Glossaries for Translators: Why You Need Them

If you haven’t made your own translation glossaries yet, you need to create one right now. You’re not just missing out, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

The benefits of creating and maintaining your own glossaries cannot be understated, from increased productivity to better translation quality. They are essential tools for all translators that can be put to use on every single project. Need a little convincing? Below are five reasons you shouldn’t spend another minute without creating your own glossary (or glossaries!).

Glossaries Are Worth Their Weight in Gold: Conservatively, let’s say your first glossary has about 100 terms in it and that you spent an average of five minutes researching each term. If your hourly rate is $50, that glossary is “worth” just over $400. Now, picture this: my master Chinese>English glossary, which I consult for every project that crosses my desk, currently has 1,258 terms. One product glossary a client provided for a project contained 16,383 terms in five languages. Imagine how much time and money went into creating that glossary! By maintaining your own glossary, you’re capturing value, like a bank account whose balance never decreases.

Glossaries Help You Work Better: Now imagine how much more accurately you could work with the help of an impeccably researched 16,000-term glossary. It goes without saying that time is money. If you never have to research the same term twice, you’ll be able to work more consistently and ensure higher quality—all while saving time. Translators who want to compete effectively in our ever more discerning industry must compete on quality, and glossaries are an effective way to do that.

Glossaries Are Not Difficult to Create: Actually creating the glossary is the easy part. If you use a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool, it will usually have an integrated feature for adding terms and their equivalents. Some products, like SDL MultiTerm Extract1, will identify and extract terms from a corpus of texts for you (at a cost), while tools like memoQ QTerm2 have a free integrated term extraction feature. Don’t use a CAT tool? No problem! A glossary can easily be made in Microsoft Excel or in a free spreadsheet application, such as those published by OpenOffice3 or Google4. A glossary can be made with just two columns: source language and target language. You can also add any number of additional columns for context, definitions, an explanation of where you found the term, the date you added the term, and more. You can then alphabetize columns by either the source or target language and search for specific terms as needed.

Glossary Creation Can Be Monetized: In addition to being a great resource for yourself, glossaries are a great product you can sell to new or existing clients. Some notable translators have even offered to create glossaries to win a new discerning client or used them as a prospecting tool. Glossaries provide a host of benefits, and you should be able to sell your clients on those same benefits: fewer term issues, increased accuracy, better consistency, and a valuable asset that they own and can control (with your help, of course).5

Glossaries Evolve: Glossaries, like languages, are living things. You’ll never be able to take a glossary, put a bow on it, and call it done. As you, your clients, your areas of expertise, and your knowledge evolve, your glossaries will undoubtedly grow, change, and improve. New realities in your field will become new glossary entries. You very well may find a better term for an entry you added last week or even last year, and that’s not only okay—it’s great! As time passes, your glossaries will become an increasingly valuable asset for you and for your clients.

Convinced yet? The bottom line is that glossaries are invaluable resources for all language professionals. If you don’t have one yet, make creating one the first thing you do after reading this. The effort you put in will pay you back 10 times over, guaranteed.

  1. SDL MultiTerm Extract,
  2. memoQ QTerm,
  3. OpenOffice,
  4. Google,
  5. Karl, Ben. “Glossary Basics for Translation Buyers,”

Ben Karl, MBA, CT is an ATA-certified French>English and Mandarin>English translator specializing in financial, business, and marketing content. He serves on ATA’s Membership Committee. He has an MBA from the University of Nevada, Reno. Contact:

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