Creating a bilingual lexicon: A collaborative approach

Posted on April 30, 2018

Réserve de ciel étoilé,” “corps du ciel profond,” “cub-of-the-year,” “benchmark ecosystem.” These are just some of the terms and expressions that are used at Parks Canada. And the people who use them in their work don’t always know what their equivalents are in the other official language.

I’m sure you can imagine the communication problems that can result. Fortunately, a particularly resourceful translator-reviser had the solution! Well aware of the challenges his colleagues faced in their work, he knew how useful a bilingual lexicon would be. And it just so happened that for years he had been creating his own bilingual language database, which he hoped to share with his colleagues one day. Now was his opportunity!


Consultations to create an effective and relevant tool

The team at the Parks Canada Innovation Lab offered to help the translator‑reviser set up a pilot project. It quickly became clear that, to make it work, we would need to consult a number of internal collaborators.

So we adopted a 3-step collaborative approach:

  1. First, we created an advisory committee made up of language professionals and specialists from various fields. We asked them about their needs and expectations as future users of the lexicon.
  2. At the same time, we conducted research and consulted IT professionals to explore the technology platforms that were available. We transferred the information in the databank into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. We thought this tool had a lot of potential, but we soon realized the spreadsheet was too complicated and we needed to find another solution.
  3. Despite the limitations of Microsoft Excel, we invited the members of the advisory committee to test the lexicon over a 6-week period. Their feedback was extremely useful. With it, we were able to confirm how relevant the content was and identify what mattered most to users. We concluded that ease of use was their chief concern. So we converted the lexicon into a table that we posted on our intranet.

A dream becomes reality

After months of consultations and data entry, the Parks Canada bilingual lexicon was posted online.

It contains over 2,400 terms and expressions that are commonly used by the Parks Canada team and their collaborators. The lexicon also includes expressions to avoid, contextual information and links to reliable sources, as well as explanatory notes.

Some tips on creating your own lexicon

If you’re considering creating a bilingual lexicon for your own organization, think of the people or groups who could help you out. In our case, the Innovation Lab played a key role. The Lab found the people who were best suited to participate in the project and made sure it ran smoothly.

We also called on language professionals and specialists working in various fields at Parks Canada. The collaborators we chose were a part of the project from the very beginning and helped us produce a tool that truly meets their needs. As a result of their involvement, they naturally became ambassadors for the lexicon. And that will help to ensure that it remains relevant.

Has your business or organization ever produced a document like ours? If not, do you think it would benefit from creating one? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Translated by Josephine Versace, Language Portal of Canada


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Christiane Arsenault

Christiane Arsenault

As part of her work at the Parks Canada Innovation Lab, Christiane helps her colleagues implement innovative programs and services. She is passionate about communication and collaboration and hopes to help others by sharing her thoughts and experiences.


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