What is translation memory and how might its use impact the speed at which you translate? These are important questions if you want to translate as efficiently and consistently as possible. I’ll answer both below, plus look in detail at the advantages of using translation memory software – and the potential downsides too.
What is translation memory software? In short, a translation memory is a database packed with words, phrases, sentences, and sometimes entire paragraphs that have been translated before. It pairs the original and translated texts together as ‘translation units’. The translation memory then suggests these (or automatically inserts them, depending on the translation memory you’re using) each time that particular phrase (or word or sentence or paragraph) comes up again.
According to research from the Common Sense Advisory (CSA), 41% of all content that translators produce is done using translation memories. Furthermore, a 2019 CSA study of more than 7,000 translators and interpreters found that 66% of translators use translation memory and computer-assisted translation on most projects. The same study also found that translation memory enables faster deliveries for 86% of translators. In short, if you haven’t tried using a translation memory yet, it could be high time you did.
It’s worth noting at this stage that translation memory is not the same as machine translation, which involves a computer translating a document in its entirety. Rather, translation memory software is something that aids translators in their work, enabling them to translate faster and with greater consistency. A translation memory is usually one element of a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool. CAT software also provides a range of other functions, in addition to the translation memory, such as glossaries of technical terms (which act more like a dictionary rather than a translation memory system).
Translation memory software works by logging phrases as you use them, and recording them in both the source language and the target language. The software then uses these translation units to aid your translation as you work on the rest of the document.
One of the interesting things about using a translation memory system is that it can be shared among translators. When multiple teams are working on providing document translation services remotely, they can use a translation management system to access the translator memory of a specific client. This introduces consistency across the translation work, despite various different people contributing to the document.
Different memory translation software approaches exist, naturally, and some memory translation tools are better than others. As such, it’s important to do your homework and compare different products before committing to one. Some translation memories will automatically replace source text with target text drawn from the database, for example, while others will make suggestions.
One handy feature that can crop up in a translation memory is a percentage to show how accurate the match between the source and target phrases is. Another is the use of color to highlight differences. Features such as these can make a major difference to how effective you find the tool to be. Like I say, it’s worth exploring different options.
If you haven’t used a translation memory system before and are considering trying one, it’s time to weigh up the benefits. And, indeed, there are plenty of those. I’ve included some examples below to help highlight how valuable a decent translation memory can be.
Using a translation memory means you have to contribute fewer human translation hours to a project. Plus, the more work you do for the same client, the larger the translation memory grows and so the more efficiently you can translate for them. As such, using a translator memory can mean a lower cost for the client, as you’ve had to bill them for less of your time. It also frees you up to take on additional work, as you can fit more translations into your working day. Happy clients, happy you.
Having a database crammed full of suitable phrases and sentences means it is much easier to be consistent when working on large or complex projects. The translation memory essentially automates consistency in your work. This can be a great way to quality assure your translations – and again, to keep your clients happy.
As I mentioned above, translation memories are also ideal for projects where multiple linguists, and other teams, are working on the same project. Take a large-scale software translation project, for example. You might have multilingual developers working on the software, as well as translators, project managers, and others. Having a translation memory in place means that no matter who is translating, the work can be consistent.
If you use a translator memory to speed up the pace of your translation work, you can deliver your clients’ projects faster. In doing so, you support your clients to achieve their business goals faster. And in today’s economic climate, time is money…
I’ve talked a bit about the benefits of translation memories, but there is also a downside that you need to be aware of. Like any database, a translation memory will need cleaning up from time to time. This is essential if the translation memory system is going to remain true to the client’s evolving content needs and quality standards.
This is where the issue comes in. The same 2019 CSA research I mentioned above also sought translators’ views on who pays for the time it takes a translator to clean up the memory translation tool. Just 23% of those the CSA polled said that their clients typically agree to pay for the clean-up. This means that 77% of translators are expected to undertake the work themselves – for free.
Of course, you could just not clean up the translation memory, but that also has cost implications in terms of your time. After all, remember that implementing workarounds for outdated translation units will slow the pace at which you translate. Just something to bear in mind.
Translation memory software comes on its own when you have multiple projects from the same client. In this situation, you can save plenty of time by using translation memory.
Another good time to use a translation memory system is when you’re working on a project with other linguists. In that case, the project manager will provide what you need to ensure that all of the translators can be consistent in their approach and choice of phrases.
I hope the details above have shed some light on what a translation memory is, how it works and what the benefits are. Using translation memory software as a part of your work can save you time and support you to translate more efficiently and consistently. It means you can help your clients get to market faster and translate a higher volume of work.
Tomedes works with linguists around the globe, providing professional translation services that span a huge range of industries and professions. Many of our translators use memories daily. If you’re one of them, why not leave a comment below to share your views on how it helps you translate?
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