Special terms in children’s non-fiction books: Choice and presentation

July 2, 2015 10:30 am

non-fiction-booksThis article written by Heike Elisabeth Jüngst provides an overview of the use of terminology in non-fiction books for children, with the purpose of highlighting the importance of the way in which terminological issues are treated in this field.

Non-fiction books for children are an important part of the book market. Since the early years, terminology plays an important role in the learning and development of language skills in childhood.

It is true that terminology can be difficult to learn, even more for children. For this reason, there are some books where terminology is more or less avoided, but the problem is that it can result in fairly imprecise information. Sometimes very complex terms stand alongside childish or simplistic terms used as synonyms. Nevertheless, terminology should not be avoided. Quite the opposite, it can be explained in a different way, using pictures and short phrases and making it part of the narrative.

The reason is that terminology is a key part of knowledge management. Anyway, terminology work must be done thoroughly and the terms need to be well-established. Authors and translators should research what terms are available for certain concepts and which ones are the most appropriate in each case.

On another level, there are some differences in the design and structuring of children’s non-fiction books. Japanese non-fiction books for children, for example, use special language and terminology, and tend to present science facts at a higher level than European ones. There are also some cultural changes primarily due to the fact that many of them are translations.

The most important thing to take into account is that, especially in books addressed to children, terminology should be precise and functional, in order to create the correct notions and develop the right knowledge at an early age. But terminology must also have – as far as possible – a funny and emotional aspect. Some examples are the strange names based on real people for some new discovery, or some fantasy terms invented in the science fiction field. Another obvious fact is that terminology can be fascinating for children in the first books on dinosaurs, which contain names such as Tyrannosaurus or Apatosaurus.

Choosing terminology

It is always difficult to choose which terms should appear in the books and which ones are better left out. As is generally the case with children’s books, non-fiction books for children are marketed by age group, which used to be a fairly precise indicator for what amount and what kind of terminology the reader might expect.

Anyway, the quality of terminology in children’s books is hardly ever a subject to debate and analyse. This issue may need more research and more public awareness because translators have to work under time pressure and have to produce translations of books about a large variety of topics and fields in which they are not necessarily experts. This means that there can be some terminology mistakes in non-fiction books, which may not be conspicuous at first glance.

glossaryPresentation of terms

Terms can be presented in different spaces in books: as glossaries, information boxes or little terminological content included in the text itself as part of the narration, sometimes highlighted in a colour. Particularly boxes have become very popular with a variety of publishers all over Europe. This format has several advantages: They stand out on the page, give a clear signal that their content might be important, and their design tempts readers into reading. In contrast, glossaries tend to appear in books for children over 10. On the other hand, labelled drawings or photographs are a good means of information and at the same time provide also the terms needed.

As a conclusion, it can be said that terminology should not be avoided as it is part of learning but that terminology has to be explained wherever it appears, which holds particularly true for children’s non-fiction books. The way terminology is presented in this kind of books and the terms chosen or avoided partly shape the way children perceive a new topic. While the impact of terminology oscillates between fascinating and frightening, it cannot be inconsistent and underestimated.

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By Lidia Capitan Zamora. Journalist, web editor and social media expert.

Communication Trainee at TermCoord

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