Translation Memory: Definition & Proper Usage

Dynamic Language | May 3, 2022

Translation of content between languages can be tricky. We see misfires all the time, and it can either be hilarious, offensive, or just plain embarrassing – depending on who is reading the content.

For example, the “Got Milk?” a campaign by the American Dairy Association was wildly popular in the U.S.; however, people abroad probably wondered why the company thought, “Are you lactating?” would win over milk drinkers in Spanish-speaking countries.

Translating documents and assets can be a cumbersome task in any industry, whether the content is marketing-related, legal, educational, or otherwise. Thankfully, technology and innovation in the language services industry have improved translation accuracy, localization efforts, and – best of all – speed and efficiency.

For the latter, translation memory software is a tool that language industry professionals have come to depend on to produce reliable, efficient, and high-quality translation services.

What is Translation Memory Software?

Translation memory software basically creates an easy-to-access database of sentences, paragraphs, or text segments that have already been translated and stored for later use. So, everything that has been previously typed into an editor is automatically saved in the translation memory for future translations.

Creating a database of this nature can benefit those in the language services industry who work with regular clients because it ultimately saves the customer time and money with their translation services and improves the consistency of the language used in their projects. We will get into all the benefits of memory translation software in more detail later in this article, but for now, let’s look at how translation memory tools are used.

Translation Memory Use Cases

Translation memory does exactly what it says – stores translated content for reuse, thereby eliminating the need to translate the same word or phrase twice. The translation memory software stores the source text and its corresponding translation in language pairs called “translation units,” commonly referred to as TUs.

Translation memory is the brain behind translation memory software and results in enhanced consistency and speed. Translation memory is beneficial for any individual or entity that regularly translates content into different languages. For example, government agencies rely heavily on translation memory to produce materials and communication. Additionally, marketing departments, healthcare agencies, legal teams, and more benefit from creating a robust translation memory database for faster, more consistent translating.

However, translation memory resources need to be regularly managed to best leverage their potential. For example, if someone had checked the American Dairy Association’s translation memory database (if it had existed at the time), the Spanish language translation of the “Got Milk” campaign slogan may have been later localized – and therefore translated – accurately.

Benefits of Using Translation Memory Software


Translation Memory: Definition & Proper Usage

Translation memory software has revolutionized the language services industry. Among the benefits of using translation memory tools, the top three are speed, accuracy and consistency, and cost reduction.

Before translation memory software was available, translators could spend hours combing through old documents to find previously used translations. Efforts were regularly duplicated, and the process lacked the speed and efficiency translation memory software provides translators today.

Utilizing translation memory software also delivers better consistency and accuracy across projects. Consider a marketing department for a global brand. When producing assets and messaging in a specific language, translation memory software with a robust database of TUs will help the translators use consistent messaging across the campaign while maintaining a unified brand voice.

Cost savings is another huge benefit of using translation memory software. It seems wasteful to pay for translation services when the content is similar across projects. By combining all your translation data into one accessible database, your content resource of regularly used sentences, paragraphs, or text segments expands whenever a new project is completed. Having access to this robust resource of translations will speed up the time it takes to translate content and save money in the process.

How to Use Translation Memory Software Properly?

Translation Memory: Definition & Proper Usage

The software itself is pretty easy to use, no matter the specific platform – here’s how it looks. When working on a new document or content piece, the software analyzes all of the content to be translated, looks for repeating content, then offers up similar previously translated phrases and sentences and suggests them for reuse.

Most translation memory software tools will recognize and offer three types of matches, as follows:

  • 100% Match – The new text segment is an exact match to a previously translated segment and/or is an exact repeat from within the target content or document.
  • 100% Match with Context – The new text segment and surrounding text are identical to a previously translated piece.
  • Fuzzy Match (Less than 100%) – The new text segment is similar to previously translated content – but not an exact match.

Translation memory databases are usually client-specific and ideally customized to maintain a specifically desired style, tone, voice, or industry-specific terms based on the application of the translated content. For larger organizations, where different departments require a distinct tone and voice, separate TMs can be maintained in each target language, for each department. That way, if a translation team has projects for various departments within an organization, they can apply the appropriate tone and language for each use case. For example, a legal document should be read differently than a marketing brochure.

Integrating Machine Translation & Translation Memory Into a Truly Optimized Translation Workflow

Translation memory software has plenty of benefits for professionals who produce content in different languages. However, for organizations that regularly generate high-volume projects, the process can become truly optimized by integrating machine translation (MT) with translation memory software and human translation editors.

This may sound complicated, but the process is pretty simple – here’s a quick overview of how it works. Machine translation performs “mechanical” or automatic substitutions of words from one language to another. However, that alone rarely produces a good translation because MT often doesn’t recognize whole phrases and their closest counterparts in the target language. Furthermore, not all words in one language have equivalent words in another language, and many words have more than one meaning.

That’s where the translation memory software comes in. The machine translation engines can be customized to draw from the organization’s translation memory databases to store pre-translated segments consisting of everything from titles to lists to sentences to entire paragraphs. Therefore, the translated content output is optimized for accuracy and remains consistent with previous translations and brand preferences.

The benefits of integrating both tools are many, especially for organizations working with high-volume projects. First, translated projects can be downloaded in moments, thereby vastly improving the speed and efficiency of translations. This optimization also benefits the bottom line, as saving time saves money. Overall, integrating the two can be more productive than using translation memory software alone. With an experienced and capable language company managing translation technology for your organization, the process can be seamless and practically automatic on your side.

Innovation in language services has made efficient and reliable translating easier than ever. However, if your project or organization needs more robust language translation services and management, turn to the experts at Dynamic Language. We’ve been providing exceptional translation, interpretation, and localization services to clients in the U.S. and across the globe for over 30 years.

At Dynamic Language, we utilize native linguists with subject-matter expertise in various industries in combination with the most advanced technology available to deliver highly accurate, efficient, convenient, and reliable translation, interpreter, and localization management and services.


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