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November 28, 2016

Own your translation memory

This post is part of a series on the value proposition of localization strategies.

The source content you develop is your intellectual property. The translation of that source content is also your intellectual property, regardless of who performs the translation.

But that translation doesn’t only exist in whatever document or webpage you translated. It also lives in translation memory, and many companies fail to own critical resource.

Failing to maintain a copy of your translation memory can be a costly mistake.

What is translation memory?

Professional translators use computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools to make their work easier. When you send a file for translation, the translator imports your file into their CAT tool. The text is extracted and broken up into short segments (usually by sentences or phrases) for translation.

computer memory board symbolizing translation memory

Your translation memory is a vital piece of infrastructure. Maintain it well.

The translated segments are then stored in a database for later use. This database of translated segments is the translation memory.

When a new document needs to be translated, the translator uses their CAT tool to consume the file and then reflect it (compare it against past translations) against the translation memory. This reflection identifies segments that have already been translated, segments that loosely match what is in translation memory, and segments that are new.

How is owning translation memory useful?

Owning your translation memory isn’t just about owning your intellectual property (although that’s a key reason to own it). Ownership offers you some key advantages:

  • Lock-in prevention: Owning your translation memory means you are not “locked in” with any one translation provider. You can change providers or hire additional ones at any time and still benefit from your previous translation work.
  • Source content consistency: You can use your memory to make your source content more consistent. Rather than pay translators to translate content that slightly differs in wording from other content, you can catch these differences and correct them in the source content before sending it to translators.
  • Translation consistency: Building on the previous item, variations in source content create variations in translation. If you own your translation memory, you can periodically audit and correct these variations in translation. This ensures one correct (preferred) translation for each source segment, which prevents translators from guessing which match in translation memory to use.
  • Quality assurance: Whenever you receive translations back from your providers, you can compare it against what you have in memory to ensure that the new translations are consistent with your approved and stored translations. Doing so can significantly reduce the amount of time spent on review.
  • Cost estimation: Before sending content out for translation, reflect it against your translation memory to see how many new and changed segments require translation. You can then use a word count of those segments to estimate the cost of translation.
  • Pretranslation: Should you need to use a translator who does not have a CAT tool available (not advisable, but allowable for very special cases), you can use what’s in memory to create a partial translation for the translator to work from.

To leverage your translation memory in this manner, you must purchase a CAT tool of your own. There are many tools available at varying prices, but the cost of purchasing one is miniscule compared to the savings from owning your translation memory.

Do you own your translation memory already? If so, have you found other uses for it? Please share in the comments!