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Dr. Ekaterini Nikolarea (Bio)
University of the Aegean

Creating a Bilingual Glossary for Translators
[This article in Greek]


ELT: English Language Teaching
EFL: English as a Foreign Language
ESL: English as a Second Language
ESP: English for Specific Purposes
SL: Source Language
TL: Target Language



       This paper addresses primarily translators (novice and experienced) and language users (subject specialists, teachers and learners for specific purposes) without excluding other language users such as communication specialists, specialist lexicographers and terminologists and any other researchers who move back and forth between two, at least, languages and cultures.

       What and How?

       It is about what and how to search for, compile, build up, store and retrieve a personal bilingual Terminological Data Bank (TDB).


       This paper is the fruit of four-year teaching experience. For two years, I was teaching various specialist courses in translation theory and practice and supervising translation projects - which included the compilation of bilingual glossaries (English-Greek1 and Greek-English) at a private Institute of Higher Education2. For two years now, I have been teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at a Greek State University3.

       A Gap to Fill in

       This paper is written to cover a gap that everybody in Translation Studies refers to but nobody has written about: a methodology for a personal bilingual terminology compilation. For so many years there has been so much vague and general advice about 'what' - that is, "a translator's most important glossary will be the store of terminology he has built up for himself" (Castellano Rpt. 1985: 75) - but nothing on 'how.'

       As early as in 1990, Juan Sager poignantly stated that "[T]here is no comparative description available of the many different methods used in the production of terminological glossaries, dictionaries and term banks. In fact, there is no single methodology in Europe which can claim to be in regular use as a model of terminology compilation. In Canada a succession of manuals has been published which are based on practical experience and are being used for actual terminology compilation" (Sager 1990: 219; emphasis mine). Unfortunately, we are in the dawn of the new millenium and yet to read a publication dealing either with the what, the subject matter that should be included in a terminology compilation, or with the how, the methodology for the creation and management of a personal bilingual TDB. It is this gap in Translation Studies, Terminology, Lexicography and ESP that this article will try to fill in.

       Translators and any other language users and the applicability and usability of their final product.

       The STARTING POINT OF THIS STUDY will be the practical experience or rather the struggle as being experienced by:

      (1) novice translators who struggle with specialist terms that they do not know or they cannot find and thus being unable to render them in the Target Language (TL);

      (2) ESP learners (especially University students4) who struggle to understand the basic concepts of a specialist text written in English but their hopes quickly vanish as there are no bilingual specialist dictionaries or glossaries;

      (3) ESP teachers who understand a specialist text written in English, since they use monolingual specialist glossaries, but have difficulties in explaining difficult technical terms to their non-English students; and

      (4) Specialists (University teachers) who - despite having an excellent knowledge of the terminology they use, this knowledge is mostly monolingual5 - struggle as much as the ESP teachers to make some English specialist terms accessible and understandable to their non-English students6 , and/or they struggle with their university notes which themselves initially wrote in English but they now have to render into the official language of University by which they are hired.

       The OBJECTIVE of this paper is to set for a methodology of a personal bilingual TDB whose end-product can be a dynamic practical tool for its end-users in that it can be stored, retrieved, modified and enriched according to their needs. Inevitably, this methodology will draw upon various methodological models7 but its aim is a wider applicability and usability - that is, to be as clearly stated as possible - so that it can equally be usable and useful for novice and experienced translators, ESP University students and teachers as well as specialists.


       In order to be widely applicable and usable, this methodology is descriptive. It describes various steps that the end-user should take in order to create, manage and maintain a personal bilingual TDB. Nevertheless, it is prescriptive when establishing certain CRITERIA to create a TDB.



       Phase One: Where and how to locate monolingual and bilingual dictionaries.

       1.1 Get informed

       If you are new in a town or city and you are interested in locating sources, do the following:

       1. Find how many libraries there are in your town. There can be: a Departmental Library, a University Library, a local library, a Municipal library, a Provincial library (in Canada), a State library (in the USA), a Public library and a National library.

