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What are translation memory tools?

My translation company uses something called a translation memory tool to help translate our documents. What does this mean please? I’m really confused as I don’t want them to charge us for machine translations as I’m worried about the quality.

Hi Vincent,

Thanks for your question and don’t worry, your translation company is not trying to sell you machine translations. Also don’t feel bad about being confused, most people outside of our industry are not familiar with translation memory technology.

I hope you find the following explanation helpful.

What are translation memory tools?

Translation memory tools (TMTs) can be thought of as specialist word processing packages which translators use to help make translating documents easier.

The software looks through the document and breaks it down into chunks which it identifies as having been repeated ‘exactly’ (called an exact match) or nearly (called a fuzzy match).

TMT software packages automatically manage preferred vocabulary and specialist terminology by presenting the client’s preferred terms to the translator for inclusion where appropriate.

They are called translation memory tools because all such preferences are stored in a memory file so that they can be used on future projects which means that over time the software ‘learns’ more about client preferences and hence translator productivity goes up whilst maintaining consistency.

In addition to memory functions, modern TMTs also include features which check that numbers have been translated correctly (for instance decimal points have not been misplaced) as well as checking for erroneous terms and misspellings.

However, translation memory is only useful for certain types of text (see later).

How do translation memory tools work?

TMTs store segments of text as the translator works on them to produce the final translation.

If a particular segment is repeated somewhere else in the document, the TMT software ‘notices’ it has been translated before and prompts the translator with how he or she previously translated it.

This means the translator does not need to translate it again and can use it straight away after checking it still makes sense in the new context in which is it being used.

The text segment doesn’t even have to be exactly the same, the translation memory software is clever enough to trigger when the segment is merely just similar to something it’s seen before.

This is called a partial, or “fuzzy” match but it is often so close to the correct translation that all the translator needs to do is tweak it slightly.

As you can imagine this saves a lot of time and therefore it also saves clients money as they get charged less for parts of the text which show up as exact matches or fuzzy matches.

With what types of texts do translation memory tools work best?

The source document must be in computer file format, for example a word processor file or website page. TMTs work best with materials which contain many repeated or partially repeated areas of text, such as;

  • Instruction manuals
  • Software documentation, help files and frequently asked questions.
  • large websites

Translation memory tools can also be useful when working with documents that do not contain repetitions but are often updated with similar content, for example. websites with content which is updated weekly, monthly company reports, ever changing maintenance contracts and other periodicals.

What are the benefits of using translation memory tools?

There are many benefits for both client and translator;

  • Cost reduction: Clients save money as they are given discounts for exact and “fuzzy” matches. Agencies differ in how they charge but a scale of  100% of the per word translation cost for the first instance of a segment and around 60% for fuzzy matches down to as little as 30% for exact repetitions is common.
  • Speed: Translation memories significantly increase productivity and so documents can be translated much more quickly.
  • Consistency: Translators or groups of translators can work on a document without losing consistency as terminology and style can be standardised.
  • Flexibility: The TMT memory files are usually provided to the client on delivery which means they can give them to other translators who can use them without loss of consistency.

What commercial translation memory packages are there?

Some of the most popular translation memory tools include Trados, DéjàVu and SDLX.

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