Note: This blog post was originally written in Japanese for our Japanese website. We used our machine translation platform Translation Designer to translate it and post-edit the content in English. The original Japanese post can be found here.

In this post, we would like to talk about glossaries, taking examples from Japanese to English translation projects.

To maintain the quality of your translations, you need a variety of tools such as style guides, translation memories, and work instructions. This post will focus on glossaries among those tools. Let's see how they are important, especially from the viewpoint of Japanese to English translations.

First comes consistency

Before getting into the importance of glossaries, let's first talk about consistency.

If accuracy is the most important aspect in translation, it is no exaggeration to say that consistency is the second most important thing. Consistency in general includes phrases, dialects, and tenses, but what we want to focus here is a more fundamental and simple consistency of terms.

Of course, if you make use of the richness of unique expressions in English, the more beautifully you can write and develop a piece that is intriguing. Unfortunately, beautifully written English is not always the easiest to read. There are advantages and disadvantages to the richness of English expressions, and they can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Maintaining the consistency of terms might limit the richness of your expressions to a certain extent, but the overall readability of the translated document will probably double.

About glossaries

So, what is a glossary? Simply put, it's a list of terms in a bilingual format that is created by the person who is requesting the translation work. By providing a glossary at the time of your request, translators can use it as reference materials and deliver more sophisticated translations.

Glossaries are good for keeping consistency in technical terms, slogans, and idioms. Moreover, they are useful when working with even general terms. For example, Japanese terms like 授業 (class) or 検討 (consider) that have many ways to translate into English.

Consistency issues when there is no glossary

Without a glossary, translations will most likely have issues with maintaining consistent terminology. Simple translations such as translating リンゴ as "apple" and 本 as "book" are ok. We can tell that these are appropriate because there are no other choices.

But here comes the problem. What if there are multiple ways to translate a word? 授業 can be translated as "class," "lesson," "course," "teaching," "instruction," "session," or maybe even "lecture" in a rare case. In some situations, you can determine which English translation is the best by looking at the context, reference materials, or past translations. But there are times when you cannot rely on anything and you're on your own.

As a more advanced example, let's take a look at the word 検討. You'll be surprised at how this word 検討 is so flexible in usage. You will see it in newspaper and magazine articles, theses and research papers, government policies, contract documents, general letters, and even amusement park brochures.

Just like 授業, there are several English translations that you can choose from, but common ones are "consider," "examine," and "investigate." It's commonly used in Japanese documents like "選択肢を検討します," which means "we'll consider the options."

For these flexible words, the best way to choose the appropriate English translation is to look at similar translated documents from the past as a reference. However, you should know that most of the time, there are multiple translators that have worked on the past translations.

Sometimes multiple translators work on the same document by dividing it into sections, or in other cases, multiple translation agencies might be involved, where they assign many translators to complete the project. Take a careful look and watch out for inconsistent terminology when using past translations as a reference.

What happens without a glossary?

Now imagine yourself as a translator. You have decided to use past translations as a reference. After looking through them, you found the following three examples.

"We will examine our options."
"We'll consider our options."
"We shall investigate our options."

So, which one should you follow?

All three English sentences are valid as English translations and do not make much difference in the meaning. The problem here is that when there are inconsistent sentences mixed in a document, it lowers the overall readability. Especially, it can be confusing if you're not native to the language. This is important since English is used as a common language in the world, but not everyone has the same literacy.

Suppose you chose the best sentence from the above English translations and delivered the work. Even then, the English translation you have chosen may not be consistent with the past translations.

Then another translator might get assigned for the next project. Again, the next translator may go with a completely different English translation from what you have chosen. As you can see, the situation of keeping the terms consistent gets worse. It's harder without a glossary. In this way, even if there is no problem with the translation within the document, inconsistent and difficult-to-read translations can take a toll in the long run.

Tips for creating a glossary

Let's take care of the problems such as those mentioned above by using a glossary. Of course, creating a glossary will take time, but it is not extremely difficult to make one and will be worth doing so.

We'll share some tips on how to make one.

1. Use existing English translations as your reference materials

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to start from scratch. If you use an existing English-translated document as a reference, it's easier to create a glossary.

If you have multiple English-translated documents that you can choose from, select one with the best quality and use it as a base so that you can improve the quality of your future translations.

2. Do not seek perfection

The depth of glossaries will vary greatly depending on the organization and industry, but in any case, it's not necessary to create a perfect glossary from the beginning. As suggested in the first tip, use your existing English translations as a base. Extracting some commonly used words and putting them in your glossary is good enough. As you work on different translations, update your glossary with each project. Taking this step will naturally refine your English translations and keep the consistency in terminology.

3. Consult with a translator

Most of all, you don't have to carry everything on your own. If you have words or expressions that you use often and want to know what the most natural and appropriate translation would be, it is best to consult with a translator. Translators can also provide you an alternative translation if necessary and offer several options to suit your needs.

Kawamura's translation services

We hope everyone got a hint from this post at how glossaries are important. If you have never used a glossary with your translations, you should definitely create one and try it out! It's an easy way to keep your terminology consistent in translated documents, which will lead to improve the overall quality of your translations.

Kawamura International not only provides translation services utilizing glossaries but also can help you create your own glossaries.

Let us offer you various solutions for any kind of requests or issues you have. Feel free to reach out to us for a quote or if you have any questions.