From Translator to Terminologist: Terminology as a Professional Career

standoutThere are those translators who manage terminology and also those who become full-time terminologists. More and more translators and other professionals are becoming terminologists or have dived headfirst into terminology research and work.

Last week, Proz.com held its Annual Virtual Conference 2015 “Managing glossaries and terminology” in the context of the International Translation Day, with the participation of renowned guests panelists who have been in the translation business for a long time and who have eventually become involved in terminology work and research, some of them even working as full-time terminologists. Jeff Allen was the Moderator; and guest panelists were Barbara Inge Karsch, Michael Beijer, Jim Wardell, and Mirko Plitt. (Click on the link at the end of this post to read their full bios).

Terminologist Barbara Inge Karsch (whom I interviewed for this blog last year), said she started out as a translator and later became a terminologist for big companies such as Microsoft. Then she started her own terminology consultancy services company. She loves terminology because, in her words, she can “help people solve problems” and she´s an “advocate for the difficult task that freelance translators have to accomplish.”

Jim Wardell, a German-to-English translator for almost 40 years, indicated that the longer he is in the translation business, the more he realizes that “Terminology is excruciatingly important, getting it right, being fanatical about Terminology, because this is what sets you, as a translator, apart from all the others who don’t do their homework, and that’s what makes your translations shine. My passion is to make sure that I do my homework and to sermonize to others to be good and do it.” Some translators don´t spend enough time doing their homework, that is, searching for the right terminology, and rush through their translation work just to have it done on time. He gave special advice to the newbie translators in the sense that they should start early doing their terminology homework by recording every term in their termbase so that these don´t come back to them to haunt them.

Mirko Plitt, a German linguist, has worked as a translation reviser and has been involved in localization for a long time. To him, “Terminology was not a question of technology but about how people work together. What I find interesting about Terminology is not only a very genuine, integral, and essential aspect of what translation is about but an important tool to bring together the different stakeholders into the translation process, to make the people understand what something is about and how to say it in a different language. It´s non-trivial. It´s a combat that is never won; you have to keep fighting it. It´s pretty representative of what translation is about. It´s complex and you can be passionate about it.”

Michael Beijer, a full-time professional translator and terminologist has been a translator for nearly 20 years and he soon realized that he had an obsession to collect dictionaries and glossaries, and it made him mad to see source texts that were “messy” (which was about 80% of the time) in which authors would use six different terms for the same thing (misspelled, hyphenated, nonhyphenated) and that made him think that he had to do something about it, as it was driving him crazy. “Translation and Terminology are inextricably intertwined”, he said. “Translating is the easy part as it comes naturally to you, but it is the terminology that trips you off. Sixty percent of my work is translation and the rest is terminology work.” He is a “terminology private investigator”, as Jeff Allen put it.

Jeff Allen is known for his work in controlled language writing for translation, Machine Translation dictionary building and post-editing, translation memory, among others. As of late, he has been getting more and more involved in terminology and he underlined the increased interest in Terminology among translators by pointing out that in a recent event he attended, the Q&A session at the end included mostly questions on terminology.

Jeff Allen mentioned at the beginning that it seemed that people were too busy to sign up for the conference. Indeed, people are busy at this time of year, but (in my opinion) it´s also partly because translators, in general, don´t seem to be paying enough attention to the potential of terminology to boost their professional careers. Panelists agreed that we need to raise awareness on Terminology. Some translators rush to have their translations ready but they need to educate the client on the importance of doing a thorough terminology work from the beginning.

As it was often said during the virtual conference, those of us who are involved in terminology have found a new religion and have become Terminology fanatics. In my effort to raise awareness about the importance of terminology, I invite you to watch the recording of this interesting and valuable conference to learn about their experience in becoming translators-terminologists. Click here to read their bios and watch the video.

Also, check out my Training section if you want to get serious about Terminology and read my post called “The Science of Terminology”, that complements this post. You may also want to check out my section called The Terminologist Job Description.

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8 Comments on “From Translator to Terminologist: Terminology as a Professional Career

  1. Thanks for sharing opinion from such a great experienced people from Translation and Terminology field. Their opinions are very helpful and it will inspire our career from Translation to Terminology field as well.

  2. Thanks for your comment Sarah. Indeed, they are an inspiration to all of us interested in the field.

  3. Do you think that Terminology might help journalists to use a more appropriate lexicon?

  4. I am sure of it. In addition, since I recently incurred into corpus analysis I think that they would benefit a lot from using corpus tools such as BNCweb and the like. Make sure you check out my recent posts on this subject.

  5. This post has surely inspired me! I’m a 20 year-old student who is just entering in the translation field yet! Right now I am working on my thesis project and it’s about technical terminology used in the translation of names of pottery found in Guatemala. The interesting part of these names is that they use a double-word name and one word is in Spanish, while the other one is in English; and my project is based on creating a Glossary of these names with their respective translations. But I’m starting yet and I need to make a lot of research (not great news though).

    Thank you very much, this kind of posts really help us to keep going on the hard (but interesting) work of creating good terminological basis before getting in the translating work.

  6. Thanks for the nice comment Mónica. Good luck with your project. I would love to see the final result and about the process about such an interesting topic.

  7. There are many areas to work on when it comes to the connection of translation and terminology. Thanks Patricia for the article, very interesting indeed.

    Also, in technical articles that are written by specialists in a foreign language, one can see some inconsistencies. Mainly because the mechanism is more similar to translation and at the same time it is affected by the terminology works in their own native languages.

    And this young terminologist who has written about her thesis: Mónica!
    What a fascinating topic. Congratulations and good luck!

  8. Thanks for your comment Besharat. I agree with you. Monica’s topic looks very interesting. Would love to see the final result.

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