What is terminology and why does it matter?
A big deal
Managing terminology is a big deal in the translation ecosystem. It is a priority investment area for language service providers (LSPs) and is often highlighted as one of the keys to a successful localization strategy. A survey conducted in 2020 showed 46% of responding language companies planned to further invest in terminology management for 2021 and it was ranked in the top three technologies within the industry. With increasing translation volumes and pressures on pricing and timeframes, LSPs hope that terminology tools will help them deal with the predicted post-pandemic spike in content.
Translation companies believe that an efficient, structured, technology-based system of managing terminology is greatly beneficial to their customers and will help these customers better reach a global audience. t’works is no exception. We know that terminology management is one of the pivotal processes that enables us to provide outstanding translation and localization services.
In this and subsequent blog posts we will provide some straightforward information about what makes terminology so important. What it is exactly, how to manage it and why doing so will help your business create effective communication for localization and beyond.
So, what exactly do we mean by terminology? How do we define a term?
One single definition is hard to find but it’s commonly agreed that a term is much more than a simple, everyday word or phrase. A term defines a concept – usually within a given field – and has its own unique meaning. In commercial settings we can also argue that any word having a particular importance to a company or organisation can be a term, regardless of whether or not it is ‘special’ elsewhere.
Terms act as a bridge between text and meaning and using the right term means communicating efficiently and precisely. When terms are grouped together to represent a particular field, they become the terminology associated with that field. The context of this field gives those terms their distinct meaning.
A company is represented by its own group of terms (or terminology) that give it its own fundamental identity and brand. All stakeholders connected to the company whether as employees, suppliers, buyers, investors, trade associations and so on, use this terminology to ensure the communication centred around the company is consistent and accurate.
Terminology in everyday life
We maybe don’t think too much about it, but terminology is around us all the time. It is constantly used in everyday situations to make sure the right message gets across.
Recently we have witnessed the importance of terminology in the Covid19 pandemic. The virus has introduced us to a whole new set of words that we previously didn’t know about or use, and we have all had to learn and understand them. The immediate and grave nature of the pandemic meant that overnight we began using terms like Coronavirus, lockdown, furlough, herd immunity and social distancing in our daily vocabulary –not forgetting that many of us became amateur virologists, casually popping epidemiology, R number, virus shedding and suchlike, into conversations with friends. We adopted Covid19 terminology very quickly and it helped us deal with what was happening.
Using inappropriate words can cause real harm. In the Black Lives Matter campaigning in 2020, we were rightly made more aware of longstanding racially charged words in branding for products and organisations. Companies started to replace this damaging terminology and a sector closely linked to the language industry, technology, hastened an already growing trend within the field, of replacing racially oppressive labelling in software and computer programming language.
Choosing the correct terminology can have a significant impact on how people feel about a particular subject matter and even affect whether or not they modify their behaviour. In the journalistic realm, the use of accurate terminology permits media outlets to maintain factual and authentic reporting.
In 2019 The Guardian newspaper in the UK announced that it would be altering the way it reported on the environment to reflect the growing seriousness of the situation. It stated that it was no longer fitting to use the term ‘climate change’, hence it would instead refer to the ‘climate crisis’ or ‘emergency’ and use ‘global heating’ as opposed to ‘global warming’. Changing the terminology would, therefore, help readers better understand the urgency of the situation and be more correctly informed.
Terminology in a commercial setting
Some convincing arguments then, as to why terminology matters. It plays an important role in changing perceptions, helping us understand the world better and in some cases, changing how we act. It is a powerful tool and one that is treated with care by all organisations from governments and public institutions to NGOs and the media. But what about in a business environment? How commercially important is terminology?
In one word, very. In a commercial setting terminology represents the identity and branding of a company; it conveys the company’s character and integral message. As such it is a precious commodity and underestimating its influence could be a mistake.
Establishing a company’s terminology is vital to ensuring that all communication associated with that company, be it internal, marketing, technical or client facing, is consistent and effective. If that company exists in a global market or is planning to expand internationally, how that terminology is then managed and transferred to other languages becomes a pressing issue.
The Facebook example
Whatever the size of the company, terminology management is crucial. To grasp just how crucial, we only have to look at how much time, money and effort one of the world’s most globally significant companies, Facebook, invests in this domain.
In 2019 Facebook’s leadership team for Global Business Marketing appointed a Head of Terminology to build a ‘dictionary of marketing terms’. The social media giant’s management of product terminology was well established but its hundreds of global content creators had no access to this resource and had no tool to ensure consistency of their output. Innovative methods were established to quickly create a baseline dictionary which has now been translated into over 30 languages. The process was complex and required input from many departments but the goal of achieving ‘correctness and consistency in the translation of marketing terms’ was a priority.
This is obviously a simplified overview of events, but the lessons are clear. If Facebook gives weight to terminology management, then it’s an example that other companies should follow.
Recognising the value of terminology
For any size of business, the time, hard work and investment that go into creating a product and brand is huge and not paying proper attention to the terminology associated with that business could mean a real risk to future growth and success. When expanding into global markets, ensuring that a company’s established terminology is maintained across all languages and cultures is undoubtedly a challenge but having a strategy in place will mean reduced costs, increased revenue and optimised communication.
In future blogs we will look in more detail at the benefits to business, how the terminology management process works and how t’works’ specialised systems help our customers achieve optimised results.
In the meantime, if you have any questions at all about managing your terminology or any of our other services,
We’re always happy to help with any queries.