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Interview with Patricia Brenes: Why terminology is so important

By: Daniel Lifton, Social Media Marketing Executive

02 December 2015

We recently took the time to interview Patricia Brenes, a terminology enthusiast, about her passion for terminology, why she thinks terminology is so important in the world we live in and what future trends we can expect.

Hi Patricia, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you chose terminology as a specialism?

PB: First of all, thank you for this opportunity to talk about Terminology. I completed a translation Master’s degree at Universitat de Vic in Barcelona and my dissertation included terminology research on data warehouse design. I had been doing some terminology research in my job, so I started looking for training opportunities. I signed up for webinars as they became available and one day a course instructor told me about the ECQA Terminology Manager certification offered by TermNet (Vienna). That’s when the possibility of specializing in terminology became more real.

You have a very interesting blog about terminology called 'inmyownterms.' Could you tell us about it and why you started writing?

PB: The blog idea was my final project for the ECQA TM certification. I knew how complex terminology theory can get. When you read the literature from a beginner’s standpoint, you end up with a lot of knowledge gaps. My blog’s motto was “Terminology for Beginners and Beyond” and I wanted to write about terminology “in my own terms.” So I gathered all my resources and wrote short posts on the basics. Since then it has evolved into a more comprehensive blog: I have designed infographics on terminology history, began a biography section called “Who is Who in Terminology,” and created a page on Terminology Project Management for those who manage larger projects. 

Basically, In My Own Terms has grown out of my own curiosity and I try to keep it interesting and—why not—fun, to make terminology accessible to more people. Coming myself from a beginner level, I know that if there’s a topic that interests me, my readers will probably like it too, and I always give the sources and further readings for the more curious minds.

Terminology has always been a popular topic in the industry, why do you think the uptake has been slow?

PB: Terminology is still a young discipline. Let’s remember that the first terminology methodologies were developed mostly by engineers, not by linguists. It was mainly E. Wüster and M.T. Cabré who developed the terminology theories that gave it the status of science. So we were lagging a little behind other disciplines, but now universities are including terminology in their translation studies or, as in the case of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, offering a full Master’s program. Social media also plays a key role in the promotion of terminology. Organizations like the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (TermCoord) are using social media extensively to raise awareness. 

My blog gets visits from different search engines and social media which means that people are thirsty for information. Software tools get increasingly sophisticated to help translators do key tasks such as quality assurance. A lot of good things are happening. Again, you just have to look at TermCoord’s webpage and see all the events that are taking place at the institutional and academic levels. We are all networking and helping each other not only to make people aware of the importance of managing terminology but also to let them know that Terminology is a valid and promising professional career.

Could you share with us some terminology best practices?

PB: Well, first off, the industry’s best practices are set out in ISO terminology standards: Terminology Work–Principles and Methods (704:2000); Terminology Work–Vocabulary; Theory and Application 1087-1:2000; Translation-Oriented Terminography (12616:2002); and Computer Applications in Terminology–Data Categories (12620:1999). However, they are not free and not everybody has access to them. So, there are some Do’s and Don’ts that you can learn and steps that you can follow when creating and updating your termbases. I have a Termbase Cheat Sheet in my blog that includes the best practices and is downloadable.

What skills and attributes make a successful terminologist, in your opinion?

PB: It’s a mix of soft and hard skills. First, you need to keep a positive attitude because managing terminology effectively takes time and effort. Then, get some type of training. I believe my blog has useful materials to take the first steps (see my section Terminology 101). If you want to get formal training though, the ECQA TM certification is a great option. The Institute of Applied Linguistics at Universitat Pompeu Fabra also offers stand-alone courses from their online master’s program, in both English and Spanish. If you are doing terminology work on a larger scale, with a team, get some training on project management. 

There’s always something new that you can learn to become a better terminologist. Look for online webinars such as the ones SDL Trados offers on terminology management, and don’t forget about the MOOCs. I recently signed up for a free online course by Lancaster University on corpus linguistics and it opened up a whole new world to me. I recently blogged about Twitter handles and hashtags for topics and people who share content on terminology. I also recommend reading TermCoord’s collection of interviews with terminologists “Why is terminology your passion” to learn what terminologists do around the world.

What advice would you give to translators / companies who know they should manage their Terminology better but either don’t know where to start or are just a bit daunted on how to get going?

PB: The advice that most experts give is start small and slow. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by having to process ten thousand terms at a time; pick a short list but make it right from the beginning. How? Use terminology management tools—it’s an investment that you won’t regret—and follow best practices. Some people might think that managing terminology is too expensive, so you need to present your business case and do your cost-benefit analysis and calculate the return on investment (ROI) adapted to your business.

In simple terms, what are the real benefits of Terminology usage in the world today?

PB: It would be a long list, but basically managing terminology efficiently by using best practices and adequate tools makes your translation job much easier. A termbase shows you all the information about the term, its meaning, context, part of speech, etc., so that your translation is accurate, consistent, unambiguous and error-free, not only within one translated document but also from document to document. It saves you a lot of time and money, you become much more productive, and you will have happy clients.

What role do you think technology and software has in terminology management, and do you use it?

PB: Yes, I use several tools and I believe that without technology and software you cannot go very far in terminology work, because you need to be able to reuse your terminology quickly and efficiently to become more productive. Both technology and software go hand in hand. We have terminotics—the mid-way point between computational linguistics, linguistic engineering, and terminology—which takes us to corpus analysis and term extraction as a way to gather and organize terms. Databases, big data, linked open data, terminology management systems, ontologies: We are living the future of terminology.

Do you see any major trends that will accelerate the need to have a good Terminology workflow process in place?

PB: Terminology work is critical in areas such as web content management, search engine optimization (SEO), user interfaces, and system data exchange, and more recently the Internet of Things (IoT)—the network of objects inserted in devices that collect and exchange data online. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be about 50 billion IoT objects. Why is this important for terminology? Well, because IoT objects, such as heart implants, biochips, and built-in sensors, transmit vital information; they will control smart grids in smart cities. New and better products will be developed; more innovation, increased productivity and greater economic growth are expected. The exchange will no longer take place just between people but also between objects and systems. We will have large amounts of data from all over the world and from all industries—data that needs to be collected, classified, stored and processed. 

On a publication on this subject, authors Vermesan and Friess said that many players in that industry are accelerating the pace by coining new terms for the IoT and they underline the need to develop a framework of standards that include concepts, terms, and definitions. This is why we need people who are able to use terminology management tools. Terminology might be a very young profession but I believe that terminologists will be in great demand in the future.

To find out more about the importance of Terminology Management, click here.

Daniel Lifton

Dan is the Social Media Executive for SDL Trados, with a passion for customer engagement and social media.