Buying translations

The 3 types of alignments

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You’ll often hear the term “alignment” used in relation to translations. It involves matching up existing translations with the source texts so that they can be used for future translations. But there’s more than one type of alignment, and the right one will depend on what you’re looking for.

Advanced CAT tools can compare source-language and target-language files and match them up with each other. An algorithm identifies the sentences which belong together and links them automatically – or in other words, it creates an alignment. This process allows translations which haven’t been saved in a translation memory to be used for future translations.
We have written previously about what alignments are and how they work. Now we’re going to take a closer look at the different types of alignments and the question of liability.

There’s more than one way to do it

There are three ways to carry out an alignment, depending on what you’re looking for:

  1. The best form of alignment is a manual alignment followed by a review, though this is also the most cost-intensive and time-consuming option.
  2. A manual alignment without review is a good alternative if high-quality results are needed in a short space of time.
  3. The third way, an automatic alignment, is the most economical option, though there’s a risk of incorrect alignments if the source texts aren’t structured as well as they could be.

Here’s a table summarizing the options:

  Manual alignment + review Manual alignment Automatic alignment
Carried out by A qualified translator A qualified translator An automated system
Review? Aligned texts are reviewed Aligned texts are not reviewed Aligned texts are not reviewed
Recommended volumes Short texts (< 30,000 words) where high-quality output is required Short to medium texts (< 100,000 words)

Long texts (> 150,000 words)

Ideal files Files which are structured differently Well-structured files Very well-structured files (e.g. XML, XLF)
Charged by Hour Hour Flat rate

+ Very high-quality output thanks to review of text content

+ Texts can be used immediately

+ High-quality output

+ More economical

+ Fast

+ Very economical

+ Very fast


– Takes time

– Costs more

– No review of text content

– Incorrect alignments likely
– Only certain parts can be incorporated into the TM

When choosing between the options, you should always think about what you’re looking to do. Do you want a fully accurate translation, or is the time and cost factor a higher priority?

Who’s liable for incorrect alignments?

The question of liability is always there in the background, especially with fully or partially automated processes such as alignments. And there are two answers:

  1. If a manual alignment with a review is carried out, the translation agency is liable for both the alignment and the quality of the text content.
  2. If a manual alignment is carried out without a review, the translation agency is only liable for the alignment it carried out, while no liability is usually accepted for automatic alignments.

Are there alternatives to alignments?

An alignment is a great way to minimize translation costs if you have lots of translations but don’t have any translation memories (e.g. if you have switched to a new translation service provider) – provided that the files can be edited and have the same structure.

But it’s even better to avoid alignments in the first place.

Here’s how you do it:

If you have translated texts but no translation memory and are looking to make the most of alignments, talk to us and we’ll help you decide what’s best for you.


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