What is a translation memory (TM)?

July 11, 2011

Translation Memory (TM) is a database which stores predetermined units of a source language together with its translated equivalent. A TM allows you to take advantage of repetitions within or between documents. In other words, the program that uses a TM will automatically translate repeated sentences by pulling the translation of a 100% matched and previously translated source sentence from the database.

The different TM software uses complex "fuzzy-logic" algorithms that allow the translator to take advantage of similar previously translated source sentences. In other words, the TM application will pull the translation of a previously translated source sentence, which "somewhat" matches a new sentence, and allows the translator to change it accordingly.

The main purpose of working with a TM tool is to save time and assure consistency in the translation process. As a translation services agency we at GPI integrate the translation memories in each translation project and customer.

Some of the benefits of using TM's are:

  • Ensure translators that the document is completely translated.
  • Ensure consistency through all the file or files.
  • Cost reduction for client and the translation company.
  • Time saving while maintaining quality.

What is the real impact of using TM technologies in the translation process?

With TM tools, translation agencies can analyze all source files received and breakdown translation costs into different tiers, for example:

  • 100% match and repetitions: 100% match will apply only if the client can provide previous approved translations; otherwise this will apply to upcoming translation projects. Repetitions are words repeated across the source files provided and they're charged usually as same rate as 100% matches.
  • Fuzzy Matches: Fuzzy matches are words/sentences that are very similar to ones translated before. This will apply only if the client can provide previous approved translations; otherwise this will apply to upcoming translation projects.
  • New words: Words/sentences that don't fall in the categories above.

Each tier listed above have a different price model which helps translation agencies and customers to achieve savings in cost and time for upcoming translation projects.

Common Translation Memory tools

There are a variety of TM tools available. The list below highlights some of the tools more commonly used by linguists:

  • SDL Trados 2009
  • SDLX
  • Trados
  • Déjà Vu
  • Star Transit
  • OmegaT
  • Wordfast

Who does Translation Memory belong to?

Translation Memory (TM) is an important asset, and it belongs to the client (you) who paid for it in the first place. All time spent creating TM is billable as part of on-going translation projects, so TM does not belong to the vendor (translation agency.)

Unfortunately, there are a small number of translation vendors who will attempt to "sit on" TM and not deliver it to their clients. If this ever happens to you, treat this as a "red flag" and consider finding another translation company to work with. Most translation agencies will deliver TM updates at the end of the project, or on a quarterly basis. Your TM files are highly "portable" and can be shared with a multitude of translation vendors.

Additional resources on project management

To further understand how you can help optimize input for project management on your next project, read two of our previous blogs on translation project management: 11 Project Management Challenges for Translation Projects, Part 1 and 11 Project Management Challenges for Translation Projects, Part 2.

Useful resources on translation industry definitions

Globalization Partners International (GPI) has created a series of blogs and website resource pages to help you understand key concepts and vocabulary used in the translation and localization process:

Globalization Partners International, the translation company, has created a more extensive overview of website globalization for several key locales in collection of downloadable globalization white papers known as our Website Globalization and E-Business Series. You may contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com or at 866-272-5874 with your specific questions about your target global markets and your project goals. You may also request a Translation Quote for your project as well.

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Translation Memory, Project Management, Translation Tools, glossary, terminology, translation, localization

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  • Gio LesterOn Jul 29, Gio Lester said:
    Playing devil's advocate...

    The translator has agreed for $X/word for the translation.
    Client wants to get translation + TM.
    Shouldn't translator then charge $X for the translation + $Y for the TM?

    Why do agencies assume that the TM automatically belongs to the client when it is not even paid for?

    Just asking...
  • Maxwell HoffmannOn Jul 29, Maxwell Hoffmann said:
    Gio Lester: An interesting perspective, and we like to play so.... I feel most translation professionals see Translation Memories as being generated when a translator creates/translates a segment and types it in the TM tool.
    Translators charge per word for the tasks of actually translating, irregardless of the tool they use(TM, word processor, recorder).

    So I guess you could say you need to charge some fee to help you recoup the cost of your translation memory software license, or for your word processing software, electronic dictionaries, etc... but do most service providers from translators to attorneys to auto mechanics charge you for the tools they use?

    Maybe we should :-) It seems that this investment in the tools are embedded in the per word rates or even PM fees.
  • Gio LesterOn Jul 29, Gio Lester said:
    The main difference in your analogy, Max, is that the tools used by my mechanic do not get better with use, they do not grow and my mechanic does not release them to me: he retains ownership of his tools. All I get is the service.

