Translation Terms Database

One of the most important aspects of technical translation is the technical terms used. This terms database is at the heart of the translation process.

Above is essentially the ‘overall’ process of collecting terms for reference

There are 3 objectives of collecting translation terms.

  1. Generate statistics of terms
  2. Constitute an extensive reference base
  3. Standardise terms across and during a project

Purpose of the database:

  • Retain vocab and standardize vocab on a project (like a termbase)
  • Provide search vocab for other projects
  • Provide synonyms and a deeper understanding of terms
  • Calculate translation volumes per month, customer and type of work
  • Vocab, project tracking, wph, stats, link with accounts
  • Store agency contacts, email addresses, logins to agency portals

Database design

At the outset I stored my translation terms in Evernote and on Google sheets. But after a while searching for terms previously encountered was quite time-consuming.

I designed the translation database to store translation terms in source and target languages (French to English). It could be adapted for any language pair.

Terms are attached to a project but as they are in one table, I can easily search for any term from any project.

I realised that the database could also be used to generate statistics about projects and the domains in which I work. This is part of an ongoing attempt to define my profile as a technical translator.

The table structure

relational table structure in Access of the translation terms database

The essential tables are described below in a summary class diagram.

class diagram for the translation databse which stores agency details, tarifs, projects and technical terms

For more examples of analyses in UML, please see my technical blog

A term can be attached to only one project. A possible adaptation would be to allow terms to be attached to more than one project. Terms may have significantly different meanings depending on the context.

The essential fields

The translation process: Start a project, complete the number of words, the agency and end customer, the estimate number in accounts.

The agency table includes the contact details for the agency their payment conditions (30, 45 or 60 days), price in currency for translation, MTPE, Revision or Audiovisual.

So we have a project which links back to the agency and all terms are within a project.


The advantage of a bespoke database is to create functions tailor made to your process. The essential requirement for me was to store terms and then be able to search for them from one location.

Search for terms

So while a project constrains terms just to a project, which helps to standardise terms with a project, terms are also available for search across all projects. So when working on a project, I often search for a term to see if I have come across it in previous projects and how I handled it. The following fields are searchable.

I can search for terms already in the database by French, English, or the abbreviation

Statistics possible

I calculate statistics of the number terms in the database against the number of words translated in that domain

the translation database presents a graph of number of the number of words in each domain

Calculate the number of terms by domain

The number of words per period to help me track whether I am in line with my objectives on number of words.

Analysis of project domains

It is ‘interesting to note’ that I don’t always have terms in domains where I have a large number of words. It is interesting to note the domains where there is a large difference between the number of words and the number of terms.

Where there are more words than terms, it means I just ‘get on with the project’ and don’t need so much support. Where there are more terms than words, it is generally because I went out to look for support and found a detailed online source.

See here for credits to some of my sources including Tech Dico, Le Grand Dictionnaire du Quebec, Linguee and specific data sources.

Number of words traslated and terms by domain

I have done a lot of words in computing (112k) but only have 1000 terms.

On the contrary, I collected many terms in ‘industrial’ because it was not my original specialty and a field which I wanted to focus on because of demand. Perhaps there are many more specific terms in engineering than in computing.

Scientific: these words came from a large project for Electrostatic discharge (ESD) specifications and guidelines for an electronic component manufacturer.

Legal and Business is more legal than business and potentially overlaps with ‘management’ with many (24) smaller project of around 1500 words.

There are some domains (Electrical Engineering and Nuclear) where I integrated a large terms database (42k) but have never specifically categorized a project in that domain.

There are some domains with large significant projects 15k to 50k words

The largest project domains for me are ‘industrial’, ‘technical’ or ‘computing’.

Combining domains

Should I combine Engineering with Electrical and Mechanical Engineering? For now no. Partly because this would create a distinctively large category and would distort statistics, partly because the distinction is useful.

Translation statistics

I have set myself some objectives part of managing my business, notably number of words per month, average word rate and financial objectives based on the volume done.

Average word rate

Average translation rate: I measure the time taken for each project in Trello Plus and with the total number of words for each project calculate number of words translated per hour. Access then calculates the average

my translation database helps me to measure my average word rate to keep in line with objectives

Managing Translation Terms

Two important fields: the chosen term in my target language (English) and the alternatives. This helps me reflect on the most appropriate term during translation.

I analyse the alternatives of translation terms and often present the choice of alternatives to customers

At the end of a project I may send a list of terms to the customer with the target files to show them that a. I have considered alternatives and b. potentially for customers to choose the most appropriate industry-specific term.

I store abbreviations, the French and English translations and sometimes the meaning and full descriptions of translation terms

I store the abbreviations in French and English. It is often important to spell out an abbreviation to confirm its meaning and to determine, with customers, whether an abbreviation should be translated or left as is. Examples.

Deduplication of translation terms

Terms may come up in more than one context or project.

my translation database helps me to deduplicate terms from multiple sources

Before building the database I stored terms in Google Sheets, one for each project. So I had some work to do to combine these sheets together in to the database. I therefore built a deduplication function to combine terms.

Some translation terms may be difficult to translate, be over-used or have many meanings in different contexts

This function is still useful to combine terms encountered on different projects. I take care though only to combine terms if they have the same meaning and are essentially synonyms, in which case the English term of one goes into the ‘alternative field’ of the other.

Quality Checks

Part of my quality process is to check and standarise terms used in my translation. Antidote helps me to do this because it highlights unknown and repeated words, providing focus on the terms used.

The Antidote corrector can be launched directly from Trados using the SDL Antidote plugin.

Launch the Antidote corrector directly from Trados
Launch the Antidote corrector directly from Trados

With Antidote you can check:

  • Grammar and spelling
  • Complex phrases
  • Double spaces
  • Passive voice
Antidote grammar syntax checker is very useful to check the readability of your text, check for errors and complexity. Also helpful for SEO

The grammar and style checks in Antidote encourage you to think about the meaning.

Standardising translation terms

This is the recording and standardisation of terms in ‘everyday’ translation. Writing down terms and weighing the synonyms leads to a better understanding.

What term to use?

Is there an industry standard term?

‘Animation à interval courte’ is not ‘short term management’ but ‘short interval management’, a standard term in visual management screens for Lean Management.

Reversible ratchet handle, rack wrench, stud wrench, open end spanner, strap wrench, offset wrench, screw key are all variations of different types of spanner (clé in French)

Translation terms can resemble one another, but in technical translation it is important to distinguish them and be precise

A text may use similar terms, or one might translate terms using similar words only to realise that two similar terms are indeed the same (particularly for large projects).

The project vocab list serves as a reference for the terms used and to standardise them during proofreading.

Terms for return customers

Customers may come back to you once you have ‘learnt’ their technical or industry vocab. So this may be useful as an opportunity.

The database allows you to pull up the vocab for the customer to work on repeat projects.

At the same time, all terms are available for search no matter what project.

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