For outsiders, the art of translation is sometimes shrouded in mystery. If you are a marketing manager or service manager, you might have asked yourself the following questions: How can I trust that my technical translation will be accurate? Will my translators use the correct terminology? How does my agency ensure consistency across several translated documents? And how can I take advantage of documents that have been translated before?

Thinking about translations past

The common thread throughout all of these issues is the translation memory, and it’s a true goldmine for your company. 

We have not come to the point yet where technology has taken over from the human translator. However, we do allow technology to lend us a hand. One example is the translation memory; this is essentially a database with pairs of phrases and sentences from the source and target language. The translation memory is commonly used by technical translation agencies to help them facilitate their technical translation work and make it more consistent.

So, how does a translation memory work exactly?

A translation memory database consists of text strings (so-called segments) in the source and target language, completed with additional information, such as a time stamp and a reference to the actual translator. During translation, the database is continuously checked for segments that have been translated before and that can be reused. 

Let’s say your company manufactures door security systems and it has several technical manuals that use the same terminology. The first time the translator will encounter the segment Introduction to door security systems, the translation will be added to the translation memory. Next, whenever the translation memory finds that exact segment again, the translation will be reused and all the translator has to do is double-check it for correctness. This is called an exact match.

But the match between a new and previously translated text is not always 100%. That’s when we call it a fuzzy match. Let’s assume the translator now finds the segment Introduction todoor security solutions. As you can see, except for the word solutions, the phrase is identical to what we have found before. The translator will no longer need to translate the entire text string. A translation memory will clearly present the differences between the two word combinations, and allow the translator to make text edits where needed.

Is your technical translation agency using a translation memory?

It should be. Because there are only upsides to using a translation memory, for the translator, as well as for you, the end customer.

In a nutshell, these benefits are:

  • Speed: A translation memory allows a technical translator to work much faster.
  • Consistency and quality: A translation memory contributes to the consistency and quality of your translations, and makes sure your documents always comply to your brand standards, even when multiple translators come into play.
  • Cost: A translation memory allows your agency to accurately calculate the translation cost up front, based on the similarity with previous translations. Text that can be reused from earlier translations is cheaper.

The translation memory: your takeaways

Working with a translation memory only has benefits. But what does this mean for you, the end customer?

First of all, building a translation memory is a joint effort between the customer and the agency. That’s why we encourage our customers to comment on the translations that are stored in the memory, and provide corrections where needed. This allows us to continuously improve the quality of the database.  

A translation memory is always the property of the customer and can be obtained at any time whenever the customer feels like changing agencies. However, it does pay to stick with the technical translation agency you trust, because a long-term relationship allows you to build a high-quality translation memory over time. The bigger the translation memory, the more matches you probably will have, and the lower your translation cost will be.

Do you have questions about your translation memory? Let us know

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