Interview with Gabriel Huard

Written by Kara Warburton, edited by Gabriel Huard

Gabriel HuardGabriel Huard is the outgoing Director of the Terminology Standardization Directorate for the Government of Canada's Translation Bureau. In the days following his retirement, after nearly 40 years of service, he agreed to share with us his thoughts on the terminologist's profession, in an interview with Kara Warburton.


Mr. Huard, congratulations on your recent retirement from your job as Director of the Translation Bureau's Terminology Standardization Directorate. That is a highly esteemed position within our community of terminologists, translators, language experts and writers. How long did you hold that title and what events led you to that position?

Gabriel Huard: I held the position for 11 years. Before accepting it, I had already been with the Translation Bureau for 28 years, as a translator, team leader, department head, and then director within several different translation directorates. In all, I had 39 years of service at the Bureau. Personally, though, I had always been interested in terminology, and then, one day in 2001, a former CEO of the Bureau offered me the position of director of the terminology directorate. I had no idea I was about to embark on the most exciting period of my career. It was great working with the terminologists.


That's quite impressive. And before you joined the Bureau, did you have a degree?

GH: Yes, of course. I had a BA in Translation from Université de Montréal.


Tell me a bit about what a director of a terminology standardization directorate does exactly.

GH: I collaborate and coordinate with other organizations in the field, including federal departments, provincial and territorial agencies such as the OQLF and Inuit Language Authority of Nunavut, international organizations such as the ISO, the EU and NATO, and foreign entities such as ICONTEC (Instituto Colombiano de Normas Técnicas y Certificación). I put the Bureau's terminology staff in touch with these organizations to ensure greater consistency in the terminology used within government and in our exchanges with partners.

Our primary objective is to standardize and regulate terminology at the federal level. In other words, across all departments and in a broad range of subject areas: defence, law, natural resources, mining, Northern Canada, accounting and finance, to name just a few. All the terms we generate are stored in our data bank, TERMIUM, but for some more specialized fields, we also publish glossaries for our clients on request. It goes without saying that the Bureau's own translators make up a large part of our client base.


Can you explain what terminology standardization really means? How is it carried out within the Directorate?

GH: That question sparks intense debate within Canada's large terminology family! For the Bureau, standardization means choosing one term over other possibilities, and recommending it to our target audience: federal public servants. While the Bureau has no legal authority to impose the use of a term within the public service, federal employees do turn to the Bureau for solutions to terminology problems, namely when there are several possible terms applicable to a given concept. Whenever we can, we call on a committee of specialists, who study the term and come back to us with a suggestion, which we then record in TERMIUM after discussing it internally. At that point, the term becomes the Bureau's recommendation and thus the "standard" within the public service. By the time I retired, the Bureau belonged to 35 committees (federal, national and international). That being said, the government may not be able to impose its terminology on the public, but its influence is growing with TERMIUM now accessible to all Canadians.


How many terminologists work for the Directorate? Are new terminologists hired on a regular basis?

GH: Currently, about 50 terminologists work for the Directorate, and most of them were hired in the last decade. We have seen an almost complete staff turnover in the last 10 years, since we had to replace retiring baby boomers, the staff who were hired in the 1970s.

Most of our terminologists have a translation degree, and completed at least one terminology course as part of their university program. We do hire people with other university degrees, though, to benefit from their extensive knowledge in a specialized field such as law, accounting or biology. People who have studied another subject and have superior language skills make great terminologists and have a lot to offer.


What qualifications are required to be hired as a terminologist for the Directorate?

GH: For the last 15 years at least, we have only accepted candidates with university degrees. But, as I said, we don't restrict that to translation graduates alone.


What are the biggest challenges facing the Directorate at the moment?

GH: As far as terminology is concerned, the greatest challenge for the Directorate in the coming years will be proving its worth, demonstrating that terminologists provide a service that isn't offered elsewhere.

For example, at the start of my career, long before the days of the World Wide Web, we had a hard time finding reference materials, period. Finding enough reliable material to effectively research a term was usually very time-consuming. Nowadays, with the Internet and search engines like Google, the average user can easily find a lot of terms.

With so much information at our fingertips, the issue now lies in separating the wheat from the chaff. How to choose, and on what basis? A professional terminologist is perfectly equipped to do that kind of work, the ultimate goal of which is to validate the choice of one term over another. One challenge rests for terminologists, however: always staying one step ahead of Google and ensuring the widespread and quick release of the term retained.


The Directorate maintains TERMIUM, one of the most comprehensive terminology data banks in the world. I would imagine that is something to be proud of. Can you tell me a bit about TERMIUM?

GH: My pleasure! TERMIUM is the world's second-largest linguistic data bank, after the EU's. It contains 4 million terms and is consulted 83 million times a year. Since 2009, TERMIUM has been available online, worldwide, completely free of charge!

I tend to say that Google gives you answers, but TERMIUM gives you the answer. That's really the case. Every entry in TERMIUM has been vetted by one of our terminologists, in some cases after a review by a team of specialists. TERMIUM publishes terms that have been thoroughly researched and validated, which is not the case for most things you find on the Web. You could say that the Internet and TERMIUM play complementary roles: the former offering a comprehensive and diverse body of literature in which you can find terms in context, and the latter presenting the general consensus of terminologists and specialists whose decisions are based on extensive research.

Furthermore, while most of the entries in TERMIUM are obviously in English and French, about 15 years ago we began entering Spanish terms in light of the Canadian government's efforts to expand its trade dealings with Latin America. Today, there are some 200,000 Spanish entries, and TERMIUM has become the most important source of Spanish terminology in the Americas.

In 2009, we also created a Portuguese section in TERMIUM, primarily to support growing trade relations between Canada and Brazil. There too, with 18,000 entries, TERMIUM has become America's most important bank of Portuguese terms.

Lastly, I am very proud of our  "slots," a new feature that, as of next summer, will enable our partners to manage their own terms in a section of TERMIUM specifically reserved for them. In fact, this function transforms a single data bank into several distinct, virtual data banks. This will mean all partners can work independently while still sharing the findings of their research.


I would think that throughout your lengthy career, you have witnessed many changes in the terminologist's profession. Describe for us a few of the most notable changes you have seen.

GH: Well, I already talked about the problem with the sheer amount of information now available on the Web; to me, that has been one of the most important changes to the profession.

Obviously, the other major development would have to be technology. In the 1970s, we had no tools whatsoever. Today, there are plenty, not just for storage, but for all kinds of related tasks as well, such as information processing and term extraction. Terminologists must be deeply familiar not only with the many terminology management tools, but also with any other kind of tool that may lead to productivity gains.

In my opinion, university translation programs do not include enough technological content in the curriculum. Schools try to incorporate courses on available technology, but often at the expense of the strictly terminology-based content, and there aren't enough classes on the basic principles as it is!

Another challenge for universities is the cost of software licenses. The technology is indeed advancing at a rapid pace. But isn't that what makes the job so interesting?


What advice would you give someone who is thinking about becoming a terminologist?

GH: It is imperative to have a strong background in language and to familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade. Today's terminologist has to be comfortable with term extraction tools, translation memories, data banks and other tools.


Is the future promising for terminologists?

GH: Yes, if they make the effort, as industry players, to set themselves apart. Terminologists are valuable in the marketplace insofar as they produce high quality terms in several languages, with shorter and shorter turnarounds. Given the popularity of Google and other search engines, the terminologist has to be equipped to quickly suggest and efficiently publish new terms. Their raison d'être will stem from their ability to influence language.


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