How to build a glossary?

As a conference interpreter you will be faced with a constant stream of new terminology, jargon and vocabulary, which you will probably be keen to record, remember and reuse.

However, there are a few ground rules to observe if what you record is to be useful.

You might also want to have a look at the page Why create a glossary?

How to record terminology?

And what you want to do with these records should define how you record them. If you want to use your glossaries to help you prepare future meetings on the basis of past meetings then that glossary will be set up differently to a glossary that you only want to use to search for terms as and when they come up.

There are at least 2 big decisions to take out formatting too.

Multiple files eg. Word files or bits of paper.

Not many people are using paper any more, so if you choose to compile multiple Word files (eg. one for each meeting) then you will need desktop search tool to find terms you’re looking for.

A single point of entry

…this could mean a single table or multiple searchable glossaries in a single glossary tool. Then you’ll need to decide how either

a) how to structure the single table glossary or

b) what software you’re going to use AND how to structure the glossaries in it. Will you want to be able to search all glossaries in one go, or just search in selected glossaries?

Whatever you use you will need to have an offline copy on the device you use in the booth. Cloud-only is at the mercy of poor wifi connections. And somewhere in the small print it probably says that they own your content. Also cloud-storage is a dynamic market and your service provider could close down and take your data with it.

What to record

Whichever you choose think about recording MORE than just the various language versions. The following will make the words you’ve recorded more meaningful…

1. Not only new words

You want your glossary to reflect what is useful in a given meeting. So it should include the most important terms used, even if you think you know them. That way in future your glossary will give you a more rounded picture of the meeting. Also, what you know actively now, may get forgotten in 5 years time, so it’s useful to have it in a glossary.

2. Meaning

Don’t just record the translations of a term in your other languages. Record also a definition or an explanation. This will be more meaningful later, it will help you understand the topic area better, and it offers you the possibility of paraphrasing if you can’t find an equivalent in another language.

3. Context

One cannot stress enough the importance of context. A word is not just a word and it doesn’t just have one equivalent. The German word “Praesidium” has at least 3 correct English equivalents in the European Institutions alone, “Presidency”, “Bureau” and “Management Committee”. The French word “Président” can mean “President”, “Speaker” or “Chairperson”. The only way to distinguish is to understand the context in which the words are spoken. Your glossary should tell you what context each version belongs in – for example by recording the title of the meeting in question and/or the topic area (including sub-topics) you have assigned it to.

In software like MS Excel and MS Access you can filter for a column contents eg. for the terms from a specific meeting; or by  topic area (as in this screenshot for “mining” from several different meetings); for acronyms; or look for a single term. Ideally you should be able to filter multiple columns, so “mining” but only in “patent proceedings meetings”, or “aeronautics” but only at “Airbus meetings” – so for example call-up a list of 50 key terms for a given subject area.

4. Source

It’s worth keeping note of where you found a translation, or who suggested it. That way, 5 or 10 years down the line you can decide how reliable you think the translation is. Was that term from an authoratitive dictionary or just a friend who thought they knew?  

5. Date

Terms change over time. The date can be a useful indication of the reliability of a translation or term in your glossary. Early in your career this may seem unlikely but after 10, 20 or 30 years this will become more useful.

6. Only record what’s actually used in the meeting

After the meeting you may well want to go through your notes and documents and write up the vocabulary into your glossary. Indeed, there is an argument for not adding terms to your glossary until AFTER the meeting has been completed. Namely that then you can check what you found when preparing against what was actually used during the meeting. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule but you might want to keep ONLY the terms that were used during the meeting. That way your glossary will be a more accurate preparation tool for the next time you work on this same meeting. Also you will know that the terminology is really used by the real experts. (Dictionary terms are not always what experts use in the real world.)

by Andy Gillies

See also Gillies (Reasons not to automate glossary building)