       2. Find their telephone numbers from the telephone directory.

       3. Call the libraries to find out their address(es).

       4. You may find the information 1, 2 and 3 on the Internet.

       5. Store all the information in your own paper or electronic telephone directory.

       1.2. Visit the library

       1. Decide which library you will visit first.

       2. Consult the paper or the electronic map of the town to find your way there.

       3. Ask for directions, if you feel uncertain or lost.

       1.3. Get a sense of the library/ies

        When you enter into a library, walk around for a while in order to get a sense of it. There are two kinds of libraries:

       1. Those which don't allow access to their shelves or, in other words, with no access to the physicality of learning, reading and teaching materials; and

       2. Those which allow access to their shelves or in other words, with access to the physicality of learning, reading and teaching materials.

       1.3.1. Libraries which do not allow access to their shelves

       1. You have to extract information about the dictionary for which you are looking from the library terminals or the card catalogues.        
  • If you have never used before the terminal of the specific library, follow the instructions.
  • If still you have problems, ask a librarian for help.

       2. If you find the call number of the dictionary for which you are looking, give it to the librarian so that the librarian will bring the dictionary to you.

       3. If you do not find any information, ask the librarian for help.

        In the libraries in which you have no physical access to the books and you have to use a library terminal, you may encounter difficulties not in following the instructions of using the terminal but rather in finding the information.

        If you have no bibliographical data (i.e. the writer's name, the title of the dictionary), do the following:

       1. Search under 'Title.'

       2. Type up as much specific information as you can. For example, English Dictionary (general monolingual), Dictionary of Geography (specialist monolingual), Dictionary of Physical Geography (specialist monolingual) OR English-Greek Dictionary (general bilingual), English-Greek Dictionary of Geology (specialist bilingual) OR Multilingual Dictionary of Chemistry (specialist multilingual)8 .

        Libraries which do not allow access to their shelves are usually big libraries and/or libraries with antique acquisitions and manuscripts. An example of this sort of library is the National Library of Greece in Athens.

       1.3.2. Libraries whixh allow access to their shelves

        You should know that different libraries have different operational systems. In some libraries, you may have access to the shelves and thus to the books, videos, CDs, CD-ROMs. An example of this sort of library is Boston Public Library, in Boston, Mass (USA). In some other libraries you can borrow books but you have to stay in the library to watch a video or to listen to a CD. The Library of the British Council in Athens, Greece, is one of these libraries. Nevertheless, in most libraries, you can borrow booksonly , whereas audio-visual materials, if any, are accessible and available only to the teaching staff.

        If you are in a library which allows access to its shelves:

       1. Find out whether there are any introductory seminars on how the library works. If there are register in order to attend them. If not, ask a librarian for a tour.

       2. Have a look around the library and try to locate the dictionaries and glossaries in which you are interested.

       3. Dictionaries, glossaries, encyclopaedias or thesauri are not usually lent and have the indication REF (Reference) before their call number. As a result, you may try to locate them around the 'Information' desk, in the 'Reference Section' or 'Reference Room' or on the shelves that are usually at the walls of the library (not on the shelves in the rows). The last pattern is rather discernible in Greek University and Public libraries; e.g. in the Technical University of Athens, University of the Aegean and in the Public Library of Mytilene (Lesvos, Greece).

       4. Dictionaries, glossaries or encyclopaedias may be lent either because there is a sufficient number of copies or because their older version is on the shelves. Newly acquired dictionaries are usually in the 'Reference Section.' Big university libraries, such as the Rutherford Library of the University of Alberta in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada), do have this policy. To find whether a particular library has such a policy, ask the librarian. You will save time and energy!

       Phase Two: How to find what you are looking for.

        Fine! You have located all the dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias of the library you are in. Now, it is time to get the best out of them.

       2.1. Prepare yourself

       1. Get a list of (specialist) words, terms or expressions with you in a physical or paper form (i.e. sheets of paper, your personal paper or electronic notebook) or in your mind. You may also carry the text you are reading with the unknown terms underlined.

       2. Make sure that you have spelt correctly (or you know the spelling of) the words or terms, keeping an open eye to the slightly different spelling you may encounter; for example, sulfur (US use) and sulphur (British use).

