What is Translation Memory and Why Should My Vendor Use One?

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Better, faster, and cheaper: what is translation memory?

Translate once, use it again and again. A translation memory (TM) captures every approved translated sentence to save you time, money, and hassle on every subsequent use.

You’re happy to pay your translation team (or Language Service Provider, LSP) to get your materials ready for customers in a local market. You trust them to use the proper words and phrases, to follow your style guide, and to get your terminology correct. You’re not so happy to repeat the entire cycle, from scratch, for each and every product upgrade.  The fact is, much if not most of your product UI, documentation, and marketing contains language that you’ve used before. It makes more sense to simply reuse previous translations in your new products and materials, and translate only the new or changed text.

A translation memory (TM) is a database that stores segments (usually sentences) that your translators have already translated. Translators use your TM to automatically populate sections of text with previously approved translations. Previously translated material that is similar, but not identical (a “fuzzy match”) is plugged in and reviewed by the translator – but it doesn’t have to be translated from scratch. The translation memory makes your LSP work more quickly, cheaply, and effectively for you:

  • Better consistency and quality, because the approved translation is always used, and all subsequent translations will employ the same pre-approved phrasing.
  • Faster translation times, because the translator can focus on just new material.
  • Lower costs, because once the translation memory contains a critical mass of approved translations, a significantly smaller portion of any new document needs to be translated.

Setting up a translation memory does require upfront time and investment. The translation memory is typically a dedicated database of source text and the equivalent translations. Over time, as translated projects are added, the translation memory grows in size and scope. Eventually, it greatly enhances the speed and quality of your LSP’s work – with consistency and efficiency.

How it works

Your LSP sets up the translation memory on a network secure to your company. If one doesn’t already exist, a translation memory can be created by doing an alignment of the source-language file with the translated version of that file. The alignment creates segments in language pairs; each translation memory is two languages only.

Translation memory is a byproduct of the translation process; all LSPs should use translation memory software and deliver a translation memory to you once the translation project is complete. When a new project is ready for translation, the project manager analyzes it with the translation memory software, which identifies those parts that have been previously translated. During translation, the tool presents translators with matches from the database, to be accepted or modified as needed.

By systematically building translation memories, this process can increase translation consistency among your documents, products, and Web sites. It can also improve quality by fostering consistency with previously approved work. Over time, it can increase your LSP’s productivity and thus boost the amount of content it can transform for other audiences.


You’ve updated a product for the Brazilian market with a new slick aluminum case and some added ergonomic features. Chances are that 80% of the product is the same as the previous version (hopefully the 80% your customers loved) so not much needs to change in the product’s marketing materials.

When you’re ready to re-launch the product, your translation team can recycle the already approved translations and focus instead on translating any new content. That’s what the translation memory does; it identifies the 80% of your material that is the same and inserts the approved translation text. You will save time and money, while maintaining consistent terminology and quality.


Make sure your LSP uses translation memory software. Over time, the translation memory will improve consistency, save time, and reduce the cost of translations, especially for versions of materials that are highly repetitive or technical.  A translation memory takes time to populate and make effective. The more relevant content that’s in the translation memory, the more reuse you’ll see and the more productive and consistent your translators will be.

Now that we have answered “What is Translation Memory?”, your company might benefit from getting some more info, learn more.

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