General glossary tips

As a student-, and as a working 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.

Why record terminology

That may sound like a stupid question but in fact it’s not just about learning new words and being able to look them up. There at least 3 distinct things you may want to do with the terms your right down: you write them down.

  1. look things up when you’re in the booth
  2. help prepare for meetings in advance
  3. activate terminology

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.

  1. Multiple files eg. Word files or bits of paper.
  2. A single point of entry (this could mean a single table or multiple searchable glossaries in a single glossary tool).

1. 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.

2. Or you create a single glossary (or multiple glossaries in a single file in a give piece of software). 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. 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”. When is one right and the other not? 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.

2. 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?  

3. 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.

Recording Vocabulary

Making lists of words is the least likely way to help you remember any new vocabulary. Techniques based on the strengths of the human memory, like visual association (see also Linking and Vocab by Association), context and our own involvement in creating a structure of noting words, work much better. Here are a few examples from one of the best books of its type. Business English – An indiviualised learning program by Michael Lewis and Peter Wilberg.

You’ll find similar advice at the AIIC website: “In your glossary, include not only unfamiliar technical terms, but also recurring topical items of a more general nature, in order to contextualize yourself and to increase their ‘availability’, so that they are on the tip of your tongue when you need them.”

Business English, Michael Lewis and Peter Wilberg, LTP, 1990, Hove, UK.

The following two pages come together and are opposite one another in the book itself.