Buying translations

3 reasons why you should use a translation memory

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If there’s one bit of technology that today’s professional language service providers can’t do without, it’s translation memory systems. They play a key role in enabling fast, consistent and cost-effective translations.

Humans can’t remember everything, but computers can. So why wouldn’t you use a computer as “extra memory” when producing translations? That’s what language service providers do, and these systems are called translation memories.

What are translation memories?

Translation memories are linguistic databases containing text segments. They store translations in pairs, i.e. one sentence or phrase in the source language alongside its equivalent in another language. This translation memory forms the basis for translating identical or similar texts later on.

Translated once, stored for ever – the principle behind translation memories

Translation memory systems are a feature of CAT tools. These advanced translation tools are now used by translation agencies to deliver their projects – but that doesn’t mean computers actually produce the translations themselves (so we’re not talking about machine translation, and this isn’t about translators being replaced). Instead, the CAT tools and the translation memories they contain are used to make translators’ work easier. They’re a kind of “extra memory” for the human translator, who could never be expected to remember exactly how they translated a particular sentence if it comes up again in a future project.

During the translation, the individual segments (sentences, individual words or phrases) can have various statuses in the CAT tool, including “untranslated” or “confirmed”. When the translator “confirms” a segment, it’s saved in the translation memory. If the same sentence, or a similar sentence, comes up again later in the document or in a subsequent project, it is displayed and can simply be inserted (and if necessary adapted) by the translator. Once a sentence has been translated, it can be used as many times as required. That means there are three compelling reasons why translation memories are essential in the translation process and when working with translation agencies:

1. Using translation memories saves money

Probably the most important reason to use translation memories is that they will save you a lot of money – and whether or not a translation agency works with them is also a key factor in deciding who to send your translations to. Because translation memories allow previously translated texts to be used as many times as required.

The CAT tool will recognize the sentences saved in the translation memory when analysing new documents, find their translations and insert them for you. In short, that means the translator has less new text to translate. And the system also recognizes similar segments, i.e. when sentences aren’t identical but have a certain percentage match rate with previous sentences.

Depending on which CAT grid you have agreed to use with your translation agency, this can save you huge amounts of money – especially when translating technical documents, where often there are only small changes to texts between each version of a manual. If you don’t have a translation memory, the whole manual has to be translated from scratch again (or you have to carry out an alignment). So all types of texts where there are lots of repetitions or sentences which only differ slightly from each other are an opportunity to considerably reduce what you pay for translations.

Of course the translation memory database is empty at first, and it needs to be populated before you can benefit from it. But the more projects you do, the more the translation memory grows, and the more helpful it will be for future translations.

2. You get consistent, high-quality translations

If you have to translate texts from scratch each time, there is an increased risk of inconsistencies in the translation. Not only is this confusing for readers of technical documentation, in the worst case scenario using different terms for the same thing can lead to misunderstandings and incorrect (and potentially unsafe) use of products. That’s where the translation memory comes in: the saved segments ensure translations are consistent in terms of style and terminology, even if you don’t always have the same translator working on your texts.

3. Translations can be delivered more quickly

A further benefit of translation memories is that they optimize and accelerate the translation process. If there are lots of repetitions, there’s less new text to translate. This reduces the time it takes to deliver the project, so you’ll get your translations back from the agency sooner – which can be crucial if time is tight and a machine needs to be delivered by a certain date, or you have an imminent product launch.


Translation memories are an indispensable part of the work done by translators and translation agencies every day. So when choosing a translation partner, make sure they use one of these systems. They’ll save you time and money, and you’ll get more consistent translations – three good reasons why you should never be without them.



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