    We are going to get to a point, as stated by Renato Beninatto, when TMs will be recognized as not having any value. However, I am trying to understand why:
    1. when my doctor gets a new device that enhances his services to me he raises his fees, and a translator is supposed to reduce his when the same thing happens;
    2. when a translator creates a body of work and adds to it with his own research and work he is expected to relinquish that to the agency's clients as if it were a "benefit afforded the client by the agency";

    I simply do not get it. My mechanic keeps his tools; if I want them, I have to pay extra. When he gets a state-of-the-art device to provide me with better and faster service, he charges me more... So my mechanic gets better professional respect than I do as a translator.

    Check the years of schooling each professional has invested in his/her career and the mechanic still wins!

    Nope. I do not get it! No one has been able to justify that position -lower rates, release TM to client, fuzzy match calculations -to me yet.

  • Maxwell HoffmannOn Jul 29, Maxwell Hoffmann said:
    Don’t take the analogy so literally: mechanics aside, knowledge workers usually don’t charge additionally for using various tools. Their reference libraries, not just TM, but all work-product and IP with translations remain and become the purchaser’s intellectual property, as spelled out in most contracts. Let us know though how your pricing model works out and maybe the industry will follow suit…the industry has done a poor job maintaining perceived and real value to the translators for translation memories, their educational investment and translation services in general…that we can all agree on. :-)
  • Gio LesterOn Jul 29, Gio Lester said:
    You got me curious. What do you mean by "Their reference libraries, not just TM, but all work-product and IP with translations remain and become the purchaser’s intellectual property [...]"

    Could you please explain? Really. I'd appreciate it.

  • Maxwell HoffmannOn Jul 29, Maxwell Hoffmann said:
    Reference libraries of purchased dictionaries for example. Work-product and IP=Intellectual Property are legal terms.

    Work product refers to translations that are in progress, any reference notes associated with completing a translations, 1st-2nd drafts, etc... For a general overview of IP you can see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_property.
  • Gio LesterOn Jul 29, Gio Lester said:
    Thanks for clarifying that.

    I never delivered a TM, my research or notes to clients because I thought they were entitled to any of it. I have provided research notes when proofing something and the point could be questioned - such as in the case of false cognates. Would never argue ownership of a client's intellectual property, I fully understand confidentiality issues, but I do not see how these arguments apply to what we are discussing. The product of my research that serves the purposes of my work is laid down on paper for my client. My contract does not reach beyond that with regards to my intellectual property.

    I have never, in 31 years of practice, had any issues with my clients. I do not believe the industry would agree to my business model: the industry wants "cheap". I don't do cheap. As a friend of mine said, a client can have only two: quality, price, fast.

    As I said before, I was only playing devil's advocate. Thanks for taking part on this thinking exercise, Max.

    Wishing you good clients, good projects, good translators and profit!
  • johndburgerOn Aug 08, johndburger said:
    As the original article suggests, a translator may perform two kinds of activities essentially simultaneously:

    1. Actually translating a document, perhaps using a TM built up over years
    2. Adding phrases from that current work to a TM

    If the translator bills the client for the time spent doing =both= of these, it seems to me the client is due something from both of them. Otherwise the client is being billed for some activity that the =next= client will benefit from.

    To stretch the mechanic analogy even further, it's as if the mechanic bills me for his time spent in a training session he happens to attend while my car is in his shop.
  • Gio LesterOn Aug 08, Gio Lester said:
    Here is where you took a wrong turn in your thinking:
    "To stretch the mechanic analogy even further, it's as if the mechanic bills me for **his time spent in a training session** while my car is in his shop."

    In the conversations you reference we did not take the mechanic out of the body shop: he is the one performing the job. And it is expected that he will sharpen his skills while performing a job: practice makes perfect, right?

    But, this whole thread was just an exercise in argumentation: TMs can be created from the alignment of the original and the translation by anyone who has access to the right equipment, the files and knows how to do it. They hold no intrinsic value.

    I just dislike current pricing practices and the fact that no one has been able to justify them to me: how is it that I spend time and money sharpening my skills, acquiring top of the line equipment to ensure accuracy and quality in the job I deliver and, contrary to all other industries, I am expected to charge less? This is not an assembly line job.

    That was all. Thanks for jumping in!
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Federico has over 12 years' experience as a globalization engineer managing a wide range of software and website globalization projects (internationalization I18n + localization L10n). His expertise spans software and website internationalization and localization processes, standards and tools as well as locale specific SEO. Federico has completed hundreds of successful globalization engagements serving as lead I18n architect involving different programming languages. He is a certified developer in several content management systems and helps clients create world-ready applications, utilizing development practices that are faster, more economical, and more localization-friendly.