       3. Get some sheets of paper or your (paper or electronic) notebook in order to note down the unknown terms.

       4. If you have not followed steps 1, 2 and 3, you have two choices.        
  • Either look up your terms in general and specialist dictionaries
  • Or leave the library, go back home or to your office and follow steps 1, 2 and 3.

       2.2. Get started

       1. Go to general dictionaries. Decide what kind of general dictionary you open, depending on your situation.

       a) If you are working in a monolingual environment which does not require a translation or a rendering of the term, then search for it in a monolingual dictionary; i.e. English, Greek, French, Turkish etc.

       b) If you are working in a monolingual environment that requires a translation or a rendering of the term, search for the term in a bilingual dictionary, i.e. English-Greek or Greek-English, depending on the directionality9 .

       c) If you are working in a bilingual environment, then it is imperative for you to know how to find and how to use general and specialist bilingual dictionaries, i.e. English-Greek or Greek-English, depending on the directionality.

       2. Write down as many entries of the term you can find. If you find just one or two entries, try another general dictionary.

       Libraries usually have more than one general monolingual and bilingual dictionaries. However, it depends on what language you are working with and if this language is either used or known where you live (a lesser-used language). For example, if you are searching for a general Finnish-Greek or Greek-Finnish dictionary in a regional library in Greece, it is rather unlikely to find it. Nevertheless, you can still ask the librarian to be on the safe side.

       3. Try to find specialist dictionaries relevant to the terms for which you are looking. Be prepared for three possible scenarios.

       a). You may find a specialist monolingual dictionary which meets your requirements. For example,

            1. An English monolingual dictionary of Geography (when your project is English monolingual).

            2. A Greek monolingual dictionary of Sociology (when your project is Greek monolingual) .

       SUGGESTION: Find the term and (photo)copy it.

        b)You may find a specialist bilingual dictionary of your field. For example, you may find an English-Greek Dictionary of Geology, whenyour focus is Greek monolingual. Nevertheless, you have to transfer knowledge from English into Greek. This knowledge usually comes as textbooks, notes, web pages or bibliographical references. The transfer of knowledge may be:

            1. A general understanding of the text (English) and then an effort to summarise it in the language of instruction (Greek). You usually encounter this situation in a learning environment, such as a school or a university, as well as in professional environments, such as (translation) agencies, offices, and businesses.

            2. A general understanding of the text (English) and then an effort to render or translate it into the language of habitual use or that of instruction (Greek). You usually face this situation in either an academic environment, when quoting a passage in your essay or article, or in a professional environment, when working as a translator.

       SUGGESTION: If there are more than one specialist bilingual dictionaries of the same field in the same library, then find them and (photo)copy the required terms.

       c) You cannot find a specialist bilingual dictionary of the field in which you are working. What do you do, when you have to transfer the knowledge acquired in English from English into Greek, as described in 2.2., 3 b, 1 and 210 ?

       2.3. Advanced Search

        In order to overcome the problem that arises from the third scenario, you may consider the 'Advanced Search' that requires lateral thinking and productive reasoning. Initially, you may find this process time-consuming and tiresome. Once you get used to them though, it becomes a standard routine.        

       2.3.1. Stage One: Relevant Specialist Bilingual (or Multilingual) Dictionaries

       1. Try to find specialist bilingual dictionaries which are as close to your field as possible. For example, if the term you are looking for is derived from GIS (Geographical Informational Systems), Spatial Statistics or Cartography, then the most relevant specialist bilingual dictionaries are:        
  • A dictionary of Mathematics (or Advanced Mathematics);       
  • A Computer dictionary;       
  • A dictionary of Statistics;       
  • A dictionary of Engineering (e.g. Mechanical, Electrical Engineering etc.).

       2. Find the term and write down as many entries of it as you can find.

       3. At the end of each entry you may put into parentheses or brackets an abbreviation of the field in which this term is used; e.g. (COMP) for Computer Science or (MATH) for Mathematics. This abbreviation or these abbreviations will help you in organising your TDB when you are at home without being surrounded by any dictionaries.

