Terminology in Translation Quality Assurance

Terminology is without a doubt one of the key components in a translation quality assurance (QA) process. How we deal with terminology from the beginning is a make or break situation. In a study, Sharon O’Brian reported that “ten out of eleven models specifically refer to terminology as an error category”.

Indeed, terminology is usually one of the major issues when dealing with translation errors. Arango-Keeth and Koby (2003, 119) indicated that one of the problems associated with translation evaluation was indeed terminology or, in their words, “lack of a standardized terminology”.

The first requirement is to use the terminology standards available. In 2006, UNESCO created the “Guidelines for Designing Terminology Polices”, then the European Association for Terminology (EAFT) held a seminar on Minority Languages and Terminology Policies, and the year 2010 saw the birth of new ISO standard to guide the development and implementation of terminology policies: (ISO 29383:2010), later revised in 2016. (see links below).

Also, if you are a freelancer, you may also want to take some important factors to take into consideration. These might seem obvious, but there is a reason why terminology is still a major issue.

  1. Bring all parties to the process and make sure they understand the importance of having your terminology standardized. Your goal should be that everyone speaks “with one voice”, as reiterated by several terminology experts.
  2. Have a glossary or termbase with the technical terms reviewed and approved by the client and validated ideally by a subject matter expert or terminologist.
  3. Make sure that you have a style manual or guide that includes the correct terminology usage.
  4. Ideally, have a terminology management system that is up to date and accurate.
  5. Follow terminology good practices and remember to take into consideration copyright issues.
  6. Disseminate your terminology among all parties involved to make sure that the approved terminology is used across the board.

Remember that, by definition, quality assurance includes not only procedural but also administrative activities, and the above items should serve as reference to ensure quality. Going back to O’Brian’s report, it seems that “[T]here is a general consensus across all of the QE models that include the category ´terminology´ that errors in this category mean (1) lack of adherence to a client-specific glossary (or other reference materials); (2) lack of adherence to industry-specific terminology and (3) lack of consistency in term usage. Additionally, three QE models mention inappropriate use in context as a criterion for a terminology error”.

Finally, one of QA principles is to get it “Right the First Time” and I think that this is the main message that we need to convey when we do terminology work to ensure the best translation quality possible. Life Cicle Insights explains the essence of this principle: “The goal […] is to minimize the number of product issues that get past design release to cause rework, scrap, change orders and leads to displeased customers.”

Sources and further reading:

Prys, Delyth, International Terminology Policy Standards. [consulted on 01/30/18]

Zehnalová, Jitka, Tradition and trends in Translation Quality Assessment [consulted on 01/30/18]

Life Cycle Insights. The ‘right the first time’ principle. [consulted on 01/30/18]

O’Brian, Sharon. Towards a Dynamic Quality Evaluation Model for Translation. [consulted on 01/30/18]

UNESCO Guidelines for Designing Terminology Polices

EAFT on Minority Languages and Terminology Policies

ISO 29383:2010


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