The terminologist today and tomorrow: An interview with Rodolfo Maslias

I am honored to interview Rodolfo Maslias, Head of the Terminology Coordination Unit (TermCoord) of the European Parliament (EP), this time to talk about his presentation on the changing role of the terminologist titled The new terminologist. An all-round talent. Application Scenario for the European Parliament, under the topic “New Profiles for New Markets” that was discussed during the Translating Europe Forum which took place in Brussels last November.

  1. I was privileged to be part of the European Terminology Summit last year in Luxembourg and one of the presentations that really left an impression on me was Georgeta Ciobanu’s talk about the Terminologist of the 21st Century, and you reintroduced the topic in your presentation. How does this translate into changes in the university curricula to tackle these new challenges?

We are experiencing an impressive increase in the development of curricula and even full master’s degree programs on all aspects related to translation, communication and IT development, and always including a substantial part on terminology. Based on the master’s level course that we have been teaching with some colleagues since 2013 in the Communication Master’s at the University of Luxembourg, I have prepared—initially at the request of the University of Grenoble—a course on the new challenges of terminology which has a high demand in many countries. In all academic conferences, the new skills required for terminology management and the position of this specialisation in the globalised and multilingual market are always a hot topic.

  1. Early in your presentation you pointed out that “Terminology is the only error category present in all systems for translation quality assessment”. Is this a problem, and if so what can we do to overcome it?

It is a problem for all tools developed to assist or automate translation, but it is a big challenge for terminology, because all new tools can be successful and provide the quality required by the clients only if they use accurate normative terminology as a resource (ex ante) and as a guarantee for proofreading and quality control of their product (ex post). Terminology is the brain of the machine. Preparing and facilitating its use for machine translation tools is a human endeavor.

  1. One of the elements in your presentation that caught my attention was the new Guidelines for Terminology Management in the Language Units. What do the guidelines include that others can use as a benchmark?

As you experienced when you spent some time with us as a study visitor, the European Parliament has a very complex multilingual environment with 24 official languages and more than 110 domains of European legislation in which our translators have to work. This is undertaken by 24 translation units with some 30 people in each one, who have to organise their terminology work and incorporate it into their workflow and daily management. Once we allowed them to freely organise their terminology work according to their perception, we were able to gather the best practices and draft guidelines to fine tune and harmonise the management of terminology. These guidelines were officially agreed by the Directorate of Translation and now we only monitor if they are applied to ensure efficiency and cooperation in terminology.

  1. One hundred terminologists work for the EP, a minimum of two terminologists per language unit. How is that number established? In other words, what elements are taken into consideration to establish a ratio between number of terminologists and translators/languages needed in an organization?

Well, our “Framework for Terminology Work” approved by the Directorate General in 2015 imposes to each translation unit a minimum of two terminologists. Most units have decided to add more interested translators to the terminology team and we have some units with 7 or 8 terminologists. They share terminology work which covers, among others, interinstitutional cooperation through the wiki, workflow follow-up, supervision of trainees in the terminology projects they prepare, and clean up of legacy and obsolete data from the database.

  1. When reviewing the terminologist’s skills, you mention change in tools and changes in the nature of translation as a profession. Could you elaborate on this?

When I started translating for the European Parliament in 1981, you could fall in love with your translated text. The texts in the Parliament were different, more interesting, more political and theoretical, and the way we translated was different. We dictated the translation and then we received it typed and had all the time to improve our text as a new original, as a piece of literature. Now the Parliament has legislative powers and translators work with texts that are much more technical and, in addition to this, they have to use several preexisting segments or terms, which makes the translation work partly a technical task. Outside the institutions, the translator also becomes more and more a “cultural mediator”.

  1. The new skills include competence in information theory and knowledge management (ontologies, data fields and structure, big data, semantic web, etc.). Any specific recommendations for the terminologists who want to add this skill to their curriculum?

Every significant change in a profession or in the job description requires training and continuous learning. In house, we provide this training but in the outside world you can also find a lot of courses, mostly postgraduate ones, webinars, training sessions, etc. The terminologist must nowadays follow the evolution of the profession and of his or her tasks; he or she has to adapt to the new methods and to the requirements of the respective client.

  1. When I took TermNet’s certification, Gabriele Sauberer insisted that a terminologist should get training on project management (PM) and you also included it on your list of communication skills. Is there any particular PM competence that a terminologist should at least learn about?

I am glad you mention the TermNet ECQA certification, because we have also been offering these webinars to five terminologists per year for some years now, and so we have in the EP a lot of translators in the various units with advanced terminology knowledge. Additionally, we have cooperated with TermNet to adapt the webinars to the needs of international institutions and we follow the evolution of the content, including now a lot of guidance to enable terminologists to manage whole projects with all the linguistic and communication or technology knowledge that the tasks require today.

  1. As technology gives us new tools and challenges, what measures should we, as terminologists and language specialists, take now to deal with them and stay updated in our field?

