos, was established in 1901, and plays in a neighborhood known as Matute, which also serves as a byname for the team in sports commentary. Their archrivals are the Club Universitaria de Deportes, aka los cremas, los merengues, or la U, established in 1924, and playing at a stadium in the Ate neighborhood.

Each year, the teams face off at a grudge match called the “superclásico,” and the country goes wild.

Incidentally, despite their rivalry, the two teams have been known to help one another in times of trouble, and this show of unity is commemorated in the popular dessert known as the combinación clásica, a dollop of rice pudding (for La U—perhaps emphasizing the Castilian), next to a dollop of purple corn pudding (for La Alianza—perhaps emphasizing the African and the indigenous). Five millennia of cultural movement and a century of athletic brinksmanship, served in a glass dish!


We ran out of time before getting to the last word—las yungas. This is another Quechua loanword, and often refers to the warm valleys high up in the Andes.

When we study Spanish in the US, we learn that several Andean countries have three regions—coast, mountains, and rain forest (costa/sierra/selva). And many of our fellow students in these very countries learn the same three subdivisions.

But a noted Peruvian geographer named Javier Pulgar Vidal (1911–2003) delivered a paper in 1940 called Las ocho regiones naturales del Perú, in which he posited that there were not three, but eight natural regions to his country, to which he attached indigenous names. One of these was la yunga, in the singular.

Such words inspire us to reclassify our world, to question convention, to reach back into the past, and to mine it for the future. Which is, in essence, our overall mission as language learners, as we stumble on the vocabulary of national life . . . in all its glorious varieties.

Image source: Pixabay

Stumbling on the Vocabulary of National Life (Part One)

by Joseph P. Mazza

I envy those who take up foreign languages spoken in a single country. Sure, there may be regional varieties within that country and émigré communities too. Yet these happy colleagues have the institutions and lifeways of only one country to tackle. Japanese linguists will be the first to dispute how easy this really is!

Having been a Romance/English translator for years, I find the sheer number of national variants of Spanish, French, and Portuguese both invigorating and overwhelming. Even with Italian, one has to stay on top of Italy, Switzerland, and Vatican City, not to mention San Marino, with its co-heads of state called “Captains Regent” (gli Eccellentissimi Capitani Reggenti); its 8 subdivisions called “Castles” (Castelli); and its dates cross-reckoned “from the foundation of the Republic” (dalla Fondazione della Repubblica, or d.F.R.), which, by tradition, occurred in 301 AD. If you have ever dealt with a document from that Most Serene Republic, you know what I mean.

Let’s face it, why else did we venture down this career path, if not to visit with the people, see the sights, hear the music, and learn the history that come as part of the package? To me, mastery of what I call “the vocabulary of national life,” that is, the words used by a community of language speakers within a country to describe the unique features of their national existence, is the most fascinating part of language learning.

Yet in our zeal to conquer the legal, technical, and other terminology that peppers our source texts, we translators sometimes neglect this vocabulary of national life—some of which defies translation, to the eternal frustration of term base builders. The systematic study and charting of this ever-changing vocabulary should indeed be part of our continuing education. To bring structure to what is often a random learning process, I have set down ten categories, in no particular order:

·         Geography ·         History
·         People and society ·         Business
·         Government ·         Cultural life (including sports!)
·         Infrastructure and resources ·         Spiritual life
·         Education ·         Food and drink

Although born of reflection, the list is my own invention, and the categories are flexible. If you are a soccer fan, you can merge two categories, and use the spare for that much-loved sport, in which case you could relabel “culture” as “all culture outside of soccer.”

The point is to stay well rounded, and to make sure that some categories are outside your comfort zone. Then go to it. Find out what sports teams are tops in Tegucigalpa; what dance tunes are pulsating in Punta del Este; what folks eat for Sunday breakfast in Badajoz; and who is the patron saint of Cochabamba. Do this systematically, and your Spanish will be all the richer for it. So will your translations.

If you are a multi-Romance linguist, repeat the process for French, Portuguese, and Italian. Ten categories, several hundred terms for each, multiplied by 60 or 70 countries . . . you had best start young!

When I married a Peruvian nearly two decades ago, I acquired a ringside seat beside one of the two dozen national cultures played out in Spanish. I vowed to stop at nothing to explore every lexical byway of the Peruvian experience in Spanish, leaving Quechua and Aymara for another lifetime. My glossary entries numbered in the hundreds. Some Peruvians looked at me with admiration. Others thought I was a spy.

Sometimes, the quest has had unintended consequences. One summer day, my wife and I ventured into a Latin American grocery store in the DC suburbs. I quickly became distracted by a rack of herbs in plastic packets, each with its name in what seemed to be authoritative Spanish and English. So taken was I by this lexical herbiary that I whipped out a notepad and started jotting down words. The store owner/bouncer lumbered over and said “Buddy, you gotta leave . . . I don’t need anyone here writing down my prices. I know the competition sent you!” I sensed he had little appreciation for the vocabulary of national life, so we turned tail and left. My wife was not pleased—“They had the best tamales in DC, and now we can never go back.” To me, this was acceptable collateral damage in the translator’s eternal quest for truth.

