What is translation memory and how can you maximize its benefits?

Translation memory is a CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool that streamlines your localization workflow, speeds up the process, and stretches limited project budgets ever further. In this article, we’ll explain what a translation memory is, how it works, and how to make sure you’re getting the most from this critical feature.
09-16-2022  |  Ivan Belcic
What is translation memory and how can you maximize its benefits?

What is a translation memory?

Translation memory is a database that stores previously translated text for future reuse. Entries in a translation memory are logged with their source language — the original text — as well as the translated versions in various target languages.

Translation memories can store single words, phrases, sentences, and even entire paragraphs as distinct entries. Should any of these items appear again during the localization process, the translation memory will automatically detect it and recommend the stored translation.

What are the benefits of a translation memory?

Translation memory makes your localization workflow faster, better, and less expensive. Once an entry is logged in your translation memory, you’ll never need to translate it again. That’s why any localization software worth using will come with this feature built in.

The benefits of using a translation memory include:

  • Reduced costs: Translation memories eliminate redundant work by preventing translators from having to retranslate earlier material. They’ll be able to apply their billable time solely towards translating new text.
  • Increased accuracy: The translations stored in your memory will have already been verified the first time the translation was performed.
  • Greater consistency: Translating terms and phrases the same way makes your content easier to understand while boosting your brand — both essential for engaging with your audience.
  • Faster turnaround: By focusing just on untranslated text, your translation team will greatly improve their efficiency. This can massively streamline your localization workflow and shorten your project timelines.

Translate content batches in seconds with translation memory

How does translation memory work?

Translation memory works by automatically storing translations as they are created. When previously-translated terms are detected in future projects, the translation memory will prompt the translator to use the stored translations rather than create new ones.

Learn more about string translation

Translators and localization managers can also create translation memory entries after a project has been completed by uploading source and target documents or strings. Your CAT tool may be able to automatically match the source and target strings to create a new translation memory. Meanwhile, Gridly supports the creation of translation memories via an imported TMX file.

When beginning a new project, the translation memory will scan the source content, detect any stored strings, and suggest translations. Translators can choose to accept the translation, update it, or retranslate the string. This massive efficiency upgrade is why a translation memory is a great way to boost your localization strategy.

Your translation memory will automatically suggest stored translations when detected

Perfect vs. fuzzy matches

A perfect match is an exact copy of an entry in your translation memory. Meanwhile, a “fuzzy” match is only partially related. For example, the addresses 123 Localize Drive, Apartment 7 and 123 Localize Dr., #7 would be fuzzy matches for each other. Translators may need to retranslate fuzzy matches for the most accurate results.

What’s the difference between a translation memory and a localization glossary?

The difference between a translation memory and glossary is that a translation memory stores approved translations for strings of any length, while a localization glossary provides a range of information about single terms and short phrases. Glossary entries can include translations as well as context, definitions, and undesired translations.

How is a translation memory used?

Translation memories are best used when consistently translating between specific source and target languages, and with a large amount of repeated strings. A translation memory can be especially helpful with the following types of content:

  • Legal and financial documents: Official paperwork often contains lengthy segments of text repeated across documents. And the serious nature of this content makes it critical to maintain accuracy. Translation memories can help on both fronts.
  • Customer-facing content: From industry-specific language to branded terms, a business will often have plenty of content set in stone. Use a translation memory to ensure consistency across an entire brand experience, including your website, any third-party collateral, and app.
  • App localization: To prevent users from getting confused, UX writers name buttons, menu items, and other software elements with exacting specificity. Use a translation memory to repeat these terms throughout an app or other software.
  • Game localization: Video games, especially narrative games like RPGs, can include hundreds of characters and locations along with thousands of item names and descriptions. Use a translation memory to keep everything consistent for your players.

How to maintain a translation memory

Since many CAT tools automatically create translation memories over the course of a project, they can quickly become bloated if not consistently maintained. Similar entries may be stored separately, causing confusion when translating new content.

Here’s a quick look at how to maintain a translation memory once it’s been created:

  1. Delete unused entries: If possible, use your CAT tool to automatically scan for rarely used or unused entries, then get rid of them.
  2. Consolidate the remaining entries: Determine whether any similar entries can be merged into one authoritative translation.
  3. Synchronize translation memories: Different teams using different tools may build different translation memories for the same project. Synchronize them into a master translation memory to enhance consistency.
  4. Perform quality assurance: Review the remaining entries in the translation memory for accuracy. Localization quality assurance (LQA) is a critical step in ensuring optimal results.
  5. Maintain consistency: Use localization glossaries to tighten up future translations and prevent your translation memory from getting clogged up with near-identical entries. Avoid creating new translations for previously translated content unless necessary.
  6. Use project-specific translation memories: Maintain a master translation memory in read-only mode when beginning new projects. Teams can create working translation memories based on the master copy without adding unapproved new translations. Then, when the project is complete, merge any approved additions back to the master.

Fully optimize your localization process with Gridly

Effective translation memory use is only one component of a truly optimized localization workflow — which, as mentioned above, boosts productivity, reduces costs, and improves results. But you can crank things up even further with a specialized localization content management system like Gridly.

With a full suite of localization tools built right into an easy-to-use spreadsheet interface, Gridly is an ideal way to manage localized content while shipping faster and with greater content consistency. Upgrade your localization workflow for free when you try Gridly today.

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