Understandably, occasional buyers of translation services may have misconceptions about what’s involved in a translation project. More often than not, they think of translation as a commodity. They shop around for the cheapest vendor, much like they do for office supplies.
It’s important to realize that translation isn’t a commodity. It’s a service. Who performs the service and the tools they use to do the job matter. Just as you would expect a skilled carpenter to use a hammer, drill, and square, there are certain tools you should expect your language service provider (LSP) to use. Translation memory (TM) is arguably one of the most important of those tools. And you should be wary of any LSP that doesn’t utilize it - you might be paying twice to translate the same sentence.
A Translation memory is a database that stores sentences, phrases, or other “segments” of text that have been previously translated by humans. These saved “translation units” are then automatically reused so a translator never has to translate a sentence more than once. The TM tool applies the translation memory to the source file (original material to be translated) to identify any 100% matches (identical segments) or fuzzy matches (similar segments). The translator can then accept the matches suggested by TM or override them with a new translation. Any new translated segments or updated segments are added to the TM for future re-use.
TM should not be confused with machine translation (MT) or glossaries. MT attempts to entirely replace the human translator with software; TM re-uses human translations. It is the translator using a TM tool who ultimately decides whether or not it is correct to use a match. Glossaries contain a list of approved terminology so that human translations are consistent and follow a defined style. They typically do not provide matches for segments of text. There are also tools to manage and use a glossary, and when combined with a TM and other tools are called a Translation Management System (TMS).
Using a TM provides many benefits that extend to both language service providers and translation buyers. Here’s how:
Speed. Think of translators as a scarce and valuable resource whose time should be used wisely. TM allows translators to concentrate on new material rather than wasting time on translating the same sentence over and over again. This is especially important when working with content such as a technical manual that stays consistent from year to year. Translation memory can save significant amounts of time in these cases by eliminating the time to re-translate entire sentences, paragraphs or pages.
Cost. Translation is typically charged by the word. For example, if a document is 10,000 words and your LSP charges $0.15 per word, you will pay $1,500 to get the job done. But, let’s suppose the document is a revision to the technical manual from the point above. Chances are the bulk of the text is the same as the previous version. TM will already have those segments saved, meaning there are fewer words to actually translate. Of course, this also means that copywriters should not change acceptable sentences because they can, or the full benefit is lost. Anything that isn’t matched by TM will be translated.
Consistency. Translation memory allows for greater consistency within a document and across a company’s content. The preferred way to translate certain phrases has already been approved so those translation units will remain the same across all documents, no matter which translator is working on the project.
Translation memory is one of the important tools that makes the difference in quality, speed, and cost of delivering professional translation work. A translation service provider that doesn’t talk to you about translation memory or doesn’t use it is not providing top-notch service or reasonable pricing. If you have an ongoing need for fast, accurate, and easy translation, it’s not something you should do without.