Tune in for part two of this article, in which Joe Mazza will delve into the vocabulary of national life in Peru. [You can now read part two here.]

Image source: Pixabay

Corpus analysis: The Ugly Duckling of Translation

Not long ago, hearing the term “corpus linguistics” made me shriek; after all, it was something that only linguists in academia did, right? So, when I signed up for a course, I was not fully convinced that I would learn something that I could truly put into practice. However, by the end of the course, I had concluded that corpus analysis is the Ugly Duckling of Translation.

Before you get to know it, it looks ugly and worthless, but as your relationship deepens, you start seeing the beauty of it. And don’t take my word for it; others have seen it too. Take my husband, for example, a freelancer translator with all the best tools. He had also heard about corpus analysis; he knew that learning how to analyze corpus might be useful, but he had not taken the time to do it. Once I showed him how easy it was to do searches, he was immediately hooked. He even built a huge corpus from his legal and oil & gas documentation, which are his specializations. Recently, after a 10-minute introduction to a colleague, she said: “OMG, where has this been all my life!”

If you haven’t been overcome by this feeling yet, I am willing to bet that you are still looking at the Ugly Duckling from the outside. But I am sure I can convince you in the next few paragraphs by showing you the face of a cute little swan. There are three easy steps to start believing.

The first step: Decide which tool you want to use. AntConc, Wordsmith, and Sketch Engine are some of the top names in the market. All of them are great tools. But you can start with AntConc (free) to take your first steps and then take advantage of the free trials and play with the others to pick your favorite. Of course, you could stick to using online corpus such as COCA, BNC, BNCweb, etc., and maybe that’s enough for you, but why not build your own corpus that can be controlled and expanded endlessly and effortlessly!

The second step is collecting your corpus and converting it to .txt files. Nothing easier! Create a folder with subfolders on your computer. For example, if you translate documents on energy, you can have two main folders, renewable and nonrenewable; then, inside the renewable folder, you may have wind energy, solar energy, bioenergy, etc. Why is this folder division important? Because sometimes you might be looking for a general term on renewable energy, but other times you only want to search in your documentation on solar energy, which could make your searches faster. If you are just starting out, don’t worry about the number of documents in the beginning, just make sure they are representative of the topic you are working with to make sure you get useful results. You can add more documents as you get the hang of it. Just remember: Quality over quantity!

Corpus analysis tools only accept .txt files, but you can find free software that can do this for you in a matter of seconds, including the collection of cute little tools provided by the creator of AntConc, Dr. Laurence Anthony. AntFileConverter and EncodeAnt help you convert PDF and Word files into .txt, and .txt files into UTF-8 files, respectively (“stubborn” .txt files that the tool may not recognize might need that extra step of conversion to UFT-8 files). The conversion takes seconds, even for a large number of documents.

The third step is getting training, free training, that is. I know what you’re thinking: That’s going to take a long time. Wrong! Take AntConc, for example, Dr. Anthony has a collection of 5 to 10-minute videos that explain every function clearly. The fact that they are short suggests that it doesn’t take long to understand how the software works. By the way, when I say “software” I am actually referring to a downloadable file. It can’t get any easier than that! If you are just starting out, don’t get overwhelmed. First, play with the concordance tool until you feel comfortable using it before going to the next one. And that’s it! If you complete those three steps. you are ready to play. And, really… Play! It is so much fun.

What do I use it for? Corpus analysis tools include many great functions. I look for terms to confirm that they have been previously translated in this or that way. You can see how many times each term has been used and make an appropriate decision. For example, “operational” in Spanish could be “operativo,” “operacional,” “de negocios,” etc. When I check my corpus, which has been translated by professional translators, I can see how every term is used in its context and make my choice.

I can also “guess” a translation for a term to see if my guess is correct and, consequently, an accurate term for my translation. To illustrate, I can enter the word “framework” to search for a term that I know for sure contains it. I can sort my results by one, two or three words to the left or to the right (as shown by the colors red, green, and purple in the illustration) of the word “framework.” And I know it is an acronym, so I ask the program to look only for capitalized “Framework.” And, voilà, I get what I am looking for: Corporate Results Framework (CRF). If I click on Framework to see the context for every hit, the program takes me to the .txt file where the term came from. That is music to my ears.

Another tool that is music to my ears is BootCat, which converts your favorite websites into a format that can be examined in a corpus analysis tool. It is super easy to use, and it is extremely valuable if you have to translate a document about a topic that you still don’t know that well. (Great for newbies!) Just search the web, select sites or pages about your topic, and copy the URLs into BootCat.

After that first course, my interest in corpus analysis grew. There are a few courses and webinars that show translators not only how useful they are but also how to use them. However, few of them are free. I must confess, I am not an expert, but I am a good player. And when you become a skillful player, you too will see the ugly duckling become a beautiful swan!

