Glossaries: so many tools

What is a glossary?

Interpreters’ and translators’ glossaries are lists of domain-specific words that feature their translation, common and specialized phrases for a certain field or subject and sometimes even synonyms. They can be bilingual or multilingual, they are usually formatted as tables, and they’re ideal if they allow fast searching.

Glossaries on paper

Before the digital era, a translator or an interpreter had only access to dictionaries and their own notes, and they needed to rely heavily on paper for glossaries. They allocated a lot of work and energy to add words and phrases in notebooks and to transcribe it all when it became impossible to use because of the additions and annotations. Searching was a problem, so the owner of the glossary needed to be careful to place the words in alphabetical order as accurately as possible; the translator could do with wasting some more time searching for the right word, but a sloppy glossary could fail the interpreter.

Glossaries on text and spreadsheet editors

So when tools such as Microsoft’s Excel and Word became available, all specialists were happy: they could keep their lists of words neat and available and they could print and share them by e-mail at any moment they needed.

Even today, when the world moves to using apps on phones and tablets, a lot of translators and interpreters still find text and spreadsheet editors useful in their work. There are many office suites to choose from and a lot of them are free to use (such as Libre Office, Open Office, G Suite for personal use), and they all come with many settings and formatting options. Also, the documents they generate are searchable and shareable in many formats, from the proprietary to the ubiquous PDF.

Glossaries on specialized apps

Nowadays, apart from text and spreadsheet editors, there are specialized tools, such as: Interpreter’s Help, Interpreter Bank, Sketch Engine and many more.

Prices for these tools start at 9.99€/month, and they offer some extra features such as special search options (including instant internet search and AI-powered word and phrase suggestions), shared glossaries from other members to download and use, dashboards to better organize the information and, of course, they can be used on various operating systems. It can be daunting though to move all your glossaries on these apps, since usually they need to be manually typed in and import options are not always available.

Glossaries on governmental websites

Sometimes the glossaries are put together and offered for free on governmental websites. For instance, the Interactive Terminology for Europe (IATE) website does exactly what its acronym states: it compiles an interactive glossary featuring almost 8 million terms in 25 languages (including latin).

No matter the tool used, having specialized, organized, searchable, well formatted and shareable glossaries is the key to quality translation and interpretation work. As a specialist, use any tool that works well for you and keep your flexibility: some organizations prefer certain tools and they will offer you ready-made glossaries using those tools, some will send you an xlsx by e-mail, but some will not provide anything that you can readily use, and that’s just the way it goes – so you’d better start preparing your glossaries right now.

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