Terminology management at Microsoft

This article first appeared in the Microsoft Language Portal. It describes how Microsoft terminology gets from the drawing board to the people outside Microsoft who need it - third-party software developers, user interface designers, and language professionals.

The Microsoft Language Excellence group owns and maintains a multilingual, concept-oriented, terminology database. The Language Excellence group's mission is to document and make Microsoft terminology available to those who need it, including localization vendors and other language professionals. Language Excellence works with various groups across Microsoft to ensure this terminology is available on time in up to 100 languages.

At Microsoft, most software is created first in English, so it makes sense to focus first on the language used by developers of the original or starting version. While the creation of new concepts typically happens in the development team, it is frequently a writer or editor on the documentation team who first notes the new term and investigates its meaning for a product glossary. Alternatively, a program manager may compile a list of new terms in specification documents, often without a definition.

Early in the product development cycle (i.e., before localization starts), the Language Excellence team contacts the product development team to ask for a list of new terms. Sometimes the team is ready with a list of terms; at other times, the Language Excellence team executes a term mining process on the software files to try to uncover new terms. Once the English terminologist has a list of new terms and descriptions or definitions, she begins a negotiation process with a writer or editor on the product team to finalize definitions to be used in the terminology database.

It is not unusual for the English terminologist to spend some time with the writer or editor helping with definitions and providing feedback on the terms themselves. In addition, since each product team works independently from other product teams, the English terminologist must check the terminology database for existing terms and concepts that may be identical or similar to the ones the current product team is proposing. Duplicates are always a possibility, so the Language Excellence team works diligently to avoid creating duplicate entries. No terminological entry is complete until other metadata is examined and included where necessary (for example, part of speech, product name, component, term type, term usage note, etc.).

Once an entry is finalized for English, the English terminologist approves it. This is the signal that the term is ready for the next step in the workflow, which is typically translation into target languages.

Once English terms are properly documented in the Microsoft terminology management tool with a definition and other information, and the English terminologist has approved them, they are ready for target language terminologists to assign target-language terms. A terminology Project Manager (PM) handles the job of coordinating and managing the translation of the selected English terms according to the schedule. For a typical project, the terminology PM must coordinate with external terminologists (aka terminology vendors) as well as Microsoft in-house terminologists.

The Language Excellence group at Microsoft employs in-house terminologists for ten target languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Korean, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese) and retains vendors to help with the terminology work for other target languages. For some of the largest Microsoft products, terminology work must be done in at least 37 languages. Typically, terminology work for the lesser-used languages is delayed for a few months or more, since the product team can only handle a limited number of localization projects at one time.

After a target terminologist receives notification from a terminology PM that they should begin work on a new project, they must plan their time to finish within the deadline. The amount of time a target terminologist has to figure out the best term in their language for a specific concept varies from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the size of the project, schedule, importance of the term, and the number of stakeholders involved in the final vetting. Each target terminologist has a well-developed method for researching target terms and deciding on the best fit. Most terminologists have access to at least one person in their subsidiary or their own expert network that can help by providing feedback or information for specific concepts. Target Terminologists document their final target terms in the terminology management tool. They may add term usage notes in the tool for each entry as necessary. These notes are often helpful to localization vendors or others who are researching and using terminology.

Some concepts are more difficult to deal with than others (see the "Term of the Month" feature on the front page). When a target terminologist discovers a problem with an English term or definition, or needs more information, they can file a query with an English terminologist. Once a query is filed, the English terminologist has 3 days to get an answer back to the target terminologist. Ideally, the English terminologist is able to provide the necessary information quickly.

Once the target terminologist completes a terminology project, they notify the terminology PM, who records the check-in. After the terminology PM has been notified that all the terminology is complete for all languages, they notify the product team that the terminology for the project is available.

Once the target terminology for a project is received by Language Excellence terminology PMs, they notify the product team localization group that the terminology is ready to be used in the localization process. Microsoft outsources the majority of its localization work, so the product team notifies its vendor that the terminology is ready and available. Different vendors use different tools for localization, but they all need to consult the terminology that has been prepared by the Language Excellence terminologists.

Some vendors may have tools that allow them to view terminology references inline, or in a separate window. Those who work without such tools have access to Microsoft terminology via an extranet connection - they have all the searching capability that terminologists in Language Excellence have. But they do not have the ability to edit data. It is important to note that though the terminology exposed in the Language Portal on this site is taken from the Microsoft terminology management system, it is just a snapshot of the data, and may be up to three months old. In addition, the Language Portal does not expose all the metadata available in the Microsoft terminology management tool. So the Language Portal is not well suited for vendor use.

Localization vendors may have questions about terms that they see in the Microsoft terminology management system, or they may have questions about terms that are not documented. In either case, they use a query tool to ask questions. Queries about documented terms are referred to the target terminologist, who has three days to respond. Queries about undocumented terms are referred to an English terminologist, who then does the necessary research that may result in adding that term to the terminology management tool.

Localization vendors may also have queries about how terms were translated in previous versions of a product or in other products. The Language Excellence group provides a search interface to an internal tool that allows vendors to find terms used in context in software products, along with the product name for each context. The Language Portal on this site provides a similar feature via Search in the Software Strings Result Panel. Again, please note that the Language Portal only contains software strings for some products that have been released, so it's not well suited for vendors who need to see all software strings.

The documentation of English terminology, the search for appropriate target terminology, and the localization of products are all continuous processes. You can see the result of this work on the Language Portal Search Terminology page.

Comments (3)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Will you do anything about the amateurish "localization" of Office 2010 into Greek? The Ribbon is wrong, the Help is wrong, the Proofing Tools are wrong, everything is wrong in the Greek version and no one does anything to fix the issues. Either correct the messy localization job the Greek department has done or provide Greek users the ability to install the English interface language for free (just the English ScreenTip langugae won't do).

  2. Microsoft Terminology Blog says:

    Last week I was in Wiesbaden (Germany) for the tcworld conference 2008,   the world’s largest event in the field of technical communication, to present
    Working with terminology at Microsoft: a case study. […]

  3. The Greek version of Office 2010 is horrible says:

    It's unbelievable how bad the "translation"/"localization" of Office 2010 into Greek is. It contains all sorts of errors, from spelling and grammatical/syntactic ones to ubelievable mistranslations. Honestly, I've seen open-source office suites with much better localization into Greek.

    As a result, the Greek user is clueless as to what many functions do. Plus, the Greek help files are also poorly translated, the help topics are very, very limited, and if you try searching for something with its English name, you get no results… Finally, the Greek spellchecker is still very poor and un-intelligent, and the AutoCorrection lists remain seriously flawed that all Greek users have to turn it off.

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