First things first! It would be wise to clarify right from the start that when we are talking about a translation memory (commonly known as TM), we are not talking about machine translation. Quite the contrary! The translation memory is “man-made” and very much in the spotlight of the translators’ community.
A TM is also not a dictionary, even though they both serve the same purpose, i.e. to help translators around the world deal with the obstacles they encounter in their professional everyday lives like searching, finding and documenting terminology.
But what exactly is a TM?
It is a database which is created, updated and maintained by a translator. During the translation, each piece of text, or segment in CAT tools terms, is saved in a memory file together with its translation, creating a translation unit.
The TM is not just a glossary for terminology search, but it may include from one translation unit up to whole corpora, allowing the translator to search entire sentences as well as individual words.
Furthermore, it is not only created during a new translation project. Luckily for linguists, there are translation memory programs that allow the user to create memories from large-scale documents that have been previously translated. This function is called alignment and, basically, it is a process in which the source text and its respective target text are aligned to segment level inside a brand-new TM. These aligned segments will be used for new searches and will be updated with new content in the future.
But what is all this fuss about TMs and what are the benefits for translators?
First of all, TMs speed up the translation process, saving extra time for the translator and significantly increase their productivity especially when it comes to extensive texts containing jargon. However, this requires that the translator keeps TMs for each client, for every language combination they use as well as for any kind of technical documents they delve into. Their efficiency depends primarily on the linguist who creates and maintains them as they must be updated with all the recent changes and all content should be thoroughly checked for correctness. Moreover, TMs ensure high quality, consistency and homogeneity, especially in the case of ongoing major projects involving many translators and/or reviewers with partial deliveries or individual projects that relate to the same language combination and client.
What are the benefits for the client?
Benefit No. 1: TMs reduce cost. As long as a TM is well maintained, we are up for some savings! The TM can detect previously translated content, and depending on the new text’s similarity with that content, it can be charged at a reduced rate and sometimes not even charged at all. Also, by analyzing the translation project with a TM, we get a pretty good analysis of the content to be translated i.e. new content, repetitions, fully and partially translated content etc. This way, the project manager who is responsible for the planning and execution of a translation project can accurately determine the delivery time, organize and coordinate their team and ensure a quality translation that is also consistent with previous translations for the same client.
For many translators, the creation, update and especially the maintenance of TMs seems like a demanding process. Some might see it as “necessary evil” but without any doubt, its use facilitates the life of the linguist, ensures consistency, increases productivity and cuts down costs for the clients. It’s truly a blessing in disguise!