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Best practices for using a translation glossary

Translation glossaries are an indispensable resource for any business on track for global growth. This guide brings you the “why” and “how” of using a translation glossary.

In localization and internationalization, a glossary is a list of terms, usually organized in alphabetical order, that provides clarification of terms related to a specific subject or used in a certain topic area. Along with translation memory (TM), glossaries have been a cornerstone of the localization industry. 

Why should you use a glossary?

A glossary clarifies terms that are otherwise hard to translate. It is basically a list of terminologies with fixed meaning and translation. Your translators may not always have access to the context information your content is based on. They might end up spending hours trying to find a proper translation for a single technical term. A glossary helps them skip this tiresome step, suggesting an accurate and well-accepted translation.

How does a glossary work?

A glossary works when a translator starts translating a segment in a localization tool. If the segment contains a term or a phrase that matches an entry in the glossary, the translator will receive a suggestion about how certain /terms should be translated.

Sometimes, there may be confusion over how a glossary differs from translation memory. In fact, translation memory is used to pre-translate a document. It is only after this process that a glossary starts to join the game. In this sense, a glossary has a more “live” taste compared with translation memory.

It is also worth noting that neither TM nor glossary has a formally defined character limitation on the length of each translation unit. In other words, it is possible that you have a terminology-like sentence in a TM file while also having a glossary file that contains sentence-long terminologies. Phrase’s CSV-based glossary style gives you great flexibility when it comes to glossary management.

Best practices for using a glossary

Now that you have a better understanding of what a glossary is and how it works, you may start wondering how you could make use of it. Explore our ultimate list of proven practices to make sure you make the best of using a translation glossary.

Put “non-translatables” in your glossary

Do you have any portions of content that you would rather have in their original language, such as the company founder’s name, product name, acronyms, or something your translator thinks it should better remain untranslated? A good practice here is to have all these terms included in your glossary, especially when you plan to outsource the translation to a third party that may not be familiar with your company preferences.

Keep your glossary up to date

As the volume of translation expands, so does your TM and glossary. It is only a matter of time before you realize that your TMs and glossary start to overlap or run counter to one another. You may have three or four translation versions for the same string that uses different vocabularies. Make sure to have your translator update the glossary (and even translation memory) every time new content has been introduced.

Use glossary as a QA check

A glossary is important not only because it holds the most accurate or official translation, but also because it’s a good way to ensure your translation is consistent, especially if the content you sought to translate is technology-focused. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you use glossary as a QA check to ensure certain terms have accurate and consistent translation.


Before you put your glossary to use, you may want to include some descriptions for each of the terms involved. Specifying what each term represents provides important context information for your translators, helping them to understand the source content and improving their work efficiency.

Categorize your glossary when necessary

Context matters. A “tier” can mean one thing in construction but something completely different in political science. If you need to translate documents in different business fields, you should catalog your glossary based on topics. Phrase allows you to create multiple glossaries and associate them with different project types.

Beware of locales

A language can have different locales. Spanish is spoken in not only Spain but also Latin America as well as a number of areas of North America as well. Therefore, translation of a term may differ across these locales. Phrase offers you an effective and flexible way to associate your glossary with certain locales.

Communicate with your translators

There is no “perfect” translation. Even if you believe the terms you have included in your glossary are the most official or accurate ones, there might be cases where you need a workaround (especially when you are translating marketing-related materials). Make sure you always keep good communication with your translator resource team for their opinions.

Finally, if you feel ready now to start applying these best practices, make sure you explore here how Phrase can help you work with glossaries to maintain translation quality in the long run.