This is a big challenge for us terminologists and a crucial moment to make terminology the main condition for the success of this revolution in translation and multilingual communication. First of all, we must realise that if we don’t succeed in bringing terminology up on the screen and in the translation of the text in an automated way, we have lost the game, our databases will not have any utility. Then, we must adapt our terminology data to really serve the needs of the automation tools; this means a normative terminology that provides one reliable solution in term recognition. For this, we need termbases without noise, we need to rid them of duplicates and obsolete terms or legacy data, and to create the filters and the ontologies that allow the machine to pick the right term for the translation. Finally, we need to develop the protocols and the right interface (APIs and web services) for the smooth selection and download of the terminology data. And, last but not least, we have to take advantage of the technical possibilities offered to interlink databases with cloud or metasearch technology to make sure that the machine is able to fish in a vast repository of terminology created in each field by the respective experts. In a few words, we must achieve excellence in our terminology work since a machine is no substitute for a brain, and is therefore unable to select the correct term.

  1. Talking about tools, IATE keeps growing and becoming one of the most consulted termbases in the world, with 8 million validated terms and 3.600 visits per hour! Tell us about the new IATE2 and the main features that end users will see in 2018.

In 2018 you will discover a fantastic brand new IATE. I cannot hide that I am very enthusiastic about the upcoming new version of our EU terminology tool (but enthusiasm is often an uncontrollable part of my character…). Some of my dreams for the new IATE could not be fulfilled, like my conviction that we should change the name to make clear that it is a European terminology database, calling it EurTerm like EurLex or EuroVoc, and my dream to offer it to the public as a portal, making our internal collaborative terminology portal public (like all other big international institutions have, such as UN-Term or NATO-Term). Nevertheless, the work done by our developers under the guidance of the IATE Management Group that steers the terminology policy of the EU institutions is absolutely amazing. I invite you to check it as soon as the test version is available. I know that I raise big expectations but I am not scared of this. You will like it and its use, which by now stands at 3.500 clicks per hour, will increase.

  1. 2017 was IATE’s 10th anniversary and in 2018 TermCoord will also celebrate its 10th anniversary. Your website also broke a record this year, with 46.499 visits in November alone. What are your plans for the next year?

We have a wonderful team that has made me proud and happy in the ten years since I was asked to create this Unit in 2008. The success of our work is due to the excellent collaborative work of our very enthusiastic small team of permanent staff, but also to our perseverance involving some 150 top professional trainees who have come to TermCoord and taking advantage of their fresh knowledge and creativity. We trained them in terminology and on how to behave in a big institution (or company), but we learned more from them and we implemented their brilliant ideas: the terminology portal, the interviews with terminologists, the newsletters, the food term of the week, etc. In addition, we were finally able to make terminology a priority in the European Parliament and managed to get the upper echelons to approve a framework and concrete guidelines for harmonized terminology management and collaboration in all languages, and we have to consolidate all these achievements. We are a small team and cannot add new projects. We are proud of what we run now, and we want to continue and improve it. All this and the new IATE will be presented in the European Parliament, in a major event to celebrate TermCoord’s 10 years in November 2018, and I hope you will join us.

  1. I would say you are one of the few people I know who is fully involved in Terminology at a high level, attending important events, giving presentations, teaching at universities, leading a group such as TermCoord, and major projects such as IATE, do you foresee any new developments in the short- and long-term that we should prepare for?

We all try to make joint efforts so that terminology becomes a new profession covering all skills that the market needs today: linguistics, communication, and IT. Terminology is part of every knowledge base development; it even becomes a means to find jobs using the linguistic concordance in websites with job offers. Terminology is part of the computational linguistic research and development of CAT tools and machine translation software. Even in the EU we undertook the initiative to suggest a specific job description for posts in the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) competitions, since there are already more than 150 professionals working full time in terminology and no longer translating. So, yes, we have to expect and to prepare for big changes in the methods and in the role of terminology in institutions, academy and industry.

  1. Lastly, what can you say to all those young language lovers out there who want to become terminologists? Will there be a market for them in the future?

Linguistic studies adapt to changes in communications. In today’s globalised world where communication tools are increasing vertiginously, multilingualism becomes more relevant, but also the competition gets more difficult. Language studies have improved everywhere, people travel more and it is common to have a good level in several languages. So, being able to translate no longer guarantees a job. In fact, specialisation in one of the new fields of the linguistic industry is the new focus in every university, and terminology is one of the most multidisciplinary fields. Every big company runs a multilingual website, creates specialised glossaries, and needs linguistic equivalence of legal documents for any international cooperation.

In recent years, because of the budget cuts for humanities, we experienced a decrease in the number of students in the language departments. Now the trend has inverted. Linguistic studies are being connected with new needs of the market and I am very pleased to see how many universities are developing new graduate and postgraduate modules, connecting language with communication and technology and I can assure you, terminology with all its multiple aspects and uses is always part of them.

Thank you, Rodolfo. This has been a very eye-opening interview. Those of us who are involved in this field are always interested in knowing what is happening at all levels of the terminology world and you definitively are the right person to keep us informed. I am sure that many people will agree with me that we are all looking forward to learning about new developments in the terminologist’s career and to discovering the new initiatives and information that you and your team will generate, not only in 2018 but also in the coming years. Congratulations for the anniversaries and for the record-breaking year and thank you, again, for taking the time to answer these important questions.

Read my first interview with Rodolfo here.

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