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Improving Terminology Management Skills

By: Anja Drame (TermNet) and Klaus-Dirk Schmitz (University of Cologne)

16 March 2009

Magdalena is the owner of a small but successful translation and localization company in Eastern Europe. A translator since graduating from business school, Magdalena knows how hard it is to manage technology, tools and copyright while also handling her projects, processes and client relations. To that end, she recently decided to spend a few summer days training herself—as well as some of her staff—on the processes and technology in terminology management.

She attended the International Terminology Summer School together with over 70 other terminologists, translators, and language professionals from around the world.  

Why did she and others attend this course and why are there more each year?
The answer is quite simply in the gap between the knowledge required of terminologists today and available options to learn the tricks of their trade.

The job description of a terminology manager today is light years away from a decade or two ago. Far gone are the days when a terminologist was a hardly noticed person in a remote corner of an organization, whose duties were restricted to keeping the organization’s termbank up to date with new entries retrieved from growing piles of documents. Admittedly, this is still part of the job. But today it is much more of a management position: management of all workflow and technology that assist the organization’s communication, knowledge and risk management. The terminologist has become a vital element in the quality assurance process. Even traditionally conservative institutions are opening up to this trend. The terminology manager today is more influential than ever before. Magdalena, tired of the constant improvising to handle her little company’s growing stock of terminology, decided she and her team could benefit from some training.  

The new world of the terminology manager

Everyone whose responsibilities involve the documentation, translation, extraction, analysis and standardization of terminology is usually called a terminologist or terminology manager.  
The work often involves coordination of databases, technical documentation, translation and localization. But while there are many terminology managers around, few have the education or training to equip them for their job.

Over the last decade, the terminology manager has increasingly been assigned with the development and implementation of the company’s terminology policy. Policy-making and implementation is a complex and responsible management and communication task. Not everybody feels capable of it and, hence, regards it as threatening [http://www.infoterm.info/activities/terminology_policies.php].

More and more terminologists find themselves in a situation which requires them to constantly lobby their management for funds and attention. They also have to make their co-workers in different departments follow specially developed rules, workflows and methodologies.  

This poses both a chance and a challenge to the terminology manager. It offers a greater influence on the future working environment, but it also calls for frequent learning and adaptation to changing situations. And while some may feel threatened by the changes, others grab the opportunity and make it work for them.  

The skills description for the certification of terminology managers is currently being developed by the International Network for Terminology (TermNet) for an EU-wide project. It equally emphasizes communication and team working skills, the knowledge about standards and legal issues side by side with the “classical” theoretical and practical terminology management and processing skills. But even the latter require constant learning to keep pace with the rapid development and improvement of tools and methods. The European job profile will be based on interviews and surveys with practitioners and scientists. The project coordinators currently analyse tasks and problems in diverse working environments with the goal to develop better curricula, e-learning modules and training in future.  

On the Web

Terminology Blog

Certified Terminology Manager job description

Masters in Terminology and Language Technology at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences

International Terminology Summer School
6-10 July 2009
Cologne University of Applied Sciences

From translation student to terminology manager

Not every university equips its translation or communication graduates with the terminology management skills they need to cope with the day-to-day professional reality.  

The German speaking countries are certainly a positive exception. Most translators who leave these universities have at least a minimum knowledge of terminology management because their translation curricula recognize terminology as an important part of any translator’s tool box. Today, more than ever before, translators and interpreters must be able to research multilingual repositories, find definitions and explanations in order to transfer information targeted from one language and culture to another and to produce quality translation products and services. In 1986, the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ) pioneered the initiative to adapt all translation studies curricula accordingly.  

The transformation of European higher education curricula into Bachelors and Masters according to the Bologna Declaration potentially opens the gate for new courses in terminology management. The declaration of 1999 created the basis for greater mobility of students and academic staff between European countries by adopting comparable degrees and standards. One of the first of such new courses is the Master in Terminology and Language Technology at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.  

But what about others who have taken a different route to terminology?
A look at the participant list of the annual International Terminology Summer School shows that terminology management neither begins nor ends at the translator’s desk and the career paths are varied. Technical writers, information specialists and brokers consult, process and maintain terminology repositories to do their job. Moreover, all domain specialists who are involved in specialized communication, knowledge transfer and management have to deal or struggle with terminology products and services pretty much all the time. Products and services like dictionaries and glossaries, databases, software programmes, hotlines and manuals are developed language planners, standardizers, specialized lexicographers and terminologists.  

Learning by doing

In the meantime, terminologists often still have to jump in at the deep end. The lucky ones may have an experienced colleague to tutor and initiate them. The rest often use trial and error. But is learning by doing good enough? Many do not think so. Not enough to master the growing complexity and demands of the industry, let alone the terminologist’s ability to position himself or herself as a capable and competent communication professional.

Like Magdalena and her colleagues, most are overwhelmed by the sheer number of tools, conferences and tutorials that are on the market. They feel they cannot even evaluate them appropriately, let alone use them to the optimum.

The reasons why Magdalena decided to subscribe to the crash course in terminology management were indicative for most other participants: to learn the fundaments needed without having to quit the job and return to university for a year or more; to brush up theory and compare personal experience with science; to ask questions and tap colleagues for ideas and inspiration. And, most of all, to network and interact with others, and realize others face the same problems.

International Terminology Summer School – Getting connected and staying connected

On top of the list of intensive courses that is currently offered is the renowned International Terminology Summer School, TSS in short. TSS is an affordable investment in time and and budget. During this intensive, five-day course professionals and students are introduced to the basics of terminology management by some of the best instructors in the field.  

The original TSS takes place every year in July in varying training locations in Europe. In addition to this general course, more recently, TermNet® has started localized or in-house trainings on selected and specific aspects of terminology management.

What makes TSS special is its independence. It teaches practical skills and methods, not bound by specific tools or software and, wherever possible, based on international standards. TSS wants to empower participants to observe and analyze their professional environment and find their own solutions, tailored to the available budget and individual needs. It also teaches the importance of networking for constant learning and problem solving. “Because” said one of the organizers “this is what makes truly happy and capable terminology managers.”

After attending the course, Magdalena concluded it was “a great experience.” She was surprised she met so many others like her, something she had almost forgotten over her daily job routine. Maybe she will stay in touch with some of them. “And perhaps,” she pondered, “I should register again for 2009”. She would not be the first.  

* Magdalena’s name changed by the authors. More voices about TSS 2008: http://www.termnet.org/english/events/tss_2008/photos.php

Anja Drame is a project manager and PR consultant. She was editor of TermNet News and Infoterm Newsletter and writes for various trade publications. For TermNet (www.termnet.org) she has organized various conferences, seminars and workshops. Since 2008 she has been Deputy Director of the International Information Centre for Terminology (Infoterm). Anja has an M.A. in African Studies, Applied Linguistics and German as a Foreign Language (DAF) from Leipzig University and is currently working on her doctorate. Contact: anjadrame(at)gmail.com.

Klaus-Dirk Schmitz is Full Professor of Terminology Studies at Cologne University of Applied Sciences in Germany where he also heads the Institute for Information Management as Managing Director. His teaching and research activities focus on terminology theory and terminology management as wells as on software localization and computer tools for translators. Author and co-author of numerous books and articles in the field, Prof. Schmitz has also taken a leadership role in national and international forums e.g. as president of the International Information Centre for Terminology (Infoterm), and chairman of the German Standards Committee on Computer Applications in Terminology.