What is a termbase and why use one?

Language is subjective, which means that translation is, too. Words might not mean the same thing to everyone. For example, if I gave the same text to five professional translators, I’d probably get five completely different texts back. That’s why terminology management is such an important part of the translation process.

What is a termbase?

Although terminology management might sound complicated, all it boils down to is specifying whether you want particular words to be translated in a specific way. You can achieve this by managing your terminology with the help of a termbase or a translation glossary. A translation glossary is simply a list of terms and their translations, usually created in Microsoft Word or Excel, whereas a termbase is a more comprehensive database created using dedicated software, such as MemoQ or SDL Multiterm, which includes more information and the terms along with specific instructions.

Managing your terminology allows you to pinpoint the terms that are key to your business, offer extra explanations about these terms and suggest preferred translations for them (or whether you would prefer them to stay in their original language). When it comes to deciding what software to use, it depends on the size and goals of your business.

If you are a smaller business starting to reach out into international markets, a Microsoft Word document or an Excel spreadsheet would do the job. If your business is of a larger size and several people need to be able to access and edit the termbase, there are specialised terminology management systems available – your language service provider (LSP) will be able to provide information about these systems and give you access to the ones they use.

Why should you manage your terminology?

There are three main benefits to using a termbase or glossary:

  • Saves you time. Because they allow the translator to quickly check how you want certain terms to be translated, it reduces the amount of time needed for research or emailing. This means that your translators can meet tighter deadlines without sacrificing the quality of their work.
  • Saves you money. Terminology management means that you will never have to pay to translate the same word or phrase twice. Ask your translation provider about how translation memory discounts can be applied to your projects.
  • Keeps your corporate wording consistent. Terminology management also means that your important terms can match the brand voice that you have carefully curated. Staying consistent in this way can help to build your brand and build trust with your customers.

One instance in which it might be especially important to ensure that you’re using terminology management is when requesting translations for a large-scale or long-term project. There may be multiple translators working on the same project, therefore a termbase enables them to stay consistent with each other.

How to build a termbase or glossary?

You don’t need to worry about this too much, as your LSP will be able to advise you on any specific terms you might need for your projects if they have worked with you before. Here’s a general overview of the process:

  1. Analyse existing corporate texts to identify key words. Focus on the core terminology of your business, your processes and your industry. Which words appear most often? Which would be the most complex to explain in layman’s terms?
  2. Time for translation. Give this list of terms and phrases to your LSP, along with any extra information and tell them into which languages you would like these terms translated. You might want to anticipate and include any languages that you might also work with in the future. Ensure that it’s clear which language variants you will be using.
  3. These translations will need to be reviewed and validated by an expert. You might have someone in-house who knows your company well and is based in the country or countries where the translation will be used. This is to make sure that each term is translated appropriately and is an important part of the process. If you don’t have local offices or any staff based in the target language countries, ask your LSP to organise an extra layer of local approval. These translations are likely to be used for years to come – that’s the whole point of the document! You might also want to consider any other factors at this point, such as SEO revision, consistency with existing translations, or further approval.
  4. Time to distribute. Once you’re happy these steps have been completed, you’ll have a file full of important terminology and their expert-approved translations. It’s now time to distribute the termbase or glossary to the relevant teams. Planet Languages works with server-based glossaries and web-based platforms that allow you to access your termbases at any time.
  5. Termbases and glossaries should be living documents and are most effective when they are regularly evaluated and updated, to ensure that the most up-to-date terminology is included. Set up annual reminders for terminology review to make sure that this is the case.

What kind of words should you include?

There’s no hard and fast rule about which terms you need to include. We do, however, have a few suggestions to help. It’s best to include these terms in their most “basic” form. For the nouns, make sure to avoid any articles and include them in their singular form – not “the cars”, just “car”. For verbs, make sure they’re in their infinitive form, which is the form you could stick “to” in front of and it make sense: “to run”, “to sell”, “to read”. If you’re working with a language where adjectives change depending on the gender of the noun they’re describing, make sure to include the masculine form, if that’s considered to be the default form in your language.

Here are a few suggestions of the types of terms to consider.

  • Brand names and product names. Any words that are unique to you and your business should be included, such as the names of any products, services or collections that you offer. Even if you would prefer them to stay in their original language, you should still include them so that every translator who works on your projects knows this. Furthermore, it can be helpful to give in-country experts the chance to check whether these terms have any homonyms or negative connotations in your target markets.
  • Industry terms. You might also want to include any industry-specific terms. These could be technical terms relating to how your product is made or how it works, any abbreviations or acronyms. You might use these in several different documents in your corporate literature, therefore it’s important to maintain clarity and consistency by translating them the same way every time they appear.
  • Slogans or tag lines. Slogans are famously hard to translate, and often involve transcreation. In order to work, they must be memorable, and immediately associated with your brand. Decide whether your slogans or tag lines will work if they are kept in English, and if you do translate them, include them in your termbase so that they appear the same way every time.


There’s a lot to take in, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to do the whole thing at once, or that your organisation isn’t yet big enough to warrant creating a multilingual termbase. You can start slow, pick your main words, and your LSP can help you to build it over time as your business grows and evolves. You can put as much or as little information into it as you want – the details can range from a simple source term or phrase and its translation to extra information such as definitions, synonyms, product images and notes on when and how the term should be used.

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