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Why Some Translators Use Glossaries And Others Don’t

Old Book Open by nuttakit, http://www.freedigitalphotos.netCreating a glossary for each translation project has been a part of my daily work as a translator for so many years that I no longer understand how anyone can work without one. In this post, I want to explain why I believe consistent translation is impossible without a project glossary.

Why It Pays to Create a Glossary

The two primary functions of a glossary are making it easy to insert translations of terms into a current segment and making it possible to check the entire translation for consistency after it’s completed. Of course, a translator can use a TM to find terms as well. But searching a TM is not as efficient as using a glossary and requires a lot of discipline. With a glossary, inserting translations of terms is so much easier. For instance, the translation program OmegaT highlights every term that’s in a glossary and enables you to insert it using a context menu. And a TM is useless when it comes to checking for consistency. You still need some sort of a list of terms to feed to your QA program.

I started selling the idea of creating a project glossary to our team years ago. It was difficult back then because we didn’t have the great tools we have now. Due to this technical challenge and the fact that creating a glossary takes time and discipline, getting everyone’s buy-in wasn’t easy. At first, we even had to formally require everyone to add at least one term per 100 words because they wouldn’t do this otherwise. Today, after years of practice and with better tools available to us now, a glossary is a part of our culture.

Some Freelance Translators Don’t Use Glossaries

Now, what strikes me in dealings with freelance translators is that many folks don’t create the type of a glossary I’m talking about. I’d really like them to do so, but no matter how strongly we believe in glossaries internally, I can’t force freelance translators to do this. Even if we formally agree that they will create a glossary, translators normally grudgingly obey, but they don’t commit to following through, which is a prerequisite for getting the most out of a glossary.

I’m especially bewildered when it comes to testing new candidates. The very people who should use a glossary to make sure they deliver a perfect translation and make a good first impression often DON’T care much about it. Okay, I’m realistic and know that quite a few translators just don’t have the necessary level of commitment. But if you think about it, not creating a glossary doesn’t make sense at all for them. They take the time to market their services to us for an opportunity to get our business. And then they blow it so easily because of a failure to take a few additional minutes to ensure consistency.

The Main Point

While editing a pretty big sample translation last week, I once again realized that even if a translator recognized the importance of consistency, but didn’t create a glossary, his/her consistency would be at 80 or 90% level at best. Those missing 10 or 20% are usually enough to ruin impression. And this is the main message for this post. If you want to provide a consistent translation especially when you’re pursuing a freelance opportunity, creating a project glossary is a must.

Readers: What else would you say to a translator to make him/her change his/her mind about glossaries?

For more information on this topic, read my post about tackling three common challenges around glossaries.


  • The impression you give is that freelance translators are a backward, grousy, incompetent bunch of people who don’t care enough about quality.
    As a conscientious, professional freelance translator, I would suggest that you may have not been looking for translators in the most effective of ways. Members of respected professional translator organisations like the CIoL, the ATA or the ITI, people who have qualifications like the Diploma in Translation, would not dream of acting in the unprofessional ways that you lament.
    The use of glossaries – backed up by CAT tools and QA tools (such as ApSIC Xbench) – is indeed a highly effective way to ensure terminological consistency, especially in larger projects.
    If you need to ask how to “make” freelance translators commit to using a glossary, there may well be a problem in your recruitment process.

    • Hello Oliver,
      Thank you for reading, I appreciate your comment. If something in my post led you to believe I’m saying every single freelance translator is incompetent when it comes to glossaries, I am sorry. It’s my mistake, this is not what I meant. After all, there are numerous freelance translators such as yourself that are great role models for me. I could only dream of recruiting some of them.
      My point wasn’t to rant about the fact that some fellow translators on the market aren’t as meticulous as others, but to explain emphatically that a project glossary is crucial to high quality. As I wrote in the headline, some folks do use glossaries, but some don’t.
      As I wrote elsewhere in this blog, about 95% of all applicants don’t pass my recruitment process, and a major reason is inconsistency of translation. Perhaps, this is why our perspectives are so different. As a highly professional translator, you realize how important a glossary is and perhaps assume that everyone else recognizes this, too. But I have to deal—on a day-to-day basis—with applicants and translators that I didn’t recruit (when translation agencies ask us to edit someone else’s translations) who don’t share this way of thinking, and I guess this makes my experience dramatically different than yours.
      Truly yours,

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.