Translation memory is a feature of computer-assisted translation systems with aids the process of translation. Translation memory allows a translator to re-use any of the text segments that have been translated before. A translation memory is basically a small or large database which stores information as the translator works. This information is based on the concept of a source sentence and a target sentence. If a new sentence comes in and the database finds a similar entry, it then shows the sentence to the translator as a reference.

This, obviously, helps the translator as he or she does not need to search for reference material and helps use common sentences and terminology. It also saves time and money as previous translations can be recalled and used entirely or partially at a fraction of the cost and time than translating new material from scratch.

Translation Memory and Computer Assisted Translation tools

Translation memory serves as a database for translated segments, which along with their source segments are stored in the memory of computer-assisted translation system as translation units. As we mentioned ealier, these translation units are retrieved automatically by the computer-assisted translation tool whenever it comes across not only an identical, but also a “similar” fragment of text. This means that if we have 10-word sentences and 7 of those appear in a new sentence, we have a 70% similarity, and the translation memory will show us the previously translated sentence. A computer-assisted translation tool typically comes with a ‘fuzzy-search’ feature. This feature allows the translator to look for part of a segment within the translation memory. That “string of words” can be retrieved even when the two full segments are not an exact replica of each other. These “similar sentences” are known as fuzzy matches.

The retrieved segments from the translation memory can either be used within the same document or a different one.

Translation units are the elementary translatable units saved in the translation memory. Translation memory breaks the entire text into smaller phrases or sentences which are saved as distinguished segments corresponding to their original text phrases. Translation units cannot be further broken down into smaller segments. If this happens, computer-assisted translation (CAT) system might not be able to translate them adequately in relation to the contexts they are used in various places.

Translation memory assesses segments and measures their relevancy to be used again in terms on percentages. A segment showing 99% similarity with a stored segment may only be having differences concerning the use of a single letter or punctuation. However, it has been observed that fragments whose similarities are less than 65% are not as useful, and it is advisable to translate manually in such cases.

It may also occur that a document that needs to be translated may contain a particular segment repeated numerous times. The computer-assisted translation tool analyzes a document before translation and identifies such identical segments. As soon as the first identical segment is translated, the fragment is saved in the translation memory. This saved segment of text, which shows 100% similarity with other identical phrases is automatically re-used to save time and effort during the translation process. These identical, repeated segments are termed as repetitions in the language of computer-assisted translation system.

Translation memory allows the translator to translate the given material in an effective and efficient manner. This way, time-efficient translation is ensured and consistency is maintained within a translated document. Furthermore, it is even cost-efficient.

The adequate use of repetitions, 100% matches and fuzzy matches plays an elemental role in ensuring time efficient translation process. The automatic re-use of similar terms by the computer-assisted translation tool, as they are retrieved from the translation memory, allows the translator to not only keep up with the time constraints but also enables an individual to take up more translation jobs in order to earn more in less time.

Example of a translation memory

Example of a translation memory

Effective use of translation memory also ensures quality control. A computer-assisted translation system automatically suggests the re-use of similar terms, where applicable, adding consistency and flow to the translated document. This makes the translated document more authentic.

Translation Memory Database

Translation Memory Database

Computer-assisted translation tool and translation memory are useful inventions in the field of translation. Not only are they devoid of the typical shortcomings of machine translation technology, but also adds to the immediacy of the process of quality translation.

There are several computer-assisted translation tools with use translation memory as the basis of their technology. Some tools are free like OmegaT. Others come at higher prices, like the 20th-century but increasingly heavy Trados (now Studio). Smart desktop versions like MemoQ are constantly eating market share. Deja Vu is a very good Spanish tool which has received less limelight than it deserves and provides excellent value for money. Transit is also a historic tool, even if a little outdated.

Wordfast is very popular among freelance translators and some translation agencies. Heartsome became open source after closing down operations in 2014. Cloud-based tools like MemSource and XTM are becoming increasingly popular thanks to their SaaS models.

Further Reading: Translation Memory



2 thoughts on “What is Translation Memory?

  1. Pingback: Technical guide to SMT Training Data - Pangeanic Translation Technologies & News

  2. Pingback: 12 consejos para que los traductores ofrezcan traducciones de calidad | Blog pangeanic.es

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