Header image: Pixabay

Author bio

Patricia Brenes works in the Quality Control Unit of the Translation Section of the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C. She is a translator and terminologist, with a Master’s Degree in Specialized Translation from the University of Vic in Barcelona and certified by ECQA as Terminology Manager (TermNet, Vienna).

After realizing that there was a limited availability of resources and information for linguists and other stakeholders, she decided to start a terminology blog with resources and information: (Terminology for Beginners and Beyond).

Savvy Technical Translators: What do They Have that You Need?

Savvy Technical TranslatorsWhen you come into the translation business, you usually know deep down if you have what it takes to be a technical translator. As a basic starting point, you need good technical instincts in the field you are interested in. That may come from a prior career, a course of study, a family business, or a hobby that you are managing to turn into a money-maker.

Hearing tales of the often amazing series of events that bring us to the point of beginning a career in translation are part of what makes us such a fun bunch of people. But once you are here, ready to begin, know your limits. Don’t translate chemistry if you don’t know silicon from silicone. Don’t translate automotive texts if you don’t know how an internal combustion engine works. You will fall flat on your face. Ask anyone who’s been doing this for a while. We all have a story about “that job we should never have accepted.”

Good technical translation produces precise, concise, and clear texts

“Precise” is usually covered by the terms you choose, so that takes us to two of the skills that you need to make it as a top-notch technical translator. One of those is subject-matter expertise: the other is strong terminology research skills. “Concise” and “clear” texts are produced from superb technical writing. When you combine these three skills, you can be a great technical translator.

New technical translators usually come in two “varieties.” The first is translators with credentials in translation, perhaps including technical translation, but with little hands-on work experience in any technical field. They usually come with a “Desperately Seeking Specialization” vibe. The second will usually have had a career in commerce or industry and come to translation later in life.

The former group often has stronger terminology research and writing skills. The latter group usually has strong subject matter expertise but can’t necessarily write well in their target language, or, and here I speak from personal experience, their proofreading skills might not be where they need to be.

Subject matter expertise

What really defines it? At the high end, you’ll hear people refer to the 10 year or 10,000 hour rule made popular by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which says that no one can be an expert until they have spent 10 years working in a field. That’s a somewhat depressing concept for many technical translators wishing to build up expertise in a new field.

At the other extreme, you’ll find people who consider themselves an expert after they have translated 10,000 words on some subject or other. That’s a recipe for disaster (well, at the very least, quality complaints). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I think the answer lies somewhere in-between. Yes, if you have 10 years’ experience you’ll have a head start and many customers will view you favorably.

But that doesn’t mean you are a brilliant translator and don’t have a great deal to learn. You should work on your writing. And people without hands-on experience can build up a body of expertise in a field over time. A long time, mind you, not a few weeks’ worth of work. The best and fastest way I know to build up this expertise is to have your work edited by somebody who knows what they’re talking about. Shake off your pride and ask people to track changes in your work. Feedback produces growth.

What about terminology?

Being able to research and pin down terminology in context successfully is the only way to produce reliable technical translations. Doing that quickly helps productivity and increases your hourly gross income. Over time you’ll know the key resources for your field and know how to use collocations to find out how people actually say it today. But any translator with Internet access and decent dictionaries can look up translations for technical terms. There’s nothing that can help you properly parse concepts that you do not truly understand. That brings us back to subject matter expertise. Sorry to harp on, but that’s the strongest prerequisite for success, in my mind.

The third skill, technical writing style, is less talked about routinely, but I have written and spoken about it, for instance here. Technical writing is a skill that can be learned and a fundamental part of the technical translator’s skill set. Don’t think that only commercial and marketing translators need to write well.

Make clarity a point of pride. Do one proofreading pass for numbers and units of measure alone, so that no errors of that nature ever creep in to your work. Use a suitable style guide so that you always format units of measure correctly and know whether to hyphenate a term of the art. Use document-specific style sheets to help you be consistent.

So start with good instincts, but don’t be that technical translator who “just translates what’s there.” Make the product a better piece of writing than the original, unless the purpose precludes that. Invest in yourself. Learn about cars or colloids, computer chips or contact lenses. Don’t leave great writing for artsy translations.

Be savvy: Know that your career will be much more successful if you treat technical translation with the respect it deserves, you start with high standards and you raise them with every new customer. May you prosper!

Header image credit: Picjumbo
Header image edited with Canva

Author bio

Karen M. Tkaczyk

Karen Tkaczyk was the 2011-2015 Administrator of ATA’s Science and Technology Division. She is an ATA-certified French>English freelance translator. Her translation work is focused on chemistry and its industrial applications. She has an MChem in chemistry with French from the University of Manchester, UK, and a diploma in French, a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Cambridge, UK. Initially, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry in Europe. After relocating to the U.S. in 1999, she worked in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. She established her translation practice in 2005. She lives in Colorado with her family. Contact:, @ChemXlator.