What is the most effective way to learn about terminology?

The simplest view of the academic discipline of terminology is that it is somehow concerned with the understanding of terms and the appropriate use of them in a given context or in a subject field. However, this does not take us very far as most subject field specialists know a good deal about the terminology of their domain and they use it every day in various situations such as teaching, reading and academic production. This can be described as the conceptual knowledge of specialized domains.

Another view would be to define terminology as a research-based study of terms and semantic or conceptual relations. However, there are other academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, technical translation, teaching languages for specific purposes, librarianship and specialized lexicography that also, to some extent, have terms and the semantic relations as one of their objects of study.

Terminology, as a scientific interdisciplinary scope, helps us look more objectively at technical and scientific terms in our native language and other languages. It directs attention to “how terminological units of a domain fit together in a context or a discourse”, and “how these units and contexts may affect the cognitive process”. Terminology also studies the change and the consequences of dynamicity of terms from linguistic, social, cultural and cognitive perspectives [See also terminological analysis].

Probably one of the best ways of defining the contribution of terminology is by observing some of the key questions that gave rise to the development of the academic discipline and which continue to underpin terminological research today:

a) What gives terminological units a sense of precision, correctness, and appropriateness?

b) What is the nature of the relationship between the terminological units and the context in which they are used?

c) How do terminology development and terminological variations come about?

d) To what extent do the scientific and technical domains into which terminological units are created influence the terminological behavior, conceptual relations and term formation methods?

Terminology, in pursuing an objective scientific approach to answering the questions posed above, attempts to explain why terminological units are not a random series of formations but are structured and formed by special sets of norms (both manifested and latent).

Terminology in education

In Spain, according to M. Teresa Cabré, the establishment of the Translation and Interpretation faculties and the dissemination of terminology as a subject of study gave rise to the teaching programs in terminology. However, she has stated that in spite of the fact that terminology has been always necessary for the practice of several professions, “it had not been approached as a unitary subject with a specific content and an adequate methodology, but had been approached directly (and often confusingly) and diversely from the applications and usage”. The consideration of terminology as a subject of academic education is very recent, and in many cases, it is still restricted to the translation studies (Cabré, 2000, p.2) [My translation]. This is not to say that terminology should not be included in the curricula of translation studies, but rather that terminology should be addressed in many other studies as well and not only in translation.

According to Patricia García Ces, the subject of terminology has not been even foreseen as such in most of the curricula of translators and interpreters in Argentina. This is not only in Argentina, and many other countries do not still have terminology in the curricula of language-related studies. García Ces states that this shortcoming has brought about some misconceptions about terminology for the students of translation to the extent that after finishing their studies they often have the feeling that “terminology is merely synonymous with the list of words/terms of a given area of specialty” (2007, p. 159). Some of the other disadvantages of this shortcoming, in García Ces’ terms, are as follows:

  • Prevents the students from understanding the terminology as a discipline;
  • Promotes the perception of terminology as a mere compilation of vocabulary;
  • It hinders the allocation of sufficient time to the terminology works, even if the professor has a clear awareness of its necessity.

Terminology, as it is widely discussed in the literature, is a conjunction of theoretical, practical and analytical approaches that each approach is formed by a set of postulations and implications. It goes without saying that it is important to address these approaches and their distinct functions in terminological interventions as well as terminology training (Cabré, 2000, p.7). According to Cabré, two leading functions of terminology can be classified as knowledge representation and knowledge transmission. These two functions can be also categorized as descriptive or prescriptive. Therefore, the study of terminology should provide the methods for understanding the terminological circumstances in which these functions and approaches are feasible and applicable. It is admitted that learning opportunities that provide students with integrated methodologies formed by practical and theoretical interactivities are the most effective learning systems.


  • Cabré, M. T. (2000). La enseñanza de la terminología en España: problemas y propuestas. In Hermeneus. Revista de Investigación en Traducción en Interpretación, TI, 2, p. 41-94.

Author: BesharatFathi

Terminologist, researcher, learner, teacher,...

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