The role of linguistic assets in translation

Brands should strive to keep their linguistic assets updated to help enable translators to create high quality content.


Translators are highly talented, multilingual professionals, but one superpower they don’t have is the ability to read your mind. This is where linguistic assets come in handy.

Brands should strive to keep their linguistic assets updated to help their translators create high-quality content.

With a cloud-based translation management system, you will absolutely want to provide materials that your translators can access anytime to help them work to maintain your brand voice and terminology.

What Are Linguistic Assets?

Linguistic assets are resources that provide translators or translation software solutions with guidelines regarding your brand preferences (such as tone of voice or words to avoid translating).

A linguistic asset is much more than just another unused document sitting on your hard drive. It's an active and culturally relevant set of references that ensure every translation campaign meets and exceeds your team's expectations. Linguistic assets also empower localization managers and digital marketers to provide a standardized brand experience for all of their customers, no matter their language.

There are two main kinds of linguistic assets: style guides and glossaries.

A style guide is a collection of rules about your preferences regarding content formatting, tone, and overall style. Just as marketers reference brand guidelines for colors, fonts, and brand voice, translators use a style guide to inform their translations.

A glossary is a list of brand terminology in the source language, but you can create one for target languages, too. A glossary provides a shared understanding of brand terms to ensure consistency across different languages and pieces of content.

Best practice 1: Regularly update and maintain glossaries

Your glossary is a library of commonly used words or terms and their definitions in the form of a spreadsheet.

You’ll want to specify how your brand defines and uses that terminology and include nomenclature that’s unique to your brand.

A good framework for your glossary includes the following for each term:

  • Your definition
  • The part of speech (such as noun, verb, or adjective)
  • Any specific notes (for example, in what contexts the term or phrase should or shouldn’t be issued)
  • Variations, synonyms, and antonyms

For single apps or static websites, checking and updating your glossary once or twice a year should be sufficient. If you’re creating, publishing, and translating a lot of content, then monthly is a better cadence for updating and maintaining your glossary.

Best practice 2: Develop a comprehensive style guide

The best practice here is to treat your style guide as a living document that you can continuously update as new preferences and requirements surface.

For this reason, you’re better off avoiding static documents like PDFs for your style guide.

Best practice 3: Make effective use of translation memory

Translation memory is your brand’s database of existing translations—that is, content you’ve translated previously using your existing linguistic assets.

This acts as a benchmark for future translations. Translators can use content that you’ve already approved to check against style or definitional requirements that might not be clear in other linguistic assets.

Leveraging translation memory helps you to:

  • Work more efficiently by minimizing translators’ questions
  • Maintain consistency across all your translations
  • Improve your translation speed and time to market

Improving and updating your linguistic assets

Linguistic assets are living, breathing documents that you’ll want to keep updated as your brand evolves. Here are the five areas you should specify in your linguistic assets to give your translators a leg up:

1. Casual vs. formal language

Does your content address millennials with catchy, colloquial language? Or are you crafting formal legal documents? Be sure to clarify your audience and your content’s tone so your translators know whether to use tu vs. vous or ciao vs. arrivederci—among other adjustments.

2. Gendered vs. gender-neutral language

Many languages traditionally default to masculine conjugations of nouns, verbs, and adjectives when the subject is unknown.

However, some brands are steering toward more gender-neutral language.

If that’s you, you’ll want to make sure that your language assets set out your preferences for your translators.

3. Specific terminology

By “experience,” do you mean:

  • An adventure?
  • An interaction?
  • Your software’s new user experience?

Use your glossary to spell out definitions of terms that are relevant to your brand and industry. Your translators can then convey your intended meaning more easily.

4. A term blacklist

You may want to keep some words—like hashtags, trademarked phrases, or location names—in your source language. Give your translators a list of terms to leave as is in your content.

5. Multiple style guides or glossaries

This may sound like more work, but it can save you a headache down the road. From one language to another, conventions like tone and the use of formal language might not be the same. Each style guide should reflect your specific requirements for communicating in that language.

Integrating linguistic assets into your translation workflow

A good linguistic asset spells out your preferences and guidelines related to tone of voice and the use of specific words. A great linguistic asset is one that you use consistently and integrate into your translation workflow.

Translation workflow management is all about effectively using processes and software tools to reduce translation costs and more efficiently deliver translated content.

Most companies use one of these three broad translation workflows:

  1. Human translation → human editing → publication
  2. Machine translation → human editing → publication
  3. Translation (human or machine) → human editing → internal review → publication

No matter which process fits your organization, your assets should be present at each stage.

Imagine that you’re using the second workflow to translate marketing materials. Your machine translation solution should be able to interpret and apply the guidelines you set out in your linguistic asset. But the human editor should also have these documents open to keep an eye out for noncompliance.

Streamlining your processes with Smartling's tools

So how do these assets work in practice to ensure consistent, on-brand content across all translation projects?

Here’s an example.

When Butterfly Network’s senior product manager, Brandon Fiegoli, wanted to expand the company’s international presence in just six weeks, he turned to Smartling for help.

In preparation for this quick turnaround, Smartling’s customer engagement team helped Butterfly Network build out comprehensive linguistic assets to ensure translation accuracy. In Brandon’s own words, “the glossary is a living, breathing document. We update it regularly to ensure our translations are as accurate as possible.”

Next up was integration with existing translation workflows, which meant taking advantage of Smartling’s API connections.

This two-pronged attack—glossaries and a smart integration with translation workflows—helped Brandon turn around 75,000 words of translated content in just ten days.

butterfly network german website
A screenshot of Butterfly Network’s German site. (Image Source)

Want to dive deeper? Learn more in the full case study: Butterfly Network: Translating 75,000 words in 10 days.

Optimize your linguistic assets for success

Now that you know where to begin, it’s time to update your linguistic assets!

Linguistic Asset Management, a comprehensive professional service from Smartling, helps you position your translators to create high-quality content so that all your end users get the brand experience you want.

Schedule a meeting with one of Smartling’s experts to learn more.