in Language Technology

Translation Memory (TM) is a database that stores language “segments” (phrases, clauses, headings, etc.) that you or your company has translated. As you continue translating documents, the database offers up translation suggestions based on those stored segments. Suggestions can range from “perfect match” to less-than-perfect matches, often referred to as “fuzzy matches.” In the translation world, TM has undoubtedly been a game-changer, increasing the speed and consistency of translations while lowering costs. However, it does have some limitations and may not be ideal in all situations so it’s good to be cautious. Without further ado, here are four possible pitfalls of TM:

With TM, mistranslations are easily propagated.

For example, if someone in your company mistranslates a segment and this mistranslation is not caught by other translators later on, the mistranslated segment may end up appearing in a frighteningly large number of documents. One company’s documents I personally reviewed had mistakenly translated the word “box” as “cartoon.” This error cropped up in every one of their documents that I looked at. And because a mistranslation becomes so ubiquitous, translators are more and more likely to take it at face value, despite harboring doubts. Depending on the importance of the meaning of that segment, such mistranslations can be quite problematic.

The quality of the TM-assisted translation determines how much post-TM editing is involved.

If a translator relies too heavily on the TM system’s suggestions, there may be many mistakes or problems with flow. In this case, re-translating and heavy editing may be required. In the long run, translating without TM might have actually been faster.

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Future edits made to a translated document in a format outside of the TM system will not be entered into the system.

Suppose you export a translation into Microsoft Word format to send to an external agency for editing. The editors mark up the document with crucial edits and send it back. On the one hand, not entering these corrections manually into the TM database makes for a weaker or less comprehensive system. On the other hand, the entering of these corrections takes time.

Learning to use TM software is time-consuming.

If you’re a freelance translator, you may receive tasks from a client who uses TM tools with which you may not be familiar. Chances are, the deadline given won’t take into account time for learning the software, naturally impeding your productivity.

While TM has revolutionized translation, it is by no means a perfect tool. To make sure your company’s documentation is on point, contact CSOFT’s professional team of technical writers and editors!

Written by Mike Lenczewski, Senior Writer at CSOFT International

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