Specialist German Vocabulary 

Online German vocabulary sources, glossaries & terminology lists

german vocabulary

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Specialist German vocabulary and terminology, & bilingual German English glossaries are an essential part of the German translation tool kit.

A glossary is an agreed list of translations for a set language pair (e.g. German–English, English-German) within a set subject area, e.g German medical terms.

These are either word-for-word translations or glossed translations, using synonyms.

The terms are, almost by definition, not ones you’d find in your standard German dictionary – either because:

  • they are extremely specific terms and not commonly used, or
  • the translation varies according to the particular subject area.

As soon as you start translating anything but the most general of texts, you’ll need to research terms.

Where do I find German glossaries?

German vocabulary lists and glossaries are published all over the web. Some better than others, and many published as a marketing lead-in/company promotion.

Below you'll find a series of the most useful German-English terminology lists and lexical resources I've found to date - just follow the links below. I've organized them by subject area to give you an easy overview.

This is a work in progress, so come back regularly for updated lists, and don't forget to bookmark this page!

glossaries in this series:

Know of a good glossary not listed here? Please let me know!

Can I trust a glossary?

Glossaries and terminology lists are agreed by a translator and their client, by a corporation and their translation department, or are compiled, discussed and agreed upon by several contributors, often by online communities of translators.

As most scientific literature is published in English, many German universities are also increasingly publishing glossaries on their department websites.

Larger German-speaking companies often have their own internal glossaries and specialised vocabulary databases which they issue to translation agencies/external translators.

However, these are usually open to interpretation, reflect a company’s particular interests, and are not always universally valid terms outside that organisation – the precise accounting terminology used by one financial company will not necessarily be the same as that used by another company working in the financial world.

ACHTUNG! Speaking to a German translator recently, he explained that one German company he worked for insisted on translating “operating cashflow” as “cashflow” in their annual financial statements, with the consequence that, during a finance meeting with English-speaking accountants, the term “cashflow” caused confusion.

The rule? Before translating for a client, ask for any specific German vocabulary terminology that may be available, and indicate where your translation (although linguistically correct!) may vary from any preferred in-house terminology.

The ultimate glossary......

....is your own.

Compile your own client glossary. You'll impress with your professionalism & of course it makes  future translations quicker. Plus (this happens more often than you’d think!) when someone criticises your choice of term, you have the pre-agreed terminology in your favor.

Today any serious translator will create their own specialist German vocabulary resources by using professional translation software (CAT tools).

They allow you to create client-specific glossaries and translation memories (TM) - effectively "super" glossaries, composed not only of individual words and word combinations, but also entire sentences.

Some are fairly expensive, but can be written off as a business expense, and there are also free cloud-based versions available. See here for more details.

But make sure you have this essential German vocabulary resource!

If you translate regularly you need at least one respected specialist dictionary in your chosen subject area.

See this as a safety precaution – the freelance translator is at the bottom of the translation feed chain, and the first to be blamed for any "error" in a translation.

So it's extremely helpful to be able to back-up your choice of term by referencing the most respected dictionary in the field. Where available glossaries are unclear or contradictory, you need a final arbiter! 

For example,  if it's German technical term – go straight to Ernst!

Building up your online German vocabulary resources

Help and be helped. If you're a freelance German to English translator, you’ll certainly want to look into joining one of the many online communities of freelance translators.

These are another good source of specialist German vocabulary and terminology – glossaries submitted by members, and forums for seeking help in real time and discussing the translation of specific terms with your colleagues.

Now well established, these platforms have become important translation resources. So get involved!


German Translation Tips & Resources

glossaries in this series:

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German to English Translation

Joanna Scudamore-Trezek

I'm a German to English translator living and working in Vienna, Austria. I turn German texts into clear and accessible English, allowing clients to present their stories, ideas and information to a completely new audience. My business and marketing clients rely on me to get their message across clearly and effectively.  How can I help you today?

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