You Need a Translation Glossary Yesterday! Here’s How to Build It in 5 Steps


Chidinma Egwuogu

04 Oct 2023

11 min. read


One product, multiple countries, multiple translations, and a sea of potential misunderstandings.

The solution? A good translation glossary.

In this article, we'll explain how international brands can benefit from translation glossaries and how to build one from scratch.

Pro tip: Centus simplifies the process of building a robust translation glossary, ensuring your brand message remains consistent and clear across all markets. See how.

In this article, you’ll discover:

-What is a translation glossary?

-11 components of an effective glossary

-How to build a good translation glossary

-Toolkit recommendations

-Top tips for translation glossary creation

What Is a Translation Glossary?

What is a translation glossary?

A translation glossary is a specialized term dictionary for translations.

Instead of lengthy definitions, each glossary entry has a term in the source language, its direct translation in the target language, a brief context or usage note, and, occasionally, examples or visual representations.

Note that a glossary is not to be confused with a translation memory.

A translation glossary focuses on listing specific terms and ensuring their consistent translation across content. In contrast, a translation memory is a storage system for previously translated segments, like sentences or paragraphs.

When similar text appears in future projects, the translation memory suggests past translations. Simply put, while the glossary manages individual terms, the memory is concerned with larger chunks of translated text.

Who needs a translation glossary, and when?

  • Businesses expanding internationally: As companies venture into foreign markets, there's a need to guarantee that essential elements like product names, key terminologies, and slogans remain consistently translated. Establishing a glossary at the early stages of this expansion ensures that every term aligns with the brand's intended message.

  • Content creators: Bloggers, authors, and digital marketers who cater to a global audience will also benefit from maintaining consistent translations of key phrases or terminologies, no matter how often they're published.

  • E-commerce platforms: Translation glossaries are also important when selling products to a worldwide audience. It's essential to ensure product names, descriptions, and technical terms are uniform across all translations. Therefore, creating a glossary before launching internationally or adding a new language to the platform can be a strategic move.

  • Educational institutions: Schools and universities offering courses in multiple languages need consistent terminology to maintain the quality and clarity of their content. Before introducing a new language or expanding to a diverse linguistic student base, it’s important to build one.

A translation glossary is an indispensable resource for brands and businesses looking to have a clear, consistent presence in multiple languages.

11 Components of a Translation Glossary

A translation glossary typically consists of the following components:

1.Source term: The term or expression in the original language that needs translation.

2.Target term: The translated term or expression in the target language. It should capture the original meaning and intent.

3.Context/usage note: Details about how, when, or where to use the term. This can include:

  • Specific scenarios or situations where the term is appropriate

  • Cultural nuances or considerations

  • Possible constraints or warnings regarding the term's use

4.Part of speech: Specifies whether the term is a noun, verb, adjective, etc.

5.Definition: A brief explanation of what the term means, especially if it is ambiguous or has multiple meanings.

6.Synonyms: Alternative words or phrases that mean the same or are closely related to the term. This can help translators choose the best fit for a specific context.

7.Approved: An indicator (often a checkbox or a "Yes/No" option) that shows whether a term has been approved for use.

8.Comments/annotations: Any additional notes or comments that might be useful for translators. This could include feedback from reviewers, historical usage notes, or other relevant details.

9.Reference links: Links to external sources or internal documents that provide more context or examples of the term's use.

10.Associated images or graphics: Visual references that help clarify the term or its use, especially useful for terms that describe visual concepts or objects.

11.Variations: Different forms or variations of the term. For instance, the plural form of a noun or different conjugations of a verb.

Translation Glossary Example

The table below is an example of an English-French glossary used by a tech company.

Source term Target term Part of speech Definition Context/usage note Synonyms Approved Comments
Computer Ordinateur Noun A machine for performing calculations automatically General use PC, machine Yes Preferred term for tech documents
Software Logiciel Noun Set of instructions that directs a computer's hardware to perform a task Refers to both applications and operating systems. Application, progiciel Yes Use "logiciel" for a broader context
Database Base de données Noun Organized collection of data stored electronically for efficient access and usage Used in data management documentation Banque de données, Système de gestion de données Under review Use “Base de données” in both user guides and marketing materials

Remember, the exact components of a glossary can vary based on the specific requirements of a project or organization. The above list provides a comprehensive breakdown, but not all elements may be needed for every glossary.

Advantages of an Effective Glossary

A translation glossary ensures that every message you send is understood as intended, no matter the language. Here's a closer look at its advantages:

  • Bridging communication gaps: Sometimes words don't have direct translations in other languages. A glossary lists out these tricky terms, ensuring that they are translated in a way that retains their original meaning.

  • Uniformity across content: Imagine having ten different translations for the same word in ten documents. A glossary keeps translations consistent, so one term has the same translation everywhere.

  • Saves time: Instead of spending hours figuring out how to translate a term, translators can just look it up in the glossary.

  • Better quality: When you have a set translation for terms, there's less room for errors. This means the final translated document is of higher quality.

  • Saves translation costs: Fewer errors mean translators spend less time correcting mistakes. Over time, this reduces the costs of translation projects.

  • Consistent brand voice: Every brand has its unique style. A glossary ensures this style remains consistent, no matter which language the content is in.

  • Easier teamwork: If there are several translators working on a project, a glossary helps them all use the same translations. This way, the final content feels cohesive.

  • Captures local nuances: Some words or phrases have cultural significance. A good glossary includes notes on these, this helps translations remain sensitive to local customs and phrases.

  • Supports global growth: If your business wants to expand to other countries, you'll need consistent communication. A glossary ensures your brand message remains strong and clear everywhere.

