Terminology work is an interdisciplinary activity involving tasks from different other fields such as informatics, linguistics, cognitive science, documentation, knowledge management, etc… In a multilingual specialised environment one cannot imagine providing high-quality linguistic services without terminology work undertaken by highly skilled terminologists. But what is a terminologist and what is their role in a company or institution? What are the tasks of a terminologist and what skills, competences and knowledge do they need to possess? Finally, what training and qualification possibilities should an aspiring terminologist have?
Today terminologists working in the private industry as well as in the public sector do not have a fixed role and could be found in different departments of the company or institution. They can be seen in the translation or foreign languages units, in the documentation or information department, in the technical writing section, in the research and development or in the public sector. Sometimes they work in the standardisation, patents or law departments. Some of the terminologists, and in particular in the language units, would also tend to hold the positions of the project manager or leader of terminology working groups.
Analysing all the mentioned possible working environments, we can conclude that the tasks of a terminologist vary a lot from compiling monolingual or multilingual terminological collections and making them available for the users to terminology planning activities and advisory and training activities.
To manage all these activities there are skills, competences and knowledge a terminologist is required to possess.
To reach the necessary level of expertise, one must acquire one of these main categories: qualifications obtained during terminological studies, preparation courses or seminars, qualifications obtained by conducting terminology work and general skills.
The most important requirements for a terminologist are the good knowledge of the principles of terminology science, mastery of terminology working methods and terminology management tools.
A high level of language competence of the mother tongue and of other foreign languages and a high degree of linguistic knowledge in all languages are also part of the most needed skills.
Preparing a corpus for the terminology work and the documentation of the terminology collections is one of the terminologist´s main tasks, implying thorough research and documentation competencies. Given the lack of awareness of terminology despite its importance for companies and institutions, they should also be able to give seminars or hands-on trainings on terminology and terminological resources. That also asks for high didactic abilities.
On top of all these specific requirements, terminologists should also present a lot of general skills from systematic working methods, to sociability and ability to work in intercultural teams, and project management. One must possess very good IT knowledge, planning, organisational and negotiation skills as well as a real power of persuasion.
Due to the changing world of technologies, the profile of the terminologist should always be adapting to new advancements especially in the technological field.
For example, with the development of the web 2.0 technologies it is very important that the terminologist has the ability to work with these new media and use them to provide a better and efficient terminological output.
The terminologist should be able to communicate through the new channels like blogs or forums and wikis, to get involved in different professional communities present on the web and virtually collaborate with them.
Due to the high amount of information available on the web, terminologists, in their field specialist position, should provide the terminology users with the most reliable information available, and as a result hold the competence of evaluating the source of the resources used for terminology work. Through critical thinking they need to be able to validate the quality of data they find on the web.
To acquire these competences and particularly the very specific ones related to terminology science, working methods and tools, good training and qualifications are required. Usually, in every course of studies in translation, computer linguistics, technical writing and interpreting, seminars on terminology are offered. In some countries there are specific curricula with a main focus on terminology and language technologies. Some organisations and institutes offer trainings and continuing education courses for terminologists.
In view of the quick developments in all technical fields, technologies and communication, the main requirements from terminologists are to acquire new knowledge in a process of life-long learning and to stay all the time up to-date.
You can find here the Professional Profile for terminologists issued by the Council for German-Language Terminology.
Article written by Matilda Soare, trainee at TermCoord