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Recording Vocabulary + Terminology

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Interplex Interpreters Guide to the EU A database by Collocation organising chaos

Interbank (ES)



As a student-, and as a working interpreter you will be faced with a constant stream of new terminology, jargon and vocabulary, which you will probably be keen to record, remember and reuse. For many colleagues how they recorded these ideas determines what use is made of them - very little - piles of paper in unsorted notes or countless individual files in MS Word never get used because nothing can be found. But in fact it should be the other way round - what you want to do with these records should define how you record them. Then you can get something out of the exercise. (** The development, since this page was first written, of desktop search tools, like Copernic means that the disorganised can get away with murder now. Click here to read more

There are many ways of recording vocabulary and people will have their own styles, however,it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel so below are 4 ideas of what can be done.

If you are simply interested in expanding your active vocabulary in a foreign language for example you may find that Michael Lewis' techniques are probably the best for you. If you wish to have a tool for meeting preparation then the database described in Part 3 or the EP Committees guide will be much more useful. If on the other hand you wish to create a custom made dictionary with search function Peter Sand's software tool may be better for you.

Think about WHY you are recording vocab and what you want to do with it early in your career. Of course there is no substitute for experience and once you start working you will be able to judge what you need and what is useful much better. Your ideas will probably change but copying words into lists, be they paper or digital IS NOT going to be very useful.

One thing that 3 of the 4 ideas below share which could be added to the 4th, interplex, is that they all underline the importance of context. A word is not just a word and it doesn't just have one equivalent. The German word "Praesidium" has at least 3 correct English equivalents in the European Institutions alone, "Presidency", "Bureau" and "Management Committee". When is one right and the other not? When you are in one meeting and not another. Jargon and terminology is heavily dependant on context so make sure your vocab lists include "meta-information", information about information. For example in which Committee do they use that expression? when talking about agriculture or trade? Was that term from an authoratitive dictionary or a friend who thought he knew? Next year or in 3 years time this information will be as useful as the equivalents you have noted down.

For each of the 4 ideas below there is a brief description of the method, its benefits and shortcomings. Experiment with them and see what takes your fancy. If you come up with a new system, that proves useful in the booth then tell us!




Developed by interpreter Peter Sand and a software designer a trial version of this glossary software can be downloaded at

This software was designed for use in the booth and has various search functions making finding records at speed very easy. It has straightforward import and export functions for tables stored in other software and it also deals with the need to have different sets of diacritical marks in different columns much better than most MS Office tables, showing them on the table but ignoring them for the searches.

This is great if you want to look up terminology quickly in an existing list. It is less useful if you wish to get an idea of what a meeting is going to be about in advance, while preparing for example, as it is not designed to make the most of meta-information.

For full details of how it works and a review click here.
Interplex for iPad. Read an intro here

An interpreters guide to the EU 2010 - European Parliament

Developped by David Walker at the EP the guide is grouped thematically and monolingually. Foreign language versions are only given where they are unusual, not cognates. This is a great preparation tool, especially the printed version which is available in the interpreters' documentation centre at the EP in Brussels should you be passing. If you are preparing a given topic area then the index (or a search of the tables) will lead you to all the necessary terms and jargon for that area.

This format though doesn't work (and doesn't claim to work) as a dictionary and you won't find the French for pike-perch when you are in a hurry at a fisheries meeting.

Click here to download the pdf file

A database

This is flat table database as used by a colleague. It is based on ideas by Martin Will, Luxembourg. Its major advantage is the emphasis on meta-data. Based around the filter functions of MS Access databases this model and the 8 columns it has in addition to the language columns allows for preparation for specific meetings and the search-dictionary function. You can filter for a specific meeting, by area, for acronyms or look for a single term. You can also see the sources.

On the downside databases are only useful if they are consistent, and the more you work the more sub-categories you will think up and the risk of losing consistency and thus benefits increases. Database initiates will see the cracks appearing in this one (6500 term strong in its full version) already.


Vocabulary - Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis - Business English

Michael Lewis is one of the luminaries of the ELT (English as a foreign language) world. At least 3 of his numerous books have been revolutionary, setting a new standard in the field. This book was one of his first and it is devoted to the collection and recording of vocabulary for learners of English. The principles he describes apply to beginners and advanced learners alike.

Fundamentally the idea is to record vocab in thematic, grammatical and collocational groups. This means, for example, that if we note down a word like "discharge" it is useless to us later unless we distinguish the noun from the verb and then note the words that go together with each to form phrases.

Thus we might note several adjectives that are more frequently found in collocation with the noun "waste"

household waste

Subsequently we then add verbs that might act on waste....

dispose of... household waste
incinerate... industrial
dump... radioactive
etc... hazardous

A variety of combinations of the words above will also work.

Very quickly you are building up, not lists of random words but whole expressions that can be recalled as easily as individual words because they are stored as a unit, when using a foreign language.

The book contains many more varieties on the same theme and other very useful ideas. For more click here!

Organising chaos..

Using a desktop search tool

For those of us not able to organise vocab into huge consistent tables or relational databases but who have dozens of little Word files with a few words in each one...

...salvation comes in the shape of desktop search tools. Which organise (catalogue) for you so that you (it) can find anything, anywhere on you computer instantly. More on desktop tools here...




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