To sum it up, a translation glossary is like a roadmap for anyone dealing with multiple languages. It points out the best route, avoids confusion, and ensures the translation journey is smooth.

How to Build a Good Translation Glossary

Creating a translation glossary is essential for clear communication when reaching different language audiences. Here’s how it's done, with details on the roles of those involved and the tools that can assist.

1. Gather key terms

Begin your translation project by scrutinizing your source content, and figure out which terms are central to your business or brand. Whether it's product names, web pages, industry-specific jargon, or unique phrases, these need consistent and accurate translations.

Content creators, marketing teams, and product managers can contribute to this step since they understand the brand language and products.

2. Clarify definitions

After you've gathered these key terms, it's essential to define each one. You aren’t translating yet. Instead, you're offering context. By giving a clear definition for every term, you're ensuring that translators understand the essence of the word or phrase. This context is paramount to achieving translations that are both accurate and meaningful.

Subject matter experts or team leaders can offer insights, especially for technical or industry-specific terms.

3. Begin the translation

With your terms and their definitions in hand, it's time to start translating them into your target languages. To ensure an accurate translation, this task should ideally be taken on by professional translators or native speakers. These people not only understand the language but also the cultural nuances of the intended audience.

On the other hand, you can start with machine translation and have native speakers post-edit it.

4. Review and refinement

After the initial translation, it's wise to have another person review the content. Ideally, someone not involved in the initial translation — to bring a fresh perspective. It ensures that the translation not only matches the source content in meaning but is also culturally sensitive and appropriate for the target audience.

5. Feedback collection

This is where wider team involvement can be invaluable. Getting input from various team members, especially those with expertise in localization or the target market, can help refine glossary terms. Their feedback can provide insights that might have been overlooked initially.

6. Approval

Finally, before your glossary is put to use, it should undergo an approval process. The senior members or decision-makers in the company should validate the glossary. This process ensures that terms and their approved translations are in line with the brand's voice and the intended message.

Toolkit recommendations

Centus dashboard

When setting out to create a translation glossary, having the right set of tools can streamline the process and ensure consistency. Here's a toolkit that can be indispensable in your glossary creation journey:

  • Term identification: This tool helps pinpoint terms that require extra definition or translation. It's especially useful when dealing with large volumes of content, ensuring no critical term goes unnoticed.

  • Collaboration: Tools such as Centus, allow for seamless collaboration between translators and stakeholders. Your choice will depend on affordability and a user-friendly interface that’s easy to understand.

  • Term documentation: This process involves structuring and defining terms along with their translations. While tools like Excel or Google Sheets work well for smaller projects, allowing for collaboration and organization, they might fall short for larger endeavors. Specialized software for terminology management can provide features like automatic term extraction, multi-lingual support, and integration capabilities for more extensive projects.

  • Term sharing: The toolkit allows easy sharing of the glossary with all stakeholders involved in the translation process. Cloud storage platforms, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, enable easy sharing and collaboration. These platforms allow multiple users to access and make updates to the glossary simultaneously.

  • Translation management systems (TMS): These tools help you keep track of translations, especially for multiple languages. They help you ensure consistency across your different projects.

Pro tip: Thinking of managing multiple translation tools? Avoid the hassle. Centus offers glossaries, translation memories, quality checks, integration capabilities, and much more – all in one convenient place. Learn more.

Top Tips for Translation Glossary Creation

Glossary translation requires careful planning, consistent updating, and keen attention to ensure its relevance and efficiency. Here are essential tips to guide you:

  • Start small, think big: Begin with core terms for your brand and industry. As your business evolves, so should your glossary.

  • Stay uniform: Make sure translations remain consistent. If a term has a particular translation in one place, it should be consistent across all materials.

  • Regularly update: With the ever-changing nature of languages and industries, it's vital to revisit and revise your glossary from time to time.

  • Tackle glossary bloat: Over the years, your glossary might accumulate terms that aren't in use anymore. Solution: Set aside time for regular glossary checks. Remove terms that have become obsolete and add fresh, relevant ones.

  • Involve stakeholders: Remember, the glossary isn’t just for translators. Engaging various teams in your organization can offer comprehensive insights for the glossary.

  • Avoid version confusion: If many people can edit the glossary, it might lead to uncertainties about the most recent version. Opt for a TMS that offers clear tracking of edits and updates.

  • Make it accessible: Ensure your glossary is stored where everyone can easily find and consult it. Translation software or cloud storage solutions can help here.

  • Educate your team: It’s essential that everyone understands the glossary's value and how to use it effectively.

A well-curated and regularly updated glossary can streamline your translation processes and ensure uniformity in all your communications across different languages and regions.

To Sum Up

A translation glossary is essential for clear and consistent messaging across multiple languages.

Whether you're starting from scratch or looking to enhance an existing translation glossary, we can assist. Let's simplify your translation journey with Centus. Contact us now!


What is a translation glossary?

A translation glossary is a collection of specific terms and their corresponding translations in one or multiple target languages. It ensures consistency, clarity, and accuracy in translations.

What should be included in a translation glossary?

A comprehensive translation glossary should include source terms, their translated equivalents, context notes, or even images and diagrams for clarity.

What are the benefits of a translation glossary?

Using a translation glossary ensures consistency in translation projects, speeds up the translation process, reduces potential errors, and builds trust with your target audience by providing a consistent brand voice across languages. These benefits can be ripped by a language service provider and an individual translator alike.

What are the parts of a glossary?

A glossary typically consists of the source term, its translation, part of speech, context or usage notes, and sometimes example sentences or visual aids for clarity.

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