       4. If the specialist bilingual (or multilingual) dictionary is not organised in an alphabetical order, go to the 'Introduction,' 'Preface' or 'Forward' and read through how this dictionary is organised. Then follow the instructions. If the dictionary is organised in SUBJECTS (in a 'Thesaurus' form), then go to the Index at the end of the dictionary. If there is no entry of the term in the Index, it signifies that you will not find the term for which you are looking in the particular dictionary.

       2.3.2. Stage Two: Further Research

        If you still cannot find the term do a more advanced search.

       1. Search for books related to your sub-field. If these books are translations or renderings of English books, they may have a bilingual (English->Greek) dictionary or glossary at the end. At least, this policy is practised by a good number of Greek publishing houses which specialize in technical publications; for example the information technology books published by Giourdas Publications (Γκιούρδας). Certain publishing houses in your home country may do the same.

       2. Monolingual books, which are originally written in the language of your habitual use or that of instruction or your mother tongue may give you the rendering of the term as long as you know how to search for it. Look for a key word either in the 'Table of Contents' or the 'Index'. If you find the key word, go to the respective page or chapter and skim the paragraph or the page in order to see whether the term you find in the book is the term you are looking for 11.

       2.3.3. An Alternative Course of Action

        If you are in haste, a novice translator or inexperienced in your specialty subject field, skip Stage Two (2.3.2.), because you may run the risk of being overwhelmed, and take another course of action. Go to your office and:

       1. Check for the term you cannot find in general and specialist bilingual dictionaries in CD-ROMs you may own.

       2. Search on the Internet12.

       3. If you find the term, write it down.

       4. If you still cannot find the term, then ask other translators, subject specialists and teachers.

       NOTE: The 'Advanced Search' can also be done in exclusively monolingual environments. You can find difficult terms, which you may not be able to find them in a general or specialist monolingual dictionary, if you follow the same basic methodology as described in 2.2. 3c and 2.3.1.-2.2.3. Although there are instructions how to search for bilingual dictionaries (see 2.2.3.), the same methodology is applicable to the search for monolingual dictionaries.


       Phase Three: How to organise and where to store the relevant information        

        After you have spent some time in the library(ies), you must have got a good number of entries of several unknown words and terms by now. What else you may need is to go home or somewhere that you have access to a personal computer (PC). In this phase of compiling, organising and storing your TDB, you need a PC, critical thinking and discriminatory (comparative and contrastive, to a certain degree) skills at a later stage.

        You need a PC because the TDB you are going to organise will be in an electronic form. Thus, the assumption is that you know the very basics of word processing.

        You need to exercise your CRITICAL THINKING to establish some basic criteria before even you start typing up and organising your electronic TDB. Below, some basic criteria for creating a TDB are described for you, the underlying philosophy of which is taken from Translation Studies, Terminology and Lexicography.


       1. Write your TDB and the entries in clear and simple language so that even difficult or unfamiliar words are easily understandable.

       2. If you use abbreviations of any sort, make sure that you will write them with an explanation of what they signify. Explanations of abbreviations are 'friendly reminders' to your memory when you do not work on your TDB regularly and help you have a consistency in your whole document. These explanations will also help possible readers of your TDB.

       3. Incorporate any other details in your TDB in such a way that virtually anybody can understand and utilise them.

       4. It is absolutely essential that whenever you want to make a revision of your TDB, you should be able to do it immediately and without any difficulty.

       5. To make alterations to your TDB immediately and without any difficulty, you must create an easily retrievable and manageable TDB.

       6. You have spent substantial amount of time in searching, finding and writing down vocabulary and definitions of terms that you do not know. You may have managed to nose out definitions of terms applying the 'Advanced Search' methodology, as described earlier. Thus, you must never have to do the same terminological search twice. Definitions of a term may change or may become obsolete, due to changes in a scientific field or the passage of time, but then what you simply do is to make the necessary alterations to your data.

       7. Since you are creating a TDB that is for your own use, then you may insert any general vocabulary you may find difficult or troublesome with scientific terminology in whatever format you choose to store it.

        In the following paragraphs, certain steps are described to organising and storing a TDB, you are provided with examples from EFL/ESP University students' and a professional translator's files. Students' experience as well as professional translators' practice have shown that organising a TDB in alphabetical order in a (Microsoft) Word document is the easiest and the most flexible way to organise, store and handle a TDB in short and long term. Nevertheless, if you want to use other software systems such as Excel or Access, you can do it provided that you know how to use it.

        You need to exercise your DISCRIMINATORY SKILLS or, as otherwise called, COMPARATIVE and CONTRASTIVE SKILLS, when you are ready to edit your TDB. If you follow the instructions discussed in 3.1., 7. ('Editing your TEXT or TABLE) below, you can use this kind of skills you are bestowed with. It takes knowledge and practice to develop these skills, and there is no reason why you or any other person, whose faculties and senses are not impaired not to be able to do it.

       3.1. Get started

       1. Turn on the PC.

       2. Open My Computer.

       3. Create a Folder in My Documents and name it as you wish; e.g. TDB.

       4. Create a File and 'Save it As' you wish; e.g. GIS (: Geographical Information Systems).

       A COMMENT: Do not worry about the naming of the Folder and the File. If you want to change it, you can do it whenever you wish or during Phase Four, which we will discuss in much detail below.

       Insert the information you have as a TEXT.

       a) Type up all the information you have gathered up to now.

       b) Type up the word, the headword or the term13 in English.

       c) Use colon (:) or 'equals to' (=) after the term.

       Type up the definition or definitions you have found for this term under one main entry. If the term has got more than one definitions do the following:

       If the definitions are simple individual words, separate them with a comma (,), a semi-colon (;) or number them using comma (,) or a full stop (.) in the end of each word; e.g. (1)... , (2)... , OR (1) ... . (2)... . When you finish inserting all the definitions of one term, press ENTER once to start typing up the next headword you have in your list. An example of this case you can see in Figure 1.

       SUGGESTION: Do not worry about the alphabetical order of the terms. Your word processing application can sort them for you; see 3.1.,7. a, below.

           Figure 1: A bilingual TDB compiled by Charidimos Deverakis14.

       2. If your definitions come with an explanation or a longer text that explicates a difficult term, separate the different definitions by numbering them; e.g. (1)... . (2)... . You may also want to open a parenthesis in the end of each definition and use an abbreviated form of the specialty or the specialties this definition is used in UPPER CASE. This can be done equally in a monolingual and a bilingual TDB; e.g. grid: ... (GIS) [a monolingual TDB]; grid: ... (ΣΓΠ) [a bilingual (English: Greek) TDB].

             Figure 2: A specialist bilingual dictionary by Ekaterini Nikolarea15.

       Examples of 3.1., 5. c, 2 are the highlighted terms in Figure 2. If you see 'Graphic representation,' the same expression is used in English for a variety of fields, such as Computer Science, Cartography, Mathematics and Statistics, whereas a different expression is used in Greek for Computer Science (ΠΛΗΡΟΦ) and Cartography (ΧΑΡΤ) [see (1)], and another for Mathematics (ΜΑΘ) and Statistics (ΣΤΑΤ) [see (2)].

       A REMINDER: If you do this, do not forget to write a list of Abbreviations in the beginning of your TDB so to remember which abbreviation stands for which field or sub-field.

       3. If now the same term has the same definition but this definition is explicated differently in different specialties, then you:        
  • Write the definition;       
  • Add a full stop (.)       
  • Write in small letters Source Language (SL) or Target Language (TL)16 in parentheses (a) ... . (b) ... . OR (α) ... . (β) ... .       
  • After (a) or (α) and (b) or (β), explain further the term in the particular field.        
  • Specify the specialty or the specialties this definition is used in an abbreviated form in UPPER CASE; e.g. (ΣΓΠ) [: GIS: Geographical Information Systems].

               Figure 3: A specialist bilingual dictionary by Ekaterini Nikolarea.

       Examples of 3.1., 5. c, 3 are the highlighted words in Figure 3. The highlighted words are Syntax and Table. Whereas the Greek equivalent for both terms is one definition (one and the same word), the meaning changes according to the field it is used. On the one hand, Syntax is 'syntax' as we understand it in grammar (ΓΡΑΜ) and linguistics. Nevertheless, Syntax it is also used to denote the method ('syntax') according to which (mathematical) functions are written in Computer Science (ΠΛΗΡΟΦ) and in Visual Basic (VISUAL). On the other hand, Table, besides its general mathematical meaning, also holds the meaning of 'the basic mechanism of storing data in a data base, which consists of tables and sequences of information.' The latter meaning is primarily used in Computer Science (ΠΛΗΡΟΦ), Visual Basic (VISUAL) and in computer-related fields, such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS: ΣΓΠ), Remote Sensing (ΤΗΛΕΠ), Photogrammetry (ΦΤΓΡΑΜ), Cartography (ΧΑΡΤ) and Spatial Statistics (ΧΩΡΑΝΑΛ)17.

       A COMMENT: Case 3.1., 5. c. 3 is more complex and advanced than that of 3.1., 5. c. 2 and you may wish to avoid it. Nevertheless, as translators and language users, you know that, working in interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary fields, you will soon encounter a wide spectrum of meanings of one and the same scientific word, such as Syntax or Table. Case 3.1., 5. c. 3 is one of the instances in which the polysemy of language is fully manifested in scientific language and terminology.

       4. Upon completing the entry, press ENTER once to move to the next line and start typing up another entry.

       A SUGGESTION: Do not press ENTER twice after the end of each entry. You can do that only when you finish the editing of your text (see below) and you wish to present it in a nice way. If you do press ENTER twice after the end of each entry, when you sort your text, all the extra space will jump into the very beginning of your text automatically.

       6. Insert the information in a TABLE

              1.Create a table with two columns and five rows. You can add more rows as you advance in your document.

              2. Type up the English headword in the left column and use colon (:) or 'equals to' (=) after it.

              3. Type up all the definitions in the right column, following the steps as described in 3.1., 5. 1-4.

       A COMMENT: Although a tabled TDB offers a nice presentation to small texts, it becomes impractical and cumbersome when/if you may have to write long texts in the right column.

       7. Editing your TEXT or TABLE.

       a) Sorting the terms of the TDB

              1. Select all your text.

              2. Go to Menu File.

              3. Click on the Table.

              4. Go down to Sort and click once.

              5. A dialog box appears on your monitor.

              6. Press OK.

              7. Wait for a while. The program is sorting your document.

              8. Your TDB appears in alphabetical order.

       For example, if you type up the term 'Emergency' and, by mistake, you type the letter E in Greek (which looks the same as the English E), you should change the letter from Greek into English. If you do not make this change, when you sort your TDB, the term and its definition will appear in the very end of your TDB. This occurs because in a TDB whose terms are primarily in English there is a hierarchy in sorting: first English, second Greek terms, then any mathematical symbols etc. Nevertheless, in a TDB with a reverse directionality (Greek->English), the hierarchy in sorting is the reverse; first Greek and then English terms, then any mathematical symbols etc.

       b) Making terms stand out

       1. In the TDB as a TABLE

        In this kind of TDB, terms stand out because they are in situated in the left column of the table. Thus, either do nothing or follow the steps described in 7. 2, b below.

       2. In the TDB as a TEXT

        In this sort of TDB, there are several simple ways to make the terms of your TDB stand out.

       a) You may add a manual line break by pressing ENTER twice; see Figure 1.

       b) You may italicise, underline or make them bold. Figure 4 is an example of how terms stand out by being italicised (a TDB by Athina Kehaya). Figure 5 is an example of using bold face. In this figure, terms stand out even more as a line break follows each term (from Nikoleta Karali's TDB). Finally, in Figure 6, (by the student Alexandros Nassiadis18), the terms stand out because they are underlined.

       c) There is, however, another way to make the terms of your TDB stand out: this is how most dictionaries, glossaries or thesauri are laid out. You can type up the term in bold face and slightly indent the text; see Figures 2 and 3. This, however, does not exclude other possibilities, such as the TDB in Figure 6.

                            Figure 4: A bilingual TDB by Athina Kehaya.

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