Will Translation Memory work for me?

translation memoryYou’ve probably heard about translation memory. Translation memory is the process of segmenting and storing translation data. A translation memory (TM) is used within Computer Assisted Translation tools. When translating using a TM, documents are split into segments. When translated, each segment is stored in the TM with its corresponding translation. As you work through the source file, identical or similar segments to your past translations are detected and completed automatically, increasing the speed of translation.

A lot of translators refuse to use translation memory such as Trados or whatever other translation memory tools there may be. First of all, they would have to spend several hundred euros first to buy the software and then they would have to learn it. It would probably take them a long time to learn it. They don’t want to do that. But the main reason why they refuse to learn a translation memory tool is that they don’t think that it would be very useful for their purposes.

While I use and enjoy OmegaT, Wordfast and Trados I agree that TM tools are not right for every translator or for every translation. There are situations in which using a translation memory may actually be counter-productive:

  • Match propagation also mean error propagation. It’s horrifying enough to receive a document from a client that includes a serious translation error, but it’s far worse to think that that error has been enshrined in the client’s TM database and provided to every translator that the client works with.
  • Quality expectation. One main way in which TMs achieve quality improvements is by ensuring that translations remain consistent over time — that is, a word or phrase is always translated in the same way and is not affected by individual translators’ styles. This is valuable, of course, and works in a large number of cases. But there are also industries like life sciences where even a change of a single comma or word may necessitate an affidavit declaring that the translation has changed.

But from what I know about translation memory tools, they are very useful as they save a lot of time when one is translating chunks of repetitive texts with a lot of technical terms in them that are difficult to remember, for instance in instruction manuals which can be very technical and very repetitive, for example when new editions of the same software package are updated every couple of years or so. If translations can be reused, there is less to translate. This implies faster turnaround time on projects. Despite education efforts to the contrary, it is often believed that good quality translation can be produced at increasingly greater speed.

The question of whether TM is appropriate for you and your documentation can be difficult. A key first step is to determine what you hope to achieve from using TM: to save money? to improve consistency? to reduce turnaround time? to reduce formatting work?

Here are three criteria for a quick evaluation:

  1. High degree of repetition. The more repetition there is in your documentation, the more benefit you will see from the use of TM
  2. High volume. Obviously, the more volume you have, the larger the database will become over time.
  3. Compatible file formats. You must have file formats that either allow you to work directly in the TM tool or have a way for you to extract the text needed.

If your documentation meets those criteria, you are probably a good candidate for the use of TM tools.

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