The Importance of a Glossary

Category: Language

Those of you who are new to localization may think that a glossary is only used for term papers and reference books. You have yet to discover how this very simple item can revolutionize your daily work life by sparing you countless redundancies and/or inconsistencies in the original English, as well as in the foreign language versions of your products and documents.

Creating a glossary of approved terms in each target language at the beginning of your translation project is essential. It will not only save you time and money (not to mention headaches and sleepless nights), it will also guarantee successful branding of your products in foreign markets.

A glossary (from the Greek glossa, meaning obsolete or foreign word), ensures a consistent style and voice, an accurate rendering of the original text and a level of translation quality that is even throughout. Glossaries are especially critical in the case of technical translations and marketing communications, but should really be employed for any localization project.

Let’s take the example of a social media game. Say you have designed a Medieval fantasy game set in the 21st century that has met glowing success in the U.S. You naturally decide to take this game to other language markets, such as Europe and Latin America, to increase revenues. You begin the process of translation into Spanish, French, German and Italian, assuming that adapting the game to these markets is as easy as translating the script in a linear fashion from beginning to end…until you initiate the testing phase and realize there are major inconsistencies throughout the game.

You discover that “warlock” was translated three different ways in German and that the variations are used randomly throughout the game in dialogues. “Sorcerer” is sometimes referred to as “witch” in French. Even the name of the game itself, “Potion”, is translated inconsistently — though the title is always correctly referred to as “Potion” in Spanish, the word itself is used interchangeably with other terms within the game, such as “magic brew” and “concoction”.

To your chagrin, you notice that these same vocabulary inconsistencies are rampant in your public relations campaign, which has already been launched. One press release uses the tagline “Casting a spell on the 21st century” for the Italian translation, while a later one reads, “Bewitching the 21st century”. Subtle difference? Perhaps, but the branding of your game contributes to its success and multiple versions of a tagline demonstrates an inexpert and possibly, ineffective, global marketing campaign.

While synonyms are highly prized in literature, using the same word consistently throughout your product and its supporting materials is clearly necessary. Such consistency is only possible if there is a single translator working on the entire project across all languages (highly unlikely) or if you have invested in a glossary with predetermined foreign language equivalents for your key English words.

Before establishing a glossary for the translation process, however, it is often important to begin with an English glossary and company style guide. If the English version of your communications is inconsistent, the foreign language versions are certain to be as well!

This may seem cumbersome or daunting at first glance, but detailed work in the beginning will save you missed deadlines and expensive blunders over the course of your localization project. So make sure your translation partner works with you on creating a glossary before translation begins — you will reap the benefits of consistency both abroad and at home!

Photo Credit: Patrik Göthe