Let’s talk terms.
Anime, manga, game, and light novel translators, we need to talk.
Y’see, there’s something very, very important a lot of ya’ll aren’t in the habit of doing.
Sit down and let’s talk… about terminology management.
What is terminology management?
Simply put, it’s writing down frequently used words and phrases that need to be translated the same way every time.
You might’ve heard it called a glossary, dictionary, term list, term base, cheat sheet, etc.
Why is terminology management so important? Well…
- It saves you time searching for words later.
- if you leave the project or get hit by a bus, the next TL on the project will love you.
- If they decide to make a second season ten years down the line, you won’t have to dig through old shit to find stuff.
- It makes you look hella professional.
Through the lens of translation theory, maintaining consistent terminology is important to creating equivalent experience. Using inconsistent translations creates more work on the part of the reader.
Imagine if a game used three different words to refer to the same skill. You’d be distracted, annoyed, frustrated, or confused. It’s the same concept!
“But Katrina”, you say, “I’ve already got a term list!”
What you’ve got is a great start! But I’m willing to bet a few things:
- You haven’t written down every single one.
- You don’t always jot down all the info for every term.
- Your term list isn’t easy to search.
It’s not your fault — very few companies require us to provide full term lists, and those that do don’t really check to make sure we’ve done a really thorough job. And unless you took classes on translation in school, you’ve never been taught how to organize terminology.
So today, I’m gonna show you how to:
- identify which words or phrases are terms
- pick which information to write down
- organize your terms to make them easy to reference later
- look extremely professional and boost your worth
Let’s start off with the most important question: how can you tell what’s a term? What needs to get written down, and what can you ignore?
I’ll keep things simple here, but this answer can get mega complicated. Some linguists have PhDs in Terminology, and there are careers in terminology management!
What is a term?
If a source word, phrase, or idea must be translated with the same target word, phrase, or idea every time it appears in the target text, then it is a term.
Let’s go down the list of categories from most to least obvious. I’ll add my tips for what to add.
Her comes our most obvious category: Proper Nouns.
If it’s capitalized in the English translation, then it probably belongs on your term list.
Every single name that appears in the translation, from main characters to the rando that’s named exactly once. Why?
- Weird kanji readings
- You have to give a name to every balloon/line in your deliverable
- Named rando could be important one day
✏ Biggest tip on character terms:
Put a few words about their description in the definition. My go-to is hairstyle and one identifying mark, like a scar, hair accessory, speech quirk, etc.
🏫 Place Names 🏢
If a place has a name, it goes in the
- Towns, Cities, Countries, Kingdoms
- Schools & Companies
- Government Offices or HQs
- Club vs. Team for 部
- Councils, Committees, administrative groups (Dueling Committee)
- Monster names or races
- Items, minerals, chemicals, magic, you name it!
📚Lore, Nicknames, Catchphrases💭
- Anything specific to the lore that needs to be translated consistently.
- Nicknames: Super easy to forget.
- Example below is from Grimoire from Zero. This guy gets a nickname in 103, then shows back up in 108. Glad I wrote it down!
🧙♂️Spells, Skills, and Mechanics🦸♀️
- Spells – single-word and full phrase
- Skills – same thing
- Game mechanics (chihayafuru, long-shot card)
👑Titles, Honorifics, and Forms of Address🙇♂️
- Military titles and ranks
- Translations for honorifics (先生, 殿, etc), especially when specific to certain characters (Professor, Doctor, Lord, Sir etc.)
- What one character calls another consistently (Master, Milord, Ser, etc.)
💁♂️Frequently Used Phrases🎮
- The stat blocks you see used in isekai anime – they’re all formatted consistently!
- Canned phrases, transformation calls, quotes.
- One famous example you may know: “In the name of the moon, I’ll punish you!”
- Scenes referenced often
- Some shows really like to keep going back to a certain scene or quote. Instead of having to look it up every goddamn time, you can place the whole thing in a term!
These categories cover a lot of what should be on your term list, but you may encounter terms that don’t quite fit!
Remember the golden rule: if this word or phrase should be translated with the same words every single time, PUT IT ON THE TERM LIST!
That golden rule crosses off a lot of things that shouldn’t be on your term list.
Japanese words you just can’t seem to remember? Write a note elsewhere.
Accents or tones of voice for a character belong in a Style Guide. Alternatively, put them in the note/description for the character.
That’s a great segue into my next segment…
What information do you need
for each term?
Simple answer is: whatever will help you look up the term in the future!
You can get very complex with this — modern translation tools have all sorts of options. Here’s what memoQ’s term base editor looks like.
First, the basics: the source term and the target term. Duh.
- Don’t include articles (a, the)
- Singular, unless plural is the only form (例: The Killers).
- If a term has multiple translations, separate with a semicolon.
Next up: The reading for the source term, if applicable.
Why do I do this? Because it’s easier to search for readings when:
- terms have obscure kanji in them
- terms have uncommon or completely made-up readings
- you don’t have the script and only heard the audio
- you only remember part of the term
(It’s also a good learning exercise.)
First Appearance (Episode, Volume, Chapter, Page)
This helps out if you ever need to remember when or where something appears for the first time, like characters or important scenes for flashbacks.
I can’t count the number of times this has helped me, and it takes only a few extra seconds.
Next, a description or comment column. You can keep it simple or get detailed.
Personally, I’ll use it for:
- quick appearance description
- puns or references
- translation notes for my editor
Category: Not 100% necessary for smaller lists for one-off TV shows or features, but a must-have for long lists or game titles.
Some sample categories:
- Weapon / Item
- Spell / Skill
Those cover the basics, but you can always add more info columns as need be. I sometimes have:
- Context: How a word has been used in a sentence or in context
- Image: Worth a thousand words of description!
- Reference Link: Useful when you’re always looking something up, or if your editor might appreciate extra information.
Conclusion (and grab my template!)
My last tip for term management: do whatever is best for you, your team, and your project. Whether that means adding columns, forgoing categories, using tons of tabs for images, anything — as long as it helps you and your team stay consistent and provide a quality translation.
Oh, and you can grab the basic template that I use right here! Find it on Google Drive at this link.
Happy term managing!
P.S. 1: Term Extraction or How to Find Terms from Legacy Material
For Arifureta and Reincarnated as a Sword, I wasn’t provided with a term list, despite the source material having many volumes published already! I went through the LN and did a full Term Extraction:
- Read through the original text.
- If a word looks like it should be a term, write it down.
- Later, when translating, match JP words to the EN word and fill in the term accordingly.
P.S. 2: Times I was Saved by the Term List
My dedication to keeping good term lists has saved my dumb butt in lots of situations.
Here are a few I remembered while working on this guide:
SELECTION PROJECT: Never remembering how to read 力弥 because he only appeared a handful of times. Every time I had to write his name in as the speaker, I could just search “dad” and boom! There that rascal was.
KAGEKI SHOJO: Completely translating a scene wrong because I got the twins mixed up. Later, some dialogue seemed weird, so I went back to my term list. Surprise! Wrong twin! No wonder that made no sense.
SUPER HXEROS: Forgetting which female friend is which in Hime’s random side stories. Most of the time when they pop up, no one says each other’s name, but I gotta put a name down. I can search “friend” and look at the descriptions to remind me who’s who.
Need a terminology hero? I’d love to bring my brand of quality localization to your next JA>EN project! Contact me now and